Many Wahoo fans are feeling some level of concern after the Hoos near loss to Cal. While the Bears are a solid team, they shouldn't be outplaying the Hoos in Charlottesville. It is great that the Hoos won the game, but the game showed that the Hoos are vulnerable.
Up next is the Golden Grizzlies of Oakland. This Oakland isn't in California, but rather Oakland County, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. Head Coach Greg Kampe has been there for 31 years, beginning in 1984 when Oakland was still Division 2. They transitioned to DI in 1999, and have made the tournament 3 times since then, the last time in 2011. Three tournament appearances in 15 years may not seem like much, but that's a pretty good record in the Horizon League, going up against teams such as Butler and Valpariaso. In fact, Virginia coach Tony Bennett played in the Horizon League at Wisconsin-Green Bay, though it was called the Midwestern Collegiate Conference back then (and Oakland wasn't yet a member when Tony was there).
Kampe favors a high-octane, up-tempo game and his teams are usually among the fastest teams in the nation, peaking at #8 with that 2011 team. This year, they are the 10th fastest team in the nation and the 4th highest scoring team, averaging 88 points per game. Just last week, they took #1 Michigan State to overtime. (Keep in mind that Michigan State was playing without All-American Denzel Valentine.) They've also lost to Georgia, Southern Illinois and Colorado St, while their best win is @Washington.
Oakland's top player is Kahlil Felder, who currently is #2 in the nation in scoring and #1 in assists. He's just 5'9", but may be the quickest player in the nation. He has no conscious and will shoot from anywhere on the court. He's shooting 38% from 3, but prefers to get out in transition for easy buckets. He gets to the line a lot, and shoots 85% from the stripe. Felder averages over 37 minutes per game. He the guy who makes Oakland go. If you stop him, you stop the Grizzlies, plain and simple.
Five other players average in double figures for Oakland. This includes senior Percy Gibson, a 6'9" 270 pound transfer from Iowa State. He didn't play a ton at Iowa State and has had some trouble staying in shape. But he's looked very god in Kampe's up-tempo system. He's a big man who gets out in transition and finishes. He's also strong on the glass, especially on the offensive end. And he can hit a mid-range jumper. He's a decent shot blocker, but does have a tendency to get into foul trouble. Also, he's lefty.
Next to Felder are a group of big, athletic wings who can shoot the rock. Sherron Dorsey-Walker is another Iowa State transfer and shooting 47% from 3 while averaging 8 rebounds per game. Senior Max Hooper is shooting about 45% from 3 in his 2nd season after transferring from St John's.
Martez Walker transferred from Texas after being suspended from the team following a domestic violence arrest prior to his sophomore season. He did not play this year until December 19th, but has started the 3 games since he's been eligible. Nick Daniels didn't transfer from anywhere, but he's a bigtime shooter who was at 45% as a freshman last year from 3. He hasn't shot it nearly as well this year. Both Walker and Daniels are lefties, giving them 3 lefties in the rotation.
Up front with Gibson is Jalen Hayes, a long athletic forward who can finish in transition, but doesn't have much offense beyond that. He's a high-motor guy who uses his length and athleticism to do well on the boards, where he's averaging nearly 8 per game. When considering all these rebounds, remember that in a 76 possession game there are a lot more rebounds than in a 62 possession game. Oakland isn't a particularly good rebounding team.
Despite the Hoos reputation as a slow-down, knock-out physical team, they've actually fared better this year against smaller, fast-paced teams. The Hoos two best wins came against West Virginia and Villanova. Meanwhile, they lost to George Washington, a big slow team and should've lost to Cal.
Oakland isn't necessarily small, but they aren't big. Only Percy Gibson is particularly strong for his position, and the team is led by a 5'9" 176 lb point guard. The Grizzlies are one of the fastest teams in the nation. They will press, but probably not all game. Even with the press, they do not force all that many turnovers. Certainly not as many as West Virginia or Villanova, two similar defenses the Hoos have faced. The Oakland press is mostly about trapping the ball. They will double team the ballhandler, and try to jump passing lanes. But they will give up easy buckets if you can beat their double-team.
Of course, they easiest way to beat the press is to not turn the ball over. If the Hoos are able to take care of the basketball, as they have all season, Oakland is going to struggle. This isn't a particularly good half-court offense or defense. Where Oakland can hurt the Hoos in the half-court is with 3 point shooting. They have a number of shooters and if Felder can get into the lane and draw help, he'll find open shooters outside. Against the Spartans, Oakland hit 8/22 from 3 and also hit 39/48 from the FT line. Felder had 37 points and 9 assists. They also forced 15 turnovers.
With multiple ball-handlers on the court at all times, the Hoos should do well against the press. I could even see Tony Bennett going with a 4 guard lineup with Anthony Gill as the lone post player. A team of London Perrantes, Malcolm Brogdon, Darius Thompson and Marial Shayok/Devon Hall would match up quite well with Oakland. More likely, Isaiah Wilkins will be on the floor to help out on the glass. He's not the ball-handler that the wings are, but he's proven to be a very adept passer.
The Hoos will certainly have to play better than they did last week. Especially on offense, because Oakland will score points. The Hoos will taking transition buckets when the opportunity presents. But they don't want to get into an up and down game with the Grizzlies. They want to slow the game down to their pace and force Oakland into a half-court game. That will go the Hoos way.