Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Oakland 'shocks' Tennessee at home
By Eamonn Brennan
Why the scare quotes? Because this game -- a gutty 89-82 Oakland win at No. 7 Tennessee -- was not, despite all appearances to the contrary, all that shocking.
Upset? Of course. Miracle in Knoxville? Not exactly.
Sure, Tennessee has had one of the most impressive starts in the country. Sure, the Volunteers, having just rolled to a win at Pittsburgh, entered the game ranked No. 1 in the nation in RPI. Sure, there is a Lake St. Clair-sized gulf between each school's respective athletics budget expenditures. No matter. Oakland is just plain tough.
Oakland's Keith Benson blocked two shots against Tennessee. He also scored 26 points and pulled down 10 rebounds.
How, exactly, did Oakland pull it off? Start with center Keith Benson, who bolstered his already worthy NBA credentials with a 26-point, 10-rebound, 2-block effort Tuesday night. (And Benson had 20 of those points in the first half; he missed a large portion of the second due to injury.) Throw in a pair of efficient performances from Oakland's supporting cast -- 17 points on 5-of-9 shooting from Will Hudson; 19 points on 6-of-9 shooting from guard Larry Wright -- and Oakland did more than enough on offense to get the win.
Tennessee didn't shoot the ball particularly well -- that helped too. The Vols were 4-of-18 from beyond the arc and 24-of-45 inside it. They also suffered a pair of major second-half scoring droughts. A three-minute drought that started at the 13:08 mark cost UT its 64-53 lead. Tennessee built an eight-point lead in the following minutes, but after Scotty Hopson hit a free throw with 7:18 left, the Volunteers didn't score again until the 1:59 mark. In the meantime, Oakland went on a 14-0 run, and the next time the Vols got a bucket, the game was the Grizzlies' to win.
What does this say about each team? Nothing we don't already know. Sure, you might want to tweak your perception of Tennessee a bit, but everyone has off nights. Good teams lose all manner of games, and the season is too long to downgrade the Vols based on one home loss. As for Oakland? Well, if you didn't know, now you know.
If there's any larger statement to be made, it might have to do with scheduling and the RPI. Bruce Pearl -- and plenty of other coaches, too -- have adopted a rather intelligent scheduling strategy in recent years: They schedule good but beatable mid-majors, the kinds of teams that can win their conference and go to the NCAA tournament but that aren't major upset threats on any given night.
The strategy is smart, but it also requires a tradeoff. The upside? You get to pile up wins while helping your RPI in the process. (Tennessee's RPI has been stellar in recent years for precisely this reason. John Calipari has used this strategy at Memphis, and now at Kentucky, with similar results.) The downside? Some of those mid-majors can play, and no one likes to lose to Summit League teams at home.
Still, Oakland doesn't look much like your typical Summit League team. Last week, the Golden Grizzlies hinted at that potential. On Tuesday night, finally, they broke through.
In other words, call it an upset. But don't call it a shocker.