|Posted by Brian Dickmann on February 23, 2017 at 2:55 PM|
Photo: Oakland University Athletics
In 2015, the Green Bay Phoenix finished second in the Horizon League regular season standings at 12-4 followed by Oakland in third at 11-5.
Last season, it was Oakland who finished second in the standings at 13-5 while Green Bay finished fourth at 11-7 before winning the conference tournament.
So it seems appropriate that both teams will meet Friday night at the Resch Center in a game that will likely determine who will earn the coveted #2 seed this season. And on a night lacking a single Top-25 matchup on the docket, Friday's nationally televised clash (6:00, ESPNU)could be the biggest college basketball game of the day as both teams look to continue to build momentum towards next weekend’s conference tournament at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
The Phoenix (17-11, 11-5) cannot clinch the #2 seed Friday night but control their own destiny for the spot meaning a win against Oakland on Friday as well as a win against Detroit Mercy on Sunday afternoon would guarantee Green Bay at least the #2 seed at Motor City Madness. Despite a bracket change this past summer by the Horizon League the tournament’s top two seeds still matter significantly.
There is still a very small chance, 7% according to PlayoffStatus.com, of the Phoenix winning a share of the regular season title and #1 seed but it would require Valparaiso losing twice this weekend – at Wright State on Friday and at Northern Kentucky on Sunday.
Oakland (22-7, 12-4), meanwhile, comes in as the league’s hottest team having won seven in a row. They sit just a game behind the Crusaders and would clinch the #2 seed with a win Friday and could win the regular season championship and #1 seed with two wins this weekend and at least one Valpo loss.
“Just to be in the position that we’re in, that’s what you want this time of year,” Green Bay associate head coach Randall Herbst told WNFL radio after Tuesday night’s win at UIC. “You want to be fighting for something. Here we are, if the stars line up maybe Valpo gets beat and we’ve still got a shot at this thing.”
“At the end of the day we’d love to win the regular season but if not you want to finish number two and get that [day of rest].”
Green Bay won the first matchup with Oakland in convincing fashion on the road, 80-72, back on January 27th. Six Phoenix players scored at least 8 points in the victory in which they forced Oakland into 19 turnovers and just 4 of 19 (19.0%) shooting from beyond the arc.
“They had nine run out layups off steals where we just threw the ball away, they caught it or took it from us and laid it in,” Oakland head coach Greg Kampe said on his weekly radio show on WDFN radio Wednesday. “If you take that away, we really guarded them really well in the half court.”
“But they spanked us from start to finish, they beat us by eight in our building.”
This is a different Golden Grizzlies team, however, from the first meeting. Oakland started the season 14-3 before enduring a stretch in which they lost four out of five games including the home game against Green Bay last month. They scored 74.2 points per game during that stretch and turned the ball over 17.2 times per game while making just 20.2% of their three point attempts. Opponents, meanwhile, put up 81.4 against the Grizzlies during that stretch.
But since the loss to Green Bay, Oakland has won their last seven games. They have gotten improved point guard play especially from freshman Brailen Neely. The 5’9” Detroit native has filled in capably for the injured Stevie Clark who missed significant time with a thumb injury but has since returned to the lineup. While Neely’s points are down slightly during the 7-game winning streak compared to the two week lull, he has nearly doubled his assists per game and is turning the ball over less.
As a team, Oakland is scoring 83.0 points per game during the winning streak while holding opponents to 70.7. They’re shooting 47.5% from the floor, including 36.8% from beyond the arc, and have trimmed the turnovers down to 13.4 per game.
“Our point guard play is much better than it was at that time,” Kampe said. “We’re shooting the ball again the way we’re capable of shooting it.”
Oakland is a very experienced team that only boasts one senior, 6’4” guard Sherron Dorsey-Walker, who averages 12.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game. They are led by the junior duo of 6’4” guard Martez Walker, the conference’s fourth leading scorer at 17.1 points per game, and do-everything 6’7” forward Jalen Hayes, the Horizon League’s seventh leading scorer at 15.7 points and third leading rebounder at 7.9 rebounds per game.
A win would give Green Bay their first season sweep of the Grizzlies since their first season in the Horizon League four years ago. Since then, Oakland has lost twice to the same opponent during the same season only one time over the past three years – last year when they were swept by Valparaiso.
“They’re a great team,” Herbst said. “They’re very talented and very capable.”
The 72 points the Grizzlies scored in the first meeting was a massive difference compared to last season when they put up 111 points in each game in two dominate victories over Green Bay. This season, Oakland has become a much more defensive-oriented team while still packing a potent offensive punch.
They lead the league in steals, rank second in blocked shots, and are third in scoring defense holding teams to 72.0 points per game during the conference season.
“I think they’ll struggle to score against our half-court defense,” Kampe said. “Our strength of this team is our half-court defense so if we can make the game a half court defensive/offensive chess match we’ll have a very good chance to win the game.”
“[Green Bay’s] strength as a team is they muscle you. They play very physical and try to take you out of your stuff. Then they try to get deflections and steals and they get off to the races. When they’re in transition they score really well.”
“If they can play that way they’ll win the league, they’ll win the league tournament, they’ll win everything. We have to make sure they don’t do that. We have to value the basketball, we’ve got to make the extra pass, we have to pass fake before we pass, we have to do all those things.”
After starting the conference season a perfect 5-0, Green Bay is just 6-5 in its last eleven games but has won two straight – an impressive win at rival Milwaukee last Saturday followed by Tuesday night’s win in Chicago. The Phoenix got hot at the right time last season winning four of their last five regular season games before running the table with four wins in four days at the conference tournament.
They will try to keep the momentum going Friday night and hopefully again Sunday after noon on Senior Day where Green Bay will honor six senior players in the regular season finale. Then it’s off to Detroit for Motor City Madness next weekend.
“We’ve just got to take it one game at a time,” Herbst said. “We’ve got to worry about Oakland and then after that we’ve got Detroit at home on Senior Day.”
“It’s a great weekend for Green Bay basketball. It’s exciting and fun that we’re in the race, we’re in the hunt and so hopefully everybody comes out there and cheers us on and we get a great showing with the crowd.”
Categories: Phoenix Preview