College notes: Oakland hopes redemption is on Horizon

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — The No. 3 seed didn’t work for Oakland. Neither did the No. 2.

So the Golden Grizzlies will give it a whirl with the No. 4 seed when the Horizon League tournament kicks off at Little Caesars Arena later this week.

The five-day men’s and women’s tournaments start Friday. The championship games will be played Tuesday.

The Oakland men have yet to play for a Horizon League tournament championship, after being upset in its first game each of the first two years the tournament was played in Detroit.

In 2015, the third-seeded Golden Grizzlies were upset by UIC, and last year, as a 2 seed, they were stunned by Youngstown State on a last-second shot for another one-game exit.

This year, Oakland (18-13, 10-8) will open play on Day 3, against IUPUI (11-18, 8-10), set for 7:30 p.m. Sunday.

This week has a chance to be one of redemption for Oakland and coach Greg Kampe, whose endured one of the most-frustrating regular seasons of his storied career. Oakland was the popular pick to win the championship before the league, but then started losing one player after another to injury, the latest the biggest blow with redshirt senior Martez Walker (ankle) out for the season. The Golden Grizzlies are down to eight scholarship players.

But there’s still the hope from inside the walls of the O’Rena that Oakland can get on a roll. After all, it still has the best player in the league, Kendrick Nunn, who is the nation’s second-leading scorer at 26.4 points a game. And he’s playing his best ball right now, having scored 37 and 39 points in his last two games. Nobody’s had more 30-point games than Nunn’s 11.

Oakland and IUPUI split their two regular-season games, with each winning on their home court. Oakland, of course, will have a significant home-crowd advantage Sunday.

The Golden Grizzlies haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2011, and they’re still a long shot this year, given their seriously depleted roster.

Oakland, unfairly or not, also has the added pressure of having a significant impact on the Horizon League’s ticket sales. The longer the Golden Grizzlies play, the better the box-office returns for a league that is hoping to show Olympia Entertainment it’s worth keeping the tournament in Detroit. There’s an opt-out option after this year.

Ticket sales already are up 30 percent or so from this time last year. Part of that is the appeal of the new arena. And part of that is that the Horizon League forced member schools to buy ticket blocs this year.

Detroit Mercy (8-23, 4-14) is playing the tournament’s first game, at 5:30 Friday, against Green Bay (12-19, 7-11). A loss and Detroit Mercy, picked to finish fourth preseason, will have matched its win total from a year ago, Bacari Alexander’s first year as head coach. That’s troubling, given the talent. Yes, there were injuries and academic issues, but nothing on the scale of what Oakland has gone through. Athletic director Robert Vowels said this summer anything less than .500 season would be a significant disappointment.

On the women’s side, Oakland (14-15, 7-11) plays UIC (8-21, 1-17) at noon Friday, and Detroit Mercy (2-27, 2-16) plays Northern Kentucky (8-21, 6-21) at 2:30.

Slam dunks

The Big Ten women start their tournament Wednesday in Indianapolis, with Michigan State (17-12, 7-9) playing Indiana (16-13, 9-7) at 6:30 Thursday, and Michigan (21-8, 10-6) playing either Illinois or Penn State at 9 Thursday. Barring an ugly collapse in its opener, Michigan should safely be in the NCAAs for the first time since 2013.

... Central Michigan women (23-4, 15-1) won their second consecutive MAC West title, and third in four years, and are in the mix for an NCAA at-large bid.

Tourney time

Horizon League


At Little Caesars Arena, Detroit


Game 3: Detroit Mercy (8-23, 4-14) vs. Green Bay (12-19, 7-11), 5:30

Game 4: Youngstown State (8-23, 6-12) vs. Cleveland State (9-22, 6-12), 8


Game 7: Wright State (21-9, 13-4) vs. Game 3 winner, 5:30

Game 8: Northern Kentucky (22-8, 15-3) vs. Game 4 winner, 8


Game 11: Milwaukee (15-16, 8-10) vs. UIC (17-13, 12-5), 5

Game 12: IUPUI (11-18, 8-10) vs. Oakland (18-13, 10-8), 7:30


Game 15: Game 8 winner vs. Game 12 winner, 7, ESPNU

Game 16: Game 7 winner vs. Game 11 winner, 9:30, ESPNU


■Championship, 7, ESPN/ESPN2


At Little Caesars Arena, Detroit


Game 1: UIC (8-21, 1-17) vs. Oakland (14-15, 7-11), noon

Game 2: Detroit Mercy (2-27, 2-16) vs. Northern Kentucky (8-21, 6-12), 2:30


Game 5: IUPUI (21-8, 13-5) vs. Game 1 winner, noon

Game 6: Green Bay (26-3, 16-2) vs. Game 2 winner, 2:30


Game 9: Cleveland State (19-10, 11-7) vs. Wright State (21-9, 12-6), noon

Game 10: Youngstown State (15-14, 11-7) vs. Milwaukee (20-10, 11-7), 2:30


Game 13: Game 6 winner vs. Game 10 winner, 1

Game 14: Game 5 winner vs. Game 9 winner, 3:30


■Championship, noon, ESPNU

Big Ten


At Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis


Game 1: Wisconsin (9-20, 2-14) vs. Northwestern (11-19, 4-12), 1:30

Game 2: Illinois (9-21, 0-16) vs. Penn State (15-14, 6-10), 4


Game 3: Rutgers (19-11, 7-9) vs. Purdue (18-12, 9-7), noon

Game 4: Iowa (23-6, 11-5) vs. Game 1 winner, 2:30

Game 5: Michigan State (17-12, 7-9) vs. Indiana (16-13, 9-7), 6:30

Game 6: Michigan (21-8, 10-6) vs. Game 2 winner, 9


Game 7: Ohio State (24-6, 13-3) vs. Game 3 winner, noon

Game 8: Minnesota (22-7, 11-5) vs. Game 4 winner, 2:30

Game 9: Maryland (23-6, 12-4) vs. Game 5 winner, 6:30

Game 10: Nebraska (20-9, 11-5) vs. Game 6 winner, 9


Game 11: Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner, 6, BTN

Game 12: Game 9 winner vs. Game 10 winner, 8:30, BTN


■Championship, 7, ESPN2