Oakland Preview

If the Longhorns needed any motivation to show up Friday, all they had to do was take a look at the Southwest region.

Perhaps serving as a warning to all of 2011's NCAA Tournament teams, the bracket saw a pair of late upsets, including No. 13 seed Morehead State beating No. 4 Louisville and No. 5 seed Vanderbilt falling to No. 12 Richmond.

The Longhorns will engage in their own 4-13 game Friday, when they take on an Oakland team that is plenty upset-capable.

Oakland (25-9) enters the tournament as the Summitt League champion after going a combined 20-1 against league foes. But it's the teams that the Golden Grizzlies played in non-conference play that indicates that Coach Greg Campe's bunch won't be intimidated by the Longhorns. Out of its 13 non-conference games, Oakland played six NCAA Tournament teams, including No. 1 overall seed Ohio State in Columbus. The Golden Grizzlies lost to the Buckeyes, West Virginia, Purdue and Illinois on the road, while losing to Michigan State by a point at a neutral site. Oakland didn't pull an 0-fer either, claiming an 89-82 win at Tennessee.

The Golden Grizzlies are built around an offense that not only ranks in the nation's top 15 in efficiency, but one that also plays at the nation's seventh-fastest pace. How does that offense stack up? Only four Longhorn opponents this year had more efficient offensive teams — Kansas (4), Pittsburgh (6), Colorado (10) and Connecticut (12) — and Texas went a combined 1-4 against those squads.

Additionally, only two teams nationally (Kansas being one of them, SMU the other) shot a better effective field goal percentage than the Golden Grizzlies, who have four players with more than 30 three-pointers on the year, all of whom shoot better than 35 percent.

But it's inside the arc that Oakland is most capable, shooting an amazing 55.8 percent on its two-point attempts, good for second-best in the country. That effort his headed by senior Keith Benson, a 6-foot-11 future NBA'er. At 225-pounds, Benson is more of a finesse player, though the Longhorns have had problems with talented big men this season. An excellent defensive rebounder, Benson is also one of the country's top shot-blockers. Benson averages 18.0 points, 10.1 rebounds and 3.6 blocks per game.

The Golden Grizzlies are far from a one-man team. Reggie Hamilton is a scoring table-setter, a 5-foot-11 point guard who averages 17.4 points and 5.4 assists per game. He can be turned over, as he averages more than 3.6 turnovers per game, though he's dangerous from both the three-point line (close to 38 percent) and the free-throw line (almost 84 percent).

At 6-foot-9, Will Hudson gives Oakland another big man. He's one of the country's most efficient offensive players, while scoring 12.5 points and grabbing 7.1 rebounds per game. The Grizzlies are capable of getting even bigger with 7-footer Ilija Milutinovic, but he plays just around nine minutes per game.

Guard Travis Bader is only slightly less efficient, also ranking in the top-10 nationally in offensive rating. Bader shoots almost 46 percent from behind the arc. Larry Wright rounds out the backcourt. At about 36 percent, he's the worst shooter of the Grizzlies' top four three-point takers. Drew Valentine is a key reserve, a 6-foot-4 swingman who hits nearly 42 percent of his three-pointers and serves as one of the team's top rebounders in terms of rate.

As they have for much of this year, the Golden Grizzlies will try to lure the Longhorns into a game of run-and-shoot. And they'll have some advantages, particularly in terms of height. But the Grizzlies lack two very important pieces for dealing with the Longhorns: physicality and a pure three to defend Jordan Hamilton.

Those two factors, along with the fact that the Oakland guards must contend with arguably the country's top defensive guard tandem, would seem to indicate that the Longhorns will continue the song of the Oakland season: battle-tested, but rarely battle-victorious.

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