Editor’s note: This is the latest installment of a weekly series looking at the college-basketball scene in Michigan.
It’s almost like it’s programmed into their brain, these coaches who swear they’re just focused on one game at a time — the next game on the schedule.
Oakland’s Greg Kampe is more honest than most coaches, though. Sure, every game has his attention, but Dec. 16 might as well be circled on the calendar. That’s when the Golden Grizzlies play Tom Izzo’s Spartans at Little Caesars Arena.
Oakland has never beaten Michigan State, in 15 tries, though there have been some close calls, like the overtime game at The Palace two years ago. That was a gem, and a Kay Felder missed layup from being the ultimate shocker. There also have been two four-point games as well as a one-point game.
Oakland has some games before that showdown, starting at Syracuse on Monday (a blowout loss) and at Kansas on Friday.
But those games could get ugly, as the Golden Grizzlies are banged up. While they have everyone back— except Jalen Hayes, whose four-game NCAA suspension runs through Monday — two stars, red-shirt senior guard Kendrick Nunn (ankle) and sophomore forward Isaiah Brock (foot), aren’t anywhere close to 100 percent. They might not be for a while, another reason Kampe is so looking forward to the annual Michigan State game, which is the second game of a doubleheader that also features Michigan and Detroit Mercy. A third game, Lions-Bears, completes the crazy, action-packed sports day in Detroit.
Kampe expects the roster to be full-go by Michigan State tip-off.
Nunn, the high-profile transfer from Illinois, was doubtful to play Saturday at Toledo, but given this is the last year of his college career, he wants all the reps he can get — so he suited up anyway and played 39 minutes and scored 24, despite playing on what Kampe called “one leg.”
On one play, Nunn, nursing a left-leg issue, stole the ball at midcourt and had an easy breakaway — if he was healthy. He wasn’t, so he instead opted to hold the ball until his teammates caught up to him. Brock only played 13 minutes. Junior forward Julius Palmer (neck) also was limited, and junior center Brad Brechting (toe) remains out till after the New Year, following surgery. Oakland lost the game, 87-74.
What’s up with the rash of injuries? No one knows for sure, though it certainly isn’t a matter of being overworked. Oakland, Kampe said, practices probably less than any team in the nation. Teams are allotted 20 hours per week, and Oakland after the start of the season uses 12 to 13 of those at the most. Once games start, practice usually is down to 1 hour, 15 minutes. In January and February, it’s down to 45 minutes, Kampe said. The goal, he said, is to have “fresh legs” come late February and March, and recent results suggest it’s working, to a point.
Last season, Oakland won its last nine games of the regular season to win a share of the Horizon League regular-season championship. Two years ago, it won 12 of its last 15. Three years ago, it won 11 of its last 14. Each year, though, Oakland lost its first game in the Horizon League tournament, last year as the top seed — when it was a heavy favorite to get to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011.
That’s probably the only thing that eats at Kampe more than failing to beat his good friend, Izzo.
Jaren Jackson Jr. might already be popping up on NBA mock drafts, some even with him in the lottery mix, but that doesn’t excuse him from feeling the wrath of Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, as so many other talented freshmen have over the years.
After a double-double in his college debut — 13 points and 13 rebounds in the season-opening victory over North Florida, followed up by 19 points and seven rebounds in the loss to No. 1 Duke, he was practically MIA in Sunday’s win over Stony Brook. He played just 14 minutes, and somehow managed to foul out in that time.
Jackson took just one shot, missed it, and had four rebounds. He also committed three of the Spartans’ 14 turnovers. Izzo said afterward that he played like a rookie, and didn’t seem to grasp the stern talking-to he got on the bench.
Soaking it up
Michigan sure is embracing its 2017 Big Ten tournament championship and subsequent run in the NCAA Tournament. And why not? That was quite the story.
The team’s Big Ten rings feature a plane on the side, a reminder of the freaky runway incident while trying to take off for D.C. And now, Michigan is offering a John Beilein Super Soaker Bobblehead for fans who buy tickets to the Dec. 22 game against Indiana.
The Wolverines had taken to dousing each other with bottled water after each postseason victory, then were caught off-guard after the upset over Louisville in the NCAA Tournament — after which Beilein popped into the locker room with his Super Soaker, quite the iconic moment for the typically stoic, no-nonsense veteran coach.
