Oakland, Detroit Mercy hoops set to wrap up unique four-game series
In this COVID-19 era of college athletics, you roll with the punches. There's nothing more you can do.
And so far, Oakland has been the puncher and Detroit Mercy has been the punched.
The Horizon League rivals will play twice this weekend, capping a rare four-game regular-season series that was necessitated when both teams' opponents backed out of games last month — prompting the league to hastily set the rivals against each other nearly a month earlier than either of them expected.
There was a possibility the Horizon League could've removed this week's series from the schedule, if there were other scheduling opportunities. But there weren't. So here we go.
The Golden Grizzlies (5-12, 5-5) and Titans (3-7, 2-4) will play at 7 Friday and 5 Saturday at the O'Rena in Rochester. Oakland won the first two games, both on late-game shots, at Calihan Hall in late December.
Both coaches, Oakland's Greg Kampe and Detroit Mercy's Mike Davis, are on record saying they don't like the four-game setup. Preparing for a rival and then playing said rival is taxing enough when you do it twice. Two losses for Oakland, and it takes plenty of luster from the earlier season sweep. Two losses for Detroit Mercy, and you've got to live with a bigger-than-normal goose egg on your record.
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More of a concern, for Kampe at least, is how it impacts the Horizon League tournament. At weekend's end, half of Detroit Mercy's conference schedule will have been against Oakland. By season's end, that number will be at least 25%, and with more cancellations, even higher.
"How do we seed the tournament?" said Kampe, noting the rivals actually could play a fifth time in the league tournament — with that game meaning the most. "That's what I care about. I voiced that concern.
"They made a decision, and we move on."
Davis already is 0-6 against Oakland, and Kampe has won nine in a row in the series, 12 of 13 and 14 of 16.
This actually won't be the first time Oakland has played a team four times in a season, but it will be a first for the regular season. In the 1993-94 season, when Oakland still was Division II, the Golden Grizzlies played Wayne State four times — twice during the regular season, once during the league tournament, and then once in the NCAA Tournament. Oakland lost all four, including the NCAA game by two points.
The rivals both are coming off their best weekends of the season — Detroit Mercy, after sitting out two weeks to start 2021 for COVID-19 reasons, sweeping Green Bay and Oakland sweeping Youngstown State. The losses piled up early in the season, but the talent has always been there, as evidenced by the Titans taking Michigan State to the brink before losing, and the Golden Grizzlies taking Michigan to overtime before losing.
The Titans' new-look roster is finally starting to find some cohesiveness, including the backcourt of Antoine Davis, who's off to a sluggish start but always is a big threat, and Niagara transfer Noah Waterman. The Golden Grizzlies are led by their own backcourt of JUCO transfer Jalen Moore, among the nation's leaders in assists, and Rashad Williams, among the nation's leaders in 3-pointers made (and 3-pointers missed), as well as emerging post standouts Daniel Oladapo and freshman Trey Townsend.
Despite state regulations that would allow for a couple hundred fans, the game will be played with no crowd, because of universal Horizon League rules that extend through the entire season.
Detroit Mercy at Oakland
Tip-off: Two games; 7 Friday and 5 Saturday, O'Rena, Rochester
TV/radio: Friday on ESPN+, Saturday on TV20/both games on 106.7, 92.7
Records: Detroit Mercy 3-7, 2-4 Horizon League; Oakland 5-12, 5-5
Outlook: Oakland swept the two previous meetings, at Calihan Hall, in late December. ... Detroit Mercy is 0-6 against Oakland in Mike Davis' three seasons as head coach. ... Oakland has won nine in a row in the series, 12 of 13 and 14 of 16.