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Inside look at high school and Oakland University sports from Oakland Press sports writer Dave Pemberton.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Oakland at Bradley preview

CollegeInsider.com Tournament
The opponent — Bradley (19-14) finished in fourth place in the Missouri Valley Conference and has an RPI of 98, tops of the 16 teams in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. The Braves defeated Austin Peay, 81-74, in the first round to advance to the quarterfinals.

Seventh-year Bradley head coach Jim Les runs a ‘spread motion’ offense and likes to play an uptempo style. Les has recruited athletic and skilled players to run his system.

Senior forward Theron Wilson (6-foot-5, 200) is Bradley’s go-to player. Wilson was a first-team all conference player and is the only player in the Missouri Valley Conference to rank among the league’s top five in scoring (14.1, fifth), rebounding (7.2, fourth) and steals (1.9, second). He leads the Braves in all three categories. Wilson also gets to the free-throw line, averaging 7.2 attempts per game and is shooting 71.8 percent. Wilson has averaged 8.7 free throw attempts in Bradley’s 19 wins, compared to 5.1 attempts in its 14 losses.

The Braves as a team get to the free-throw line a lot. Bradley’s 777 free-throw attempts this season is among the top 30 in the nation.

Sophomore guard Sam Maniscalco (12.5 points, 2.9 assists, 1.9 3-pointers) is the Braves best outside shooter and shoots over 84 percent from the free-throw line. Bradley’s third-leading scorer Dodie Dunson (10.1 points, 3.0 rebounds) will likely be limited. Dunson suffered a severely bruised hand back on Feb. 21. He was limited in the Missouri Valley Tournament and played just 10 minutes against Austin Peay and didn’t score

Junior guard Chris Roberts (8.3 points, 4.1 rebounds), freshman point guard Eddren McCain (5.8 points, 3.2 assists) and 7-foot senior center David Collins (4.6 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.5 blocks) round out the Braves’ starting lineup. Senior forward Sam Singh (4.7 points, 3.2 rebounds) and freshman forward Taylor Brown (3.6 points) are key players off the bench.

The Braves hit 11 3-pointers and shot 24 for 38 from the free-throw line in their win over Austin Peay. Bradley, which is located in Peoria, Ill., drew 4,472 fans for the first round game. The Braves averaged over 10,000 fans a game during the regular season. Wilson led the way with 18 points and eight rebounds against Austin Peay, Maniscalco added 15 points and hit four 3-pointers, McCain had 13 points and five assists and Roberts finished with 12 points.

Bradley lost key players Andrew Warren and Will Egolf to season-ending injuries early in the season.

Key matchup — Oakland’s Erik Kangas vs. Bradley’s Sam Maniscalco. The Grizzlies will likely have several guys try to shut down Wilson, but the matchup between Kangas and Maniscalco will be crucial. Kangas scored 18 of his 23 points in the second half against Kent State and showed once again how he can change the whole momentum of a game when he gets hot. Oakland is 11-1 when Kangas scores 20 ore more. Maniscalco is averaging 16.2 points and 2.5 3-pointers per game in his last nine. Maniscalco has shot 29 free throws in his last four games, including a 14-for-14 performance against Southern Illinois in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.

Matchup history — Bradley won the only previous meeting, 76-35, back on Dec. 6, 1997 at Carver Arena. Oakland and the Braves have had three common opponents this season, Michigan State, UMKC and Southeast Missouri State. Oakland defeated UMKC twice, fell to Michigan State, 82-66, and defeated Southeast Missouri State, 81-63, at the Las Vegas Invitational. Bradley lost to UMKC, 73-61, at a neutral site, fell at Michigan State, 75-59, and defeated Southeast Missouri State, 75-62, at home.

The skinny — Oakland can not afford a slow start like it had against Kent State, especially on the road. The Braves are a tough team at home and went 12-3 at Carver Arena this season. The Grizzlies will have to use its size inside with Keith Benson and Will Hudson to its advantage or could have to go small to defend Bradley’s uptempo style. Benson will likely matchup with Collins, who is a solid shot blocker (second in the MVC), but Collins averages just 17.5 minutes per game.

Oakland point guard Johnathon Jones will also play a key role on both ends of the floor. The nation’s assist leader has reached double digit assists in 10 of his last 15 games, including a 12-assist performance against Kent State.

The Grizzlies bench came up big against Kent State and Oakland could use a similar performance Monday. Oakland is 8-1 this season when Dan Waterstradt scores in double figures and 5-1 when Blake Cushingberry scores in double figures. Waterstradt had 11 points and 11 rebounds in Oakland’s win over Kent State, while Cushingberry added nine points and three steals. Cushingberry will also play a key role defensively and could see time on Wilson.

The winner of this game will have an excellent shot at making the finals, with the winner of the Idaho-Pacific game having to travel across the country to play in Wednesday’s semifinals.

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