Busting Brackets

Oakland Basketball is not a Cinderella but a team of destiny

Head coach Greg Kampe has the Golden Grizzlies heading to the round of 32 and they are not satisfied with their win over Kentucky as they look to win and go to the Sweet 16.

Oakland v Kentucky
Oakland v Kentucky / Joe Sargent/GettyImages

In the 2024 NCAA Tournament, the 14th-seeded Oakland Golden Grizzlies defeated the 3rd-seeded Kentucky Wildcats by a final score of 80-76. However, don't label Oakland a Cinderella team according to their unsung hero.

This victory was significant as it sent shockwaves through the college basketball world but Oakland doesn't want to be defined as a Cinderella and they have the confidence going into their game with North Carolina State.

Here's a quick breakdown of Oakland's win over No. 3 seed Kentucky.

Oakland's Strategy:

  • Aggressive 1-3-1 Zone Defense: The Golden Grizzlies employed a matchup 1-3-1 zone defense, which confused Kentucky's offense and prevented them from establishing a rhythm. Oakland has been running this type of defense the past couple of seasons and teams like Kentucky who have not played teams who run it, have had difficulties offensively against it.
  • Capitalizing on Opportunities: Oakland took advantage of Kentucky's turnovers and missed shots, converting them into points on the other end. The Golden Grizzlies had 40 total rebounds and forced Kentucky to turn the ball over 11 times.

Key Players for Oakland:

  • The Star of the game: Unlike Kentucky, which might rely on a few star players, Oakland this season has more than one player score this season. Though their victory was a team effort with balanced scoring contributions, the star of the game was the Horizon League's Sixth Man of the Year, Jack Gohlke. All his field goal attempts were from three-point land and he made ten of his twenty beyond-the-arc attempts for 32 points.
  • The second star of the game: The Horizon League Player of the Year, Trey Townsend had an outstanding second half of play and ended up with 17 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, two steals, and a block.

Oakland's strategy for the upset:

  • Limiting Kentucky's offense: It is easier said than done but Oakland's defense of intensity and stopping the Wildcats big men from scoring in bunches helped them win this game. Kentucky's offense struggled to adapt to Oakland's 1-3-1 zone defense as mentioned earlier, leading to turnovers and missed shots but the Golden Grizzlies defense overall limited the Wildcats three-point shooting to only 32.1% from beyond the arc.
  • Oakland psychologically had the right mindset: Sports psychology is getting more popular for college basketball programs for a reason. As a highly-ranked team, Kentucky faced immense pressure to win and Oakland made the Wildcats uncomfortable all game long. The weight of expectation might have contributed to Kentucky's performance but the Golden Grizzlies were not afraid and very confident from start to finish. Oakland had the right mindset going into the game and even after halftime, their confidence continued to grow and they did not panic late in the game like Nevada had done against Dayton earlier in the day.

Impact of Oakland advancing to the round of 32:

  • March Madness Magic: This victory exemplifies the unpredictable nature of the NCAA Tournament, where lower-seeded teams can pull off surprising upsets. It also brings national attention to a university that is not well known to people living outside Metro Detroit. The win also helps the school get the attention it normally would not get and it makes the alums of Oakland very proud to be a Golden Grizzlies heading into their match-up with North Carolina State.
  • Oakland believes that they can win and go to the Sweet Sixteen: The Golden Grizzlies' win thrusted them into the national spotlight and earned them respect within the college basketball landscape but more importantly, the team believes more than ever that if they can defeat a blue blood team like Kentucky. So why can' they defeat a No. 11 seed in North Carolina State after defeating a No. 3 seed?

Keys to defeating North Carolina State

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Although Oakland's 1-3-1 defense doesn't stop other teams from scoring more than 70 points more often than not, it does keep its main players out of foul trouble generally speaking and it allows their starters in particular more energy to use on the offensive end.

In 20 games this season, Oakland has prevented opponents from scoring more than 76 points and they may not seem impressive but an opponent like North Carolina State who won the ACC tournament, should not be able to score a ton of points like they did against Texas Tech when they put up 80 in their opening round game or when they put up 84 points against North Carolina in the ACC tournament championship game.

Having made 24 3-pointers in the Horizon League tournament, Oakland as a team is capable of making many three-point attempts. In their game against Kentucky, they made 15 threes against the Wildcats. Their primary three-point shooter for the Golden Grizzlies, Jack Gohlke, shoots 37.8% from beyond the arc and he made ten of his twenty-three-point attempts against Kentucky.

DQ Cole is shooting 36.8% and he made a three-pointer with only 37 seconds left in the game against Kentucky, while second-team Horizon League player Blake Lampman is shooting at 36.5% from beyond the arc this season. Even Trey Townsend, the Horizon League player of the year shoots three-pointers at a rate of 34.5% and he made a critical three in the second half against Kentucky.

The long-serving coach of Oakland has previously triumphed over Power Five teams and his win over Kentucky is not as much of a shocker as you may think. Since 2010, Kampe and his Golden Grizzlies have triumphed over Clemson, Georgia, Washington, Houston, and Tennessee (twice). They also defeated Oklahoma State two seasons ago on the road.

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With the use of the transfer portal, Kampe has been able to develop players such as Chris Conway, Lampman, Townsend, and others who have had huge positive impacts on the program this season. Kampe is considered an "old school" style type of coach but he has adapted and changed with the times and Oakland has benefitted from it.