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Huge week looms for 9-1 Oakland basketball

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

The look on Oakland coach Greg Kampe’s face said it all.

After all, it’s long been his dream — his obsession, really — to beat Michigan State, and it darn near happened last December at The Palace. And it would’ve happened had Kay Felder’s driving layup not rolled around the rim, seemingly for an eternity, before popping out.

Kampe, hands behind his head, looked like he was going to puke. And while Felder was fouled and made both free throws to tie the game, Michigan State went on to win, 99-93, in overtime in a wildly entertaining matchup at a packed Palace.

The Spartans lead the all-time series, 14-0. This might be the year the Golden Grizzlies finally get it done.

Oakland is off to its best start since joining Division I in 2000, at 9-1. Michigan State is scuffling at 7-5, having just lost to Northeastern of the Colonial Athletic Association at Breslin Center on Sunday night.

Interestingly, Oakland will play Northeastern at the O’rena in Rochester on Tuesday, before heading to Breslin Center to play Michigan State on Wednesday. It’s an odd, midweek college basketball back-to-back.

“I’m not against the back-to-back,” Oakland athletic director Jeff Konya said, “because that emulates what we’re going to have to do in March.”

Northeastern (6-5) was a late addition to the schedule, having contacted Oakland and asked to set up a game since it already was going to be in Michigan anyway.

Oakland agreed, and made it part of a home-and-home series.

Now, it’ll serve as a good barometer for where Oakland stands. Northeastern was impressive in beating Michigan State, 81-73, on Sunday.

But while the Northeastern game is a good measuring stick, it also, theoretically, could lead to fatigue issues for the Michigan State game. This will be the 10th meeting between the teams in the last 11 seasons, and there have been numerous close calls — 75-71 in East Lansing in 2007, 77-76 at The Palace in 2010, 67-63 at The Palace in 2013 and last year’s thriller.

Oakland hasn’t missed a beat despite the early departure of Felder to the NBA, with a bevy of transfers picking up the slack, including Stevie Clark (6.1 assists; tied for 20th in the NCAA); Martez Walker (18.5 points; fourth in the Horizon League); and Sherron-Dorsey Walker (12.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists).

It’s an unselfish group of players, which isn’t always the case with transfers — especially some with baggage. Yet Clark, the JUCO transfer, strives to lead the nation in assists, like Felder last year, and not points. Teammates actually have to tell Walker, a Texas transfer, to shoot more than he does.

The Golden Grizzlies also are getting a boost from freshman Isaiah Brock, who made headlines during the fall when the NCAA originally ruled the five-year Army veteran ineligible based on five-year-old high school transcripts. Facing public pressure, the NCAA eventually relented, and Brock has been quite the surprise on the court, averaging 6.9 points and 5.7 rebounds while earning a pair of Horizon League freshman of the week honors.

Northeastern and Michigan State is just the beginning of a big week for Oakland, which actually plays three games in four days. Georgia (7-3) visits Oakland on Friday, a rare visit from a Power Five school to a mid-major arena.

It’s part of a two-for-one series, and Georgia did it so a pair of Metro Detroit natives — forwards Yante Maten (Bloomfield Hills) and Mike Edwards (Westland John Glenn) — could come home for the holiday and play in front of family and friends.

“It’s awesome,” Konya said of having a Power Five school come to town. “Our fans have been talking about that game for a long time. Ticket sales are phenomenal for that game, as you can imagine.

“It’s one of the best marquee, nonconference Division I Michigan matchups this year.”

Twitter: @tonypaul1984


Tuesday vs. Northeastern

Tip-off: 7 p.m., O’rena, Rochester

TV/radio: TV20/WDFN

Wednesday at Michigan State

Tip-off: 7 p.m., Breslin Center, East Lansing

TV/radio: BTN/WDFN

Friday vs. Georgia

Tip-off: 7 p.m., O’rena, Rochester

TV/radio: TV20/WDFN