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Don Owen: Unlike other 11-17 basketball teams, Oakland could be major trouble for NKU on Monday

Back in December, I called Oakland (Mich.) the best 0-9 college basketball team in the nation. I’m not joking. Why would anyone make that up? I even have a witness.

I’d penned a column just before Christmas as a preview for the upcoming two-game series between Northern Kentucky and Oakland. The two teams were set to square off up in Michigan the first week of January. Oakland was 0-9.

The winless Golden Grizzlies were without question the best 0-9 team in the nation at the time. It seemed like a perfect angle. Researching it was fun. Writing it was a joy.

Oakland’s Rashad Williams (1) launches a 3-pointer against NKU defender Trevon Faulkner. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

Problem is, just before the column was set to run, the series was canceled due to virus issues within NKU’s program. Sigh. All that work for nothing. Here’s a sample of what I wrote:

Please don’t laugh. Restrain your snickering. Oakland (Mich.) is arguably the best 0-9 college basketball team in the nation. That’s a fact, not an opinion.

Sure, Chicago State is also 0-9. Yes, South Carolina State is 0-10. But Oakland would be a heavy favorite against either of those teams. As silly as it might sound, Chicago State and South Carolina State would likely be double-digit underdogs against the Golden Grizzlies on a neutral court. But it’s a fact.

And guess who has to play the winless Golden Grizzlies twice this weekend on the road? That’s right, Northern Kentucky. The Norse will travel north to meet Oakland on both Saturday and Sunday in Rochester.

Now we fast-forward to March. Oakland is 11-17 and has advanced to the semifinals of the Horizon League Tournament. The Golden Grizzlies will meet NKU (14-10) at 9:30 p.m. on Monday at Indiana Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis.

Oakland is just two wins away from earning a trip to the NCAA Tournament. Not bad for a team that began the season 0-9. Here is what I noted in the ill-fated column from December regarding that slow start:

Unlike Chicago State — which is losing by an average margin of more than 33 points per game — Oakland’s 0-9 record is misleading. The Golden Grizzlies haven’t even played a home game this season. And this could be a tough weekend for a youthful NKU squad that is currently 3-4 overall, 1-1 in the Horizon League.

Oakland’s schedule has been brutally demanding. The Golden Grizzlies have lost to the likes of Xavier, Michigan, Oklahoma State, Purdue, Michigan State and twice on the road to Illinois-Chicago. Since the Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks were not available, Oakland also settled for games against Toledo and Bradley.

NKU’s Adrian Nelson (left) battles Oakland’s Daniel Oladapo for a rebound last season. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

No other team in the Horizon League has gone up against a loaded non-conference schedule like Oakland’s rugged slate. Whether it toughened up the Golden Grizzles to compete for the Horizon League championship will be determined during the next three months.

That was back in December. Excuse me while I give myself a standing ovation for prognostication. Here’s more:

What is undeniable is the fact Oakland has plenty of talented players, a veteran head coach in Greg Kampe — who’s been on the Golden Grizzlies sideline for 37 years — and a ton of motivation for this weekend. Do you think anyone associated with the Oakland program wants to see 0-10 next to their won-loss record?

Also undeniable is the fact Rashad Williams suddenly transforms into Steph Curry when Oakland plays NKU. Williams torched NKU for 34 points last season at BB&T Arena, draining eight 3-pointers in 15 attempts.

And while playing for Cleveland State two years ago, Williams buried a trio of 3-pointers and scored 15 points as the Vikings ruined Senior Night for NKU during a stunning 83-77 upset at BB&T Arena.

March has now arrived. NKU is the two-time defending champion of the Horizon League Tournament. The Norse survived a classic quarterfinal contest against Detroit Mercy with a buzzer-beating 70-69 win at BB&T Arena.

David Böhm’s basket as time expired lifted NKU past Detroit Mercy and into the semifinals. The Norse are 9-2 in their past 11 games, with the only losses an overtime setback at Green Bay and a home defeat to Wright State.

NKU is the No. 4 seed, while Oakland is the No. 3 seed. So who wins Monday night?

Jalen Moore averages 17.9 points and 8.5 assists per game. (OU photo)

Oakland isn’t really an 11-17 team, despite the record. Kampe could have littered his schedule with all kinds of NAIA and USCAA squads for a 7-0 start this season. He instead chose to go against a challenging schedule.

And look where Oakland is in March — two wins away from the NCAA Tournament.

Williams isn’t the only standout on the Oakland roster. Jalen Moore averages 17.9 points and leads the nation with 8.5 assists per game. Many observers say Moore, a 5-foot-11 point guard, is the best player in the Horizon League.

Williams is scoring 13.4 points per contest and leads the nation in 3-point field goal attempts (251). Oakland big man Daniel Oladapo is scoring 13.0 points per game and leads the team in rebounding at 8.9 boards per contest.

Oakland went to overtime in the Horizon League quarterfinals and pulled out an 87-83 win over Youngstown State. Moore (20 points, 11 assists) and Oladapo (17 points, 10 rebounds) both delivered double-doubles in that win. Williams scored 19 of his team-high 22 points in the second half to key Oakland’s victory.

NKU features Trevon Faulkner, a battle-tested tournament warrior who averages 16.3 points and 5.5 rebounds. Faulkner has helped NKU win the past two Horizon League Tournament titles as a role player. The Mercer County High School graduate will need to excel as the go-to guy this week if NKU is to three-peat.

David Böhm scores a basket at the buzzer to give NKU a 70-69 win over Detroit Mercy. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

Freshmen have played key roles for NKU all season, including Henry Clay High School graduate Marques Warrick and his 16.1 points per game. Warrick was also selected as the Horizon League Freshman of the Year.

Warrick scored 20 points to lead NKU against Detroit Mercy. Bryson Langdon netted 15 of his 17 points in the first half for the Norse.

Böhm, a 6-foot-9 freshman who converted the winning shot just before the buzzer sounded, finished with 11 points and six rebounds. Faulkner added 10 points, nine rebounds and four assists.

Oakland also features a pair of outstanding freshmen in starting forwards Micah Parrish (8.8 ppg) and Trey Townsend (8.5 ppg). That duo combines for nearly 12 rebounds per game, and both players are shooting better than 52 percent from the field.

So please don’t laugh at the 11-17 record. Restrain your snickering. Oakland is going to be a tough opponent for NKU on Monday night.

That’s a fact, not an opinion.

Don Owen is sports editor of the Northern Kentucky Tribune. Contact him at don@nkytrib.com and follow him on Twitter at @dontribunesport.

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One Comment

  1. Willie says:

    You are a genius Don. Pat yourself on the back again.

Reply to Willie Cancel Reply