The Bobblehead is impressive, looking very much like Beilein — when most Bobbleheads couldn’t be identified without the name plate. It should lead to a few extra tickets sold for a game that would typically have a light turnout, especially among students, on winter break.
This and that
■ There were 16 Division I teams — men’s and women’s — averaging at least 100 points through Sunday’s game, and one of them is from Michigan. The Michigan State women are averaging 100.7. The Spartans scored 100 in an opening win over Robert Morris, 95 in a thumping of Oakland, and then 107 in a blowout of the College of Charleston. Not the toughest schedule, to be sure, but impressive results nonetheless. Four players are averaging in double-figures, led by senior forward Taya Reimer (15.0) and freshman forward Sidney Cooks (14.7). A huge barometer is looming, against No. 1 UConn later this week.
■ Talk about a scheduling quirk. Western Michigan and South Carolina men’s basketball had met one time ever, a Broncos win in 1946, before playing twice in the past week. The first was at South Carolina, a 78-60 Western loss, then they played again in the relocated Puerto Rico Tip-Off in Myrtle Beach, S.C., on Sunday, another South Carolina win, 79-66. Senior guard Thomas Wilder, an NBA prospect for Western, had 23 points and no turnovers in the first game, 15 points and 10 turnovers in the second against a Gamecocks team that made the Final Four last season.
■ The fall-out effect from Michigan's 77-75 loss to LSU in the Maui Invitational late Monday night (or Tuesday morning on the mainland): The Wolverines now have to play Chaminade, a team that, because it's Division II, doesn't count when factoring in RPI. That could be costly come NCAA Selection Show time.
■ Tough schedule for Eastern Michigan women. The Eagles are in the middle of an eight-game road trip, that will see them go more than a calendar month without playing a home game (Nov. 14 to Dec. 19). They lost the first two games of the trip, at Cleveland State and St. Bonaventure.
State power rankings
1. Michigan State, 2-1 (last week: 1)
2. Michigan, 3-1 (3)
3. Oakland, 2-2 (2)
4. Eastern Michigan, 4-0 (5)
5. Western Michigan, 2-3 (4)
6. Central Michigan, 2-1 (6)
7. Detroit, 2-2 (7)
1. Michigan State, 3-0 (2)
2. Michigan, 2-1 (1)
3. Central Michigan, 2-1 (3)
4. Eastern Michigan, 2-2 (4)
5. Western Michigan, 2-2 (5)
6. Oakland, 2-2 (6)
7. Detroit, 0-2 (7)
Player of the week
Katelynn Flaherty, Michigan, G, Sr.: The milestone came in a blowout loss to No. 5 Louisville, but in time, Flaherty will look back and smile at the fact that in just her third game of her senior season, she set Michigan’s all-time scoring record — with 2,091 points, passing the mark of Big Ten trailblazer Diane Dietz, whose record stood for 35 years. Flaherty, all of 5-foot-7, has scored 20 points or more in 53 of her 11 career games, and 30 or more 10 times.
Freshman of the week
Jermaine Jackson Jr., Detroit Mercy, G: While his shooting percentage is noticeably low, the ex-Macomb Dakota star has scored in double figures in each of his first four collegiate games — and he came up clutch in Sunday’s 116-109 victory over Houston Baptist in Nashville, hitting a last-second 3 to send the game to overtime. Ten seconds earlier, he hit 3-pointer to cut Baptist’s lead down to two. The effort earned him Horizon League freshmen of the week honors.
Stat of the week
Eastern Michigan junior forward/center James Thompson IV has started the season with four consecutive double-doubles for the 4-0 Eagles, the latest effort an 18-point, 14-rebound showing in Saturday’s 76-66 home victory over Howard. He averaged in double-figures in scoring and rebounds each of his first two seasons at Eastern.
Top games of the week
■Wednesday: Women, Oakland at Michigan, 7
■Friday: Men, Michigan State vs. Connecticut or Oregon, in Portland, 9:30 or 11:59
■Friday: Men, Oakland at Kansas, 8
■Friday: Men, Eastern Michigan at Indiana, 4:30
■Saturday: Women, Michigan State vs. Connecticut, in Eugene, Ore., 3
Connor Muldowney contributed