I’m just going to start this off with a little bit of honesty.
I *HATE* writing recaps for games. I figure there’s already a bunch of them out there, if you’re reading this you likely watched the game or followed along with it on social media, and you’re well aware of your thoughts on the game. A recap isn’t going to provide you anything new or interesting.
So I turned to Twitter and asked what you want to read about? What can I offer an opinion on that you will likely hate, think I’m an idiot, get you talking about for a couple days and then send the link to me when it turns out wrong?
Twitter user @Freewind69 came through with a great suggestion. So, this one’s for you, Logan Freewind!
We are anywhere from four to seven games into the Horizon League conference schedule and starting to see our usual tiers within the conference standings take shape. However, with their win in Cleveland coupled with Detroit Mercy’s loss to Purdue Fort Wayne, the Oakland Golden Grizzlies remain as the only unbeaten team in the league and a promising outlook on the season. Oakland played a strong non-conference schedule including the win at Oklahoma State and is currently ranked 69th in NCAA Net Rankings and 99th in KenPom, their first time breaking the top 100 ever in season. For reference, Cleveland State is the next Horizon League team on KenPom coming in at 157 and 151 in the NET rankings.
With what appears to be a gap between Oakland and the rest of the conference, what does each team in the league need to do to prepare to potentially face the Golden Grizzlies in the conference tournament? Let’s take a look:
IUPUI- Umm… gain three scorers? IUPUI is not a good team this year. They work hard for first year coach Matt Crenshaw but they simply lack talent. If they somehow find themselves playing OU in the conference tournament, they shouldn’t prepare anything different. That they made it this far is already a miracle.
RMU- Robert Morris needs to focus on finding a replacement for Rasheem Dunn after his sudden midseason departure. Despite his leaving, they have been quite competitive in their last two losses against Youngstown State and Wright State. RMU got trucked by OU in December without Dunn as Jamal Cain had 22 points and 14 boards. Double Teaming him and letting one of the other OU players win the game is their best bet, but still not good odds.
Green Bay- First thing GB needs to do is stay healthy. After that, they sort of fall into the IUPUI territory on this side of things. They lack the fire power to stay with someone like Cain and I don’t like freshman Lucas Stieber’s chances staying in front of Jalen Moore. That doesn’t even account for trying to matchup their freshmen like McGee and Kellogg against Trey Townsend and Micah Parrish. That’s a lot of people for an undersized and overmatched GB team to stay with in a potential tournament game. Best chance for them is to get really hot from 3 where they’re 26.5% as a team.
Milwaukee– This is a team that doesn’t look good right now, and may have some inner team drama brewing between players and staff. The only thing that could prepare them to avoid another Oakland beatdown would be a 5 Star recruit and NBA lottery pick to put the the team on their shoulders and carry them to the finish line. Where they could find one of those, I have no idea.
UIC- This is a tough team to figure out still. They were down 20 to Oakland in their meeting in Chicago to start off the conference slate, but came all the way back before Oakland slipped away with victory. UIC needs time to get all their players together at the same time, an issue they seem to be facing year in and year out. They have a lot of good pieces and are a team that matches up the best against OU. Michael Diggins has the athleticism to stay with Cain, something most teams don’t possess. If UIC can find cohesiveness amongst themselves, they would be capable of an upset.
NKU- A team OU is yet to face, they could be a tough matchup for Oakland. Chris Brandon is the type of player that could potentially stay with Cain which is a big factor in defeating them. A player like Nelson could be the answer to staying with Townsend and overall, they just seem to match up well physically. That said, NKU has not been a great team this season. The key for NKU will be controlling the pace and not letting the Golden Grizzlies grind it out the way they prefer, but keep them moving. Lots of press, not for turnovers but to speed up the possessions and try to make Oakland outscore them.
YSU- Really struggled against Oakland in their matchup at the Orena on New Years Day. They will need to find a way to compete with Oakland’s length and very few have the roster to do that. YSU will need better production out of Rathan-Mays and Myles Hunter and to shoot the 3 better.
PFW– Another team Oakland has not seen yet in conference play. They are a team that worries Kampe as they shoot the three really well. Much with any game they play, that will be the key for the Mastadons against OU. They are shooting the trey around 34% this season, and if they can have a game where they are closer to 40% they will be in it. They also have a guard that can match up against Jalen Moore with Damian Chong Qui. These two undersized but quick guards will surely give us some great on ball point guard battles every time they meet up. Who is winning that battle will likely determine the game.
Detroit Mercy- We would have some more insight into this if UDM and OU had met for their matchup during rivalry week but the scheduling gods were not favorable. Detroit Mercy has two important pieces in comparing them with Oakland. The first is their star, Antoine Davis. With him on the floor, you can never count out Detroit Mercy, although he only has 1 win against Oakand in his college career. The other factor for them in a matchup against OU would be the play of Noah Waterman. He could potentially stay with Townsend, where most teams do not have a player that can match up with him. Waterman’s size and guard skillset are a favorable matchup. However, that would leave Willy Isiani and Madut Akec to try and handle Cain which would likely not go well.
Wright State- They need to stay the course. They have a coach in Scott Nagy that has proven he can win. And he can win against Greg Kampe too, something not everyone can say. He has done a good job navigating WSU through the post Loudon Love era and the squad seems to be taking shape at the right time despite some early season bumps. Grant Basile is the kind of player that will try to be physical with Cain and take him out of his game. He’s also not afraid to be out on the perimeter with Cain who likes to hunt shots. While the Raiders haven’t been winning games in pretty fashion of late, they have been doing just enough to win. And when you have Tanner Holden on your team, you’re never too far out of a game. WSU has the right combination of size and athleticism to matchup well with OU and that’s a better starting place than most of the league.
Cleveland State– Make free throws. Make more 3’s. Either of those things and this article would be talking about what other teams need to do to knock Cleveland State out in a potential tournament matchup. They were right there with Oakland until the end. For as good as Spider Johnson was for CSU, it was the missed free throws (where he was 3-8) that will stay with him for now. A little more time on the floor for Tre Gomillion who found himself in foul trouble and a little less time for Jayson Woodrich and Broc Finstuen (combined 1-12 from the floor with 2 points in 22 minutes) and Cleveland State would be in good shape.
There is a LOT of season left for the Horizon League. From what we have seen already, we can only hope for a Cleveland State vs. Oakland final as it was clear these are the two best teams in the league and will deliver an entertaining game.