Ever since transitioning to Division 1, Oakland has not been afraid to schedule anyone. Their non-conference schedule is a gauntlet that is annually rated among the most difficult in the nation. One team that has appeared on that schedule many times is Michigan State. It is clear that Coach Kampe and Coach Izzo have a great rapport. Tuesday night at the Palace of Auburn Hills became the perfect storm for a big crowd and a great game. MSU came into the game 12-0, and ranked number one in the nation, just one win shy of the best start in school history. Oakland entered the contest at 7-3, fresh off of a win at Pac 12 opponent Washington. The drama was increased by the fact that MSU star senior Denzel Valentine was ruled out of the game after undergoing knee surgery. Regardless of his absence, Oakland came into the game with the belief that they would finally get that first win over perennial power MSU. Sparty fans would never believe that the best player in this matchup was not on their team. But Oakland junior point guard Kay Felder is just that, coming into the game second in the nation in scoring and first in assists. Yes, I mean best player on either team, including Valentine.
I am not one to make predictions that often. But I could not resist saying, just seconds before the tip, that Oakland would win 79-67. I felt pretty good as Oakland held a decisive 50-37 halftime lead. It was great to see the Palace essentially full, especially when the Pistons struggle to get 15,000 in the arena. The official total was 20,228. My estimate is that the crowd was about 80 percent Green and White, and the rest were Golden Grizzlies. This makes it ironic when people called this a “home game” for Oakland. But Oakland’s fans made their voices heard. And their pre-introduction video on the video boards was really intense and cool.
As for the actual game, I was left asking my family around me, “Is there anything that Kay Felder cannot do on a basketball court?” But what allowed MSU to get back into the game in the second half was Oakland’s lack of being able to run their offense in the half-court and penetrate the key. They also were not able to push the ball in transition to get easy baskets like they got in the first half. After having a great effort in his first game as a Golden Grizzly just days earlier, Martez Walker was unable to find an offensive rhythm. He also seemed to be frustrated defensively. But he will be a key component for the team moving forward. Jalen Hayes had a big game in posting a double-double. But it was his presence down low on both ends that made a big difference, especially with Percy Gibson in foul trouble. Sherron Dorsey-Walker has really stepped up with mature play and makes great decisions with the ball, including aggressive moves to the basket.
Even though Oakland fell short, they gained more national exposure that they have come to covet. Assuming Oakland makes the NCAA Tournament, I would love to see the committee place Oakland in the same quarter of the bracket as MSU. MSU would likely be a #1 or #2 seed, while the Grizzlies would likely be anywhere from #11 to #14. Even if this happened, the likelihood of each team winning two to three tournament games and facing each other in the Sweet 16 or Elite 8 is extremely unlikely. But there’s nothing wrong with hoping!
Coach Kampe has said this could be his best team ever, and they sure are playing like it.