Detroit — The Oakland men’s basketball team is coming off its first Horizon League regular-season championship.
And the Golden Grizzlies were heavy favorites to make it a repeat.
This week might just determine that.
Oakland, at 13-8 and 5-3 in the league, is two games back of first-place Wright State and Northern Kentucky, and will travel to play both this week.
Oakland plays at Northern Kentucky (14-6, 7-1) on Friday night, then plays at Wright State (15-6, 7-1) on Sunday afternoon.
“It’s still January, but I do think if we’re going to repeat as champions, we’re going to have to win both games,” Kampe said Saturday afternoon, following an 92-86 victory over rival Detroit Mercy.
“From what I learned last year is nobody cares if you’re champions, they really don’t. I do, but nobody else does.”
What does he mean by that?
Well, in the world of Division I college basketball, making the NCAA Tournament takes on more meaning among fan bases than regular-season championships, and Oakland hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since it went back-to-back in 2010 and 2011.
Oakland was the sexy pick to win the Horizon League tournament a year ago, but was upset in its opening game by Youngstown State. After a second-place finish in 2015-16, it lost its first game in the Horizon League tournament that year, too.
The Golden Grizzlies are 1-4 in the Horizon League tournament, including three consecutive first-game exits. Dating to its days in the Summit League, Oakland has gone one-and-out five of the last six years.
It would be a massive disappointment if it happened again this spring, at the first tournament at Little Caesars Arena, given Oakland’s firepower — led by Kendrick Nunn, who scored a career-high 38 on Saturday and is second in the nation in scoring at 26.4 points, as well as fellow red-shirt seniors Martez Walker, Jalen Hayes and Nick Daniels, and a defensive beast in Isaiah Brock.
Winning two games this week might not lead to another regular-season title, but it could do some tournament seeding mending.
“So we’re just going to go down there and battle,” Kampe said.
Oakland lost to Northern Kentucky, 87-83, at the O’Rena on Jan. 5, and also fell to Wright State at home, 86-81 in overtime on Jan. 7.
Oakland welcomed back 6-foot-8 freshman guard James Beck for Saturday’s game, after he had missed weeks because of stress fractures in his leg. He only played six minutes Saturday, but should be able to go 10 to 15 in the games this week — especially big against Northern Kentucky. Beck is a good candidate to guard 6-6, 230-pound forward Carson Williams, who had 21 points and nine rebounds in the earlier victory over Oakland.
Detroit Mercy update
The Titans (6-15, 2-6) made a game of things Saturday, after digging a big hole early, but like so many other times this season, down the stretch they just couldn’t do enough to pull out the close game.
Detroit Mercy also plays at Wright State (Friday) and Northern Kentucky (Sunday) this week, but likely will continue to do so without senior big man Jaleel Hogan and junior forward Tariiq Jones, a transfer from Schoolcraft College.
Both have missed the last four games — the first four games of second semester — and it’s unclear if they’ll return.