It is the 25th of November and college basketball season is starting. The absolute chaos of the end of last season seems both far removed and strikingly immediate. Some echoes remain, the Ivy League is canceling, there aren’t fans in seats, the action scrolling the bottom of the screen may at times command more attention than that in the main. Still, despite everyone at this point just moving shadows in the shape of what they want to see, basketball is back.
Basketball is back! There is almost nothing in the world that can completely detract from that. For a glorious two hours on Wednesday afternoon there will be nothing that matters more to those of us off work, and some of you still working, than Xavier starting on the long road towards somewhere in Indiana in March. Yes, that ending destination is odd (do you mean we might not get to play a first round game in Provo this year? Oh no!), but the goal remains what it always has been: chuck off the slings and arrows of outrageous NCAA fortune, beat UC, make the Sweet 16. It’s time for basketball.
Oakland will join the 68 in the environs of Indianapolis in March only if they win the Horizon League. Last season they went 13-18 in conference play and then got boatraced by Green Bay to bow out before their season could even get canceled. This did nothing to the standing of Coach Greg Kampe, who has been coaching at Oakland since Travis Steele was three years old.
Kampe has evolved in that time though, and that is evident in his offense. As recently as 2016 his team was in the top 10 in adjusted tempo. Since then, he’s applied the brakes in the manner of a 15 year old learning to drive. Last season the Golden Grizzlies were 285th in tempo and held the ball for nearly 19 seconds per possession. The upshoot of that was one of the worst three pointing shooting teams (29.4%) in the nation and the 246th most efficient offense. Oakland was good getting to the line and moved the ball well, but to little avail.
Defensively you would think team named the Grizzlies might conjure up some ferocity. A glance at the numbers would disabuse you of that notion. Oakland got rained on from behind the arc last years as teams swung the ball and fired away at will. That only 33% of those shots went down hardly mattered given that only 40 teams in the national allowed teams a greater percentage of their shots from deep or from a pass. The Grizzlies were good at not putting teams on the line.
6-2, 185 guard Rashad Williams is a scorer. He’ll shoot, pretty poorly, from everywhere and take a third of his team’s shots when he is on the floor. He had games of 37, 34, and 29 last year, but also had one where he scored eight points on 12 shots. Daniel Oladapo is a 6-7 rebounding menace that scores mostly on his own effort. Beyond that, Oakland returns only role players. Blake Lampman is a three point shooter who connects on 33% of his attempts. Kevin Kangu is a point guard who can’t shoot and turns the ball over way too much. 5-11 transfer Jalen Moore averaged 19 points for a junior college last year and comes with the reputation of a shooter. The Grizzlies have lost 12 players to transfer in the last two years. That makes projecting a rotation something of a guessing game and makes their Covid layoff all the more detrimental.
- Who will play for Xavier? Adam Kunkel is still waiting on his eligibility ruling, Danny Ramsey is still battling bad knees, and at least five players figure to make their division one debuts in this game. Shockingly, none of that is the biggest news as this goes to press, because as of right now three unknown players are unavailable for at least two weeks due to Covid protocol. Coach Steele will need to put together a rotation on the fly.
- Who emerges as a stalwart? In the Xavier Invitational the Musketeers need some players to step up and provide stability and consistent performance. Kyky Tandy figures to be explosive, but he has to add steadiness to that. Zach Freemantle will take a large chunk of the available minutes now that Tyrique Jones has left. Jason Carter could really add a lot to this team by becoming a pencil in and forget member of the starting five.
- What on earth will this sound like? The Cintas with 300 people in it at noon on a Wednesday seems like a poorly attended job fair. Instead, that’s the start of the season. Students will be gone, every shout from the coaches will be audible, and players will hear everything the fans yell. The audio spectacle is going to change dramatically.
- Win the first war: Xavier should win all the wars in this game, but getting the first four minutes under their belt and out of the way will be vital. Once the game starts, some of the background noise will fade away and the competition will take over. There is no need for that competition to be tight. Dispose of Oakland early.
- Move the ball: Coach Steele’s new offense is predicated on the ball not sticking and Oakland is susceptible to teams that pass well. To watch a Musketeers team move the ball without it sticking would be an extremely encouraging sign.
- Create a pleasant distraction: This isn’t basketball related, really. For two and a half hours Xavier Nation could use a break from a global pandemic, an election mess only now settling into reality, and a trying eight months of uncertainty. That’s a lot to put on college kids, but it would be a welcome blessing.