Before the tournament selection, Oakland was identified by many as a team likely to foist an upset, irrespective of opponent. Several national commentators are sticking with that prediction now that Texas is the announced draw - including Seth Davis and Joe Lunardi.
However, upsets don't occur in a vacuum. Or even a Dust Buster.
The opponent means everything.
According to KenPom, the Grizzlies' advanced offensive statistics reveal the 2nd highest FG% in the country (an amazing 49.4%), that they're hellacious offensive rebounders, they launch twenty two 3 point shots on average per game, and they have balanced scoring. Their adjusted offensive efficiency (essentially their efficacy per possession) ranks 13th in the country and their adjusted pace is in the top 2% of Division I. This is an offensive-minded, fast tempo ball club that can fill it up against anyone. This isn't Loyola Marymount, but they will gladly play you in the 90s.
Defensively, their numbers are sobering. The Grizzlies aren't guarding consistently and, facing a weak schedule on balance, they rank 200th in the nation in defensive efficiency. More damning, their forgettable defensive point per possession numbers aren't because they're using pressure to turn people over - they rank 327th in the country in forcing turnovers. 241st in steals.
BTW, it's shocking to some Longhorn fans to learn that our adjusted offense is ranked #19 nationally and our defense is #1 in those same rankings. True, statistics often belie the truth and don't reflect our recent play, offensive rebounding is part of our hidden efficiency, but it's also because most Longhorn basketball fans watch no other basketball team than Texas and fancy that the entire country is fashioning Swiss timepieces on offense.
Let's look at Oakland's qualitative profile and how it meshes with our own:
Not your typical mid-major. Oakland is bigger than we are. 12th in the nation in effective height (a formula that measures size of players adjusted for actual minutes played). Senior center Keith Benson is a legit 6-11 230, a dominating shot blocker, and their leading scorer and rebounder (18-10). He's a legit NBA prospect and he can run full court. Will Hudson is the senior PF and he goes 6-9 235. He's a physical 12.5 ppg guy who works the offensive glass, shooting 64% from the field. Their best ball defender, Valentine, is a 6-5 225 former football player at the 3.
Texas: We're more susceptible to strength than pure height. See how we matched up against Baylor vs. UConn. Tristan hasn't struggled with tall. He struggles with 6-8 260. Gary Johnson must keep Hudson off of the backside glass and he needs a quick hook for Wangmene or Hill if he won't do it. Not a single guy in the Oakland front court can cover their Longhorn opposite in a face-up situation. If Gary Johnson decides to hit his 16 footer again, he should have it available on demand against the Grizzlies.
Oakland is committed to up-tempo play. They work it inside and then try to shoot a 3 or get a runner from their quality PG Hamilton. They maximize their number of possessions, get good ball movement, and murder the offensive boards. Patience is not their virtue. They have three legitimate threats outside the arc, including a 45% 3 point shooting specialist in Bader. They're playing a volume game, pure and simple.
Texas: This plays into our hands. We defend the three point line better than any Texas team in recent memory and pace elevates Doge from a half-court liability to a true game factor. Their Hamilton is a classy point guard, but he's also 5-11 and Doge's strength will wear on him. Similarly, playing fast makes it "just basketball" instead of a trip to the dentist and transition baskets will be available to us. If we refuse to attack in transition when we have numbers under some misguided notion that it is playing into their hands by elevating pace, we deserve to lose. Our guys are faster, quicker, and more active over 40 minutes.
The Grizzlies best players are upper classmen. Similarly, that experience is at point guard and in the post, precisely where you want it. They've also played several big-time basketball schools this year and they're not going to be intimidated by Texas.
Texas: We tend to forget just how young we are. Our four best players are underclassmen. We can't let Benson use his experience to put two early fouls on our favorite Canuck.
As for Oakland playing good teams, against Texas comparable programs - West Virginia, Purdue, Cincy, Illinois, Tennessee, Michigan, Ohio St - they went 1-6 with one big win over Tennessee in Knoxville and an average loss margin of 16.3 points.
Oakland's defense is built around blocking shots (Benson gets almost 4 a game) and funneling dribblers into his house. They don't do much else well and they're not a cohesive team defense. They primarily man and they don't pressure or trap that effectively.
Texas: Sounds like a good prescription for an offense that's still getting over the flu. This will be checkers, not chess. Does Oakland strike you as a team that will fight through screens or beat our shooters to their spots?
Doing What They Do
Saw a film with their head coach on the Grizzly website in which he talked about doing what they do in their system and not worrying about the other team. That's probably accurate in the Summit League. And it fits their basketball system.
Not the best plan for Texas. I'll be concerned when we run into the coach that decides attacking our personnel with specific tactics and refusing to play us honestly is the key to victory and has a system that allows it. That's when we're going home.
Until then, assuming the basketball gods don't allow Oakland to shoot 14 of 25 from 3, I like the Horns by 12.