State hoops: Oakland (1-1 Big 12) puts foes on notice with defense, rebounding

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Last season, Oakland men's basketball started 0-9.

This season, the Golden Grizzlies have started 1-1 — in the Big 12, no less.

That's progress. And that's a message to all the nonleague foes to come, including No. 14 Alabama on Friday and Michigan State on Dec. 21 at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.

Oakland freshman Osei Price has been a pleasant surprise in the early going.

"With this schedule, we could've done it again," Oakland coach Greg Kampe said this week, speaking of last season's 0-9 start. "It's really good for us. They have a strong belief in themselves. But a schedule like this can knock you down.

"It was important. It was huge for us."

Oakland opened the season with a gritty effort at West Virginia, before falling, 60-53, on Nov. 9. That was a game the Golden Grizzlies could've won, but the officiating wasn't kind (it really never is for a mid-major visiting a Power Five). 

Oakland then played at Oklahoma State on Friday, and won, 56-55. The Golden Grizzlies weathered a Cowboys surge in the second half. Jalen Moore made two of three free throws in the final seconds to put Oakland ahead, and the Golden Grizzlies' surprisingly stout defense held serve from there.

It was Oakland's first win over a Power Five program since beating Clemson during the 2016-17 season. The win came after Oakland gave Oklahoma State, then led by current Piston Cade Cunningham, all it could handle last season before losing. The games are part of a three-game series that pays Oakland $80,000 and includes one game at the O'Rena, next season.

"We sat in the locker room at West Virginia (ticked) off, which you don't see that often when you play that level of team," Kampe said. "They were really mad. The good with that is that when things started to go bad in the second half of the Oklahoma State game, they pulled together and they got stop after stop after stop. I told them if they don't score again, we can win. And I think they scored two points in the last four minutes of the game. You get stops in that environment at that level ... we got rewarded.

"They feel great about it. I think that they have a really good feeling about themselves, but they needed it to be substantiated."

And it sure was, against Oklahoma State (which, interestingly, got votes in this week's AP poll, while Oakland didn't).

This isn't your typical Oakland team. The Golden Grizzlies have long been known to play fast on offense, and loose on defense — which is why they traditionally almost always hit the over on gambling markets. Through two games this season, they haven't sniffed the over.

But defense and rebounding have been impressive. They're outrebounded their opponents by an average margin of 9.5. Jamal Cain, the transfer from Marquette, has been huge on that front, as have sophomores Micah Parrish and Trey Townsend. Oakland's length is so impressive, Kampe said if you took the names off the jerseys during pregame warmups at West Virginia, you wouldn't have known which team was which.

That's going to be particularly important in the Horizon League.

"You have to play to your talents," Kampe said.

Cain leads Oakland in scoring at 14.5 points a game, followed by Townsend at 12, Moore at 10 and Parrish at eight. Sophomore guard Blake Lampman, a 3-point threat, has seen an increased role, and Osei Price, a freshman guard from Maryland, has been a pleasant surprise. Oakland expects junior guard Zion Young back in a few weeks after knee surgery. Young, projected to be in the starting rotation, practiced for the first time this week.

Oakland hosts Toledo, a darn good Mid-American Conference team, on Wednesday, before traveling to play Alabama on Friday.

Titans' tough start

It's another tough start for the Detroit Mercy men, who are 0-2. In four seasons under head coach Mike Davis, the Titans have started the season with a losing streak each time.

This year, it included a blowout loss at Wyoming, as well as a loss at Toledo. The Titans will look to get right at Mississippi State on Wednesday.

That will be no easy task, given Detroit Mercy's personnel issues.

Junior swingman Noah Waterman, the ying to Antoine Davis' yang, is out with a concussion suffered in the season opener. It's the second concussion Waterman has had in the last two months. A timetable for his return remains unclear.

Detroit Mercy also is waiting on senior forward Jordan Phillips to enter the fray. Detroit Mercy expects word from the NCAA on his eligibility in the coming days. This is his third school, after stops at Arkansas and Texas-Arlington, so he needs a waiver to play because he's been the one-time "free" transfer.

Mike Davis touted Detroit Mercy's depth before the season, and that's being tested already. Junior forward Madut Akec (South Florida) is one pleasant development, averaging 14.5 points and 10 rebounds through two games.

After Mississippi State (where former UDM assistant and CMU head coach Ernie Zeigler is on staff), Detroit Mercy is at Louisville on Saturday. The Titans open the season with nine games on the road (a Davis staple), before playing host to Western Michigan at Calihan Hall on Dec. 11.

Slam dunks

►The Michigan women are 2-0, though the start hasn't been easy. The 13th-ranked Wolverines needed overtime to beat a good IUPUI team out of the Horizon League, before rolling St. Francis in the second game. But injuries have been a big concern. Senior guard Amy Dilk went down with a knee injury in the opening seconds of the season opener. While the injury appeared significant at the time, she is expected back at some point this season. Her official designation is "day to day." Senior guard Leigha Brown also is hobbled, and there's no official word on her status.

Michigan was to host UMass-Lowell on Wednesday, then visit Central Michigan on Saturday before hosting Oakland on Monday.

►First-year Central Michigan men's coach Tony Barbee got his first win in dramatic fashion, as the Chippewas won at Eastern Illinois, 62-61, on Monday night. Detroiter Jermaine Jackson Jr., one of several new faces on the roster, made the winning layup as time expired.

"This wasn't an easy one," Barbee said. "The team needed to feel a little success. That win now kind of takes the pressure off; I always say this, you want to learn from close wins; you don't want the moral victories. Let's learn from putting W's on the board."

The Chippewas (1-2) now have a grueling stretch, that includes games against No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 13 Kentucky the next two Mondays.

►Michigan State guard DeeDee Hagemann was Big Ten freshman of the week, after averaging 10.5 points, 6 assists and 4.5 rebounds in his first two collegiate games. The Spartans were 2-0 entering Wednesday's game against Valparaiso, having routed Morehead State and Niagara. Against Morehead State, the Spartans set a program record, making 17 3-pointers.

►Michigan State men host Eastern Michigan on Saturday, and this could be a game to watch thanks to Eagles freshman Noah Farrakhan, a transfer from East Carolina who kept his team close in a loss at Indiana (he scored 18, including 14 straight at one point), then scored 17 in first-year head coach Stan Heath's first win, over Illinois State.

State power rankings

MEN

1. Michigan (2-0)

2. Michigan State (1-1)

3. Oakland (1-1)

4. Detroit Mercy (0-2)

5. Eastern Michigan (1-1)

6. Central Michigan (1-2)

7. Western Michigan (1-1)

WOMEN

1. Michigan (2-0)

2. Michigan State (2-0)

3. Central Michigan (1-1)

4. Eastern Michigan (1-1)

5. Western Michigan (1-1)

6. Oakland (1-1)

7. Detroit Mercy (0-2)

Games of the week

MEN

►Seton Hall at Michigan, 9 Tuesday (FS1)

►Michigan State at Butler, 7 Wednesday (FS1)

►Oakland at Alabama, 8 Friday (SEC+)

►Michigan vs. UNLV (in Las Vegas), 12:30 a.m. Saturday (ESPN)

►Eastern Michigan at Michigan State, 5 Saturday (BTN+)

WOMEN

►Western Michigan at Southern Cal, 10 Thursday

►Robert Morris at Oakland, 7 Saturday

►Youngstown State at Detroit Mercy, 7 Saturday

►Michigan at Central Michigan, 1 Saturday

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tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984