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Meet the Opponent: Oakland Golden Grizzlies

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A closer look at the Oakland Golden Grizzlies, the Kentucky Wildcats' first round opponent in the 2024 NCAA Tournament.
Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

The brackets are set, and UK’s first-round opponent is the Horizon League champs, the Golden Grizzlies of Oakland University. Let’s be clear right away, Oakland is absolutely a formidable first-round opponent for UK. They have veteran players, a proven coach, absolute 3-point snipers, and a post (yes, he’s undersized) who is a double-double machine. Also of importance, they play a very unique defensive style that UK has not seen at all this season. Here’s everything BBN needs to know about the Golden Grizzlies

Oakland’s Offense

Oakland is a really solid offensive team. They have a couple of “lights out” 3-point shooters, they have a double-double post scorer, and some role players who execute the offensive scheme. But it all starts with senior 3-pt specialist Jack Gohlke. On the season, Gohlke is shooting 37% from 3-point territory, but he’s taken an INSANE amount of 3’s. Gohlke has attempted 327 3-point shots on the season, making 121 of them. His 121 made-3’s leads the nation. On the entire season, he has attempted 8 TOTAL shots INSIDE of the 3-pt line. His single-game high for 3-point shots attempted on the season is TWENTY against Northern Kentucky. Quick release, no conscience, great coming off screens, and honestly, you won’t see him take more than two dribbles.

The most important player is definitely Trey Townsend. His stat line from the Horizon Tournament championship was bonkers: Townsend had 38 points, 11 rebounds, and 5 assists. He’s a really good overall basketball player. He’s undersized at 6’6, but don’t let that fool you. He has textbook footwork in the post, and he’s used to being undersized, so nothing new to him vs UK. He pivots, re-pivots, great shot-fake, has a complete turn-around/fade-away game, and gets to the FT-line (14-18 in tourney championship). I think good comparisons for him are Grant Williams from Tennessee and former Cat Trey Lyles. Townsend is NOT a threat from 3-pt land though.

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The other player that’s definitely being discussed on UK’s scouting report for Oakland is senior guard Blake Lampman. This 6’3 guard averages 13 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists on the season. And yes, he’s another sniper from 3-point territory. Lampman and Gohlke combine for an average of 18 3-point attempts per game, combining to make 37% of those. By the numbers, the combo of Gohlke and Lampman actually combine for more 3-point attempts than Reeves, Rob, Reed, and DJ combined. Lampman is an elite FT shooter (95%), which hopefully won’t come in handy late in the game. He’s more of a driver and PG than Gohlke, but has a quick release from 3, and the confidence to go along with it.

Oakland on the Defensive End

Oakland’s unique defense could give the Cats trouble, at least early on. The “bread and butter” defense for Oakland right now is their 1-3-1 zone. The 1-3-1 is much rarer than a 2-3 zone or a 1-2-2 zone, you just don’t see it often. But Oakland’s 1-3-1 zone has matchup principles to it – it’s a unique zone and impossible to replicate in UK’s practice. There’s NOT a great deal of size to it – the biggest player is only 6’9 – but that’s why they use the matchup principles. One of the most underrated aspects of this zone: controlling the pace of the game. Oakland does NOT want a track meet, and their zone will help guarantee that. Opponents have to move the ball, have to shift the zone, and that takes time.

Based on the Oakland games I’ve studied, their zone doesn’t give up as many open looks as a 2-3 zone. UK WILL get some open looks, I’m not worried about that. But Oakland closes out hard to the 3-point line, which SHOULD create some shot-fake drives for the Cats. Ohio St, Milwaukee, and Fort Wayne all had success with lobs for dunks. If UK’s guards can penetrate the zone, it’ll collapse and leave Ugo/BigZ/Mitchell/Bradshaw open for dunks. I’m not a Vegas guru, but I’ll set the over/under on UK alley-oops at 4.5. The Cats can NOT settle for 3-point shots. They have to attack the zone. Look for ball movement, driving gaps, and finding open shooters or open 7-footers for dunks.

Final thoughts: This is a game Kentucky SHOULD win. The Cats have the size advantage, dynamic guards that can create and shoot, and enough weapons to score in bunches. Coach Cal may or may not use a press, but look for him to find ways to speed up the pace. I guarantee Oakland is going to try to limit possessions and slow down the game. But for a Kentucky team that really struggles to guard, there is most definitely reason for concern going up against the likes of Gohlke, Lampman and Townsend. Look for Reeves to chase Gohlke everywhere, Adou to matchup with Townsend and be a physical presence to limit him, and for the Cats to really push the pace in transition. GO CATS!

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Men's Basketball

Rick Pitino Endorses Mark Pope, “He Will Lead The Kentucky Wildcats To Another Championship”

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Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports/ Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The captain of Rick Pitino’s 1996 “Untouchables”, Mark Pope, is “coming home” to lead the Kentucky Wildcats as the program’s next head coach, officially announced on Friday. While there has been some criticism of the hire, Pitino says he “couldn’t be any prouder to see Mark Pope lead the Kentucky Wildcats.”

While Pope has yet to win an NCAA Tournament game in two appearances, Pitino points out that several top coaches had their trials early in their careers. It took Jay Wright 11 seasons to win his first NCAA Tournament, and Billy Donovan was hired at Florida without an NCAA Tournament appearance. However, he heralds Pope as one of the “premier young coaches” in college basketball.

“Offensively, no one does it better,” Pitino said. “The way his teams move. The way his teams shoot the three. The ball movement. It’s outstanding.”

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It’s just the X’s and O’s though, Pitino “guarantees” that Pope loves and understands the program as well as anyone. “I can guarantee to you one thing, that nobody epitomizes the name on the front of the jersey more than Mark Pope.”

“Mark Pope will go on to greatness. You can put it down,” Pitino said. “He will do you proud. “He will lead the Kentucky Wildcats to another championship”

If his endorsement isn’t enough, Rick Pitino says he will “write the check himself” for NIL to help Pope be successful.

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Mark Pope Releases Statement As He Is Announced As Kentucky Basketball Coach

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Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Per UK Athletics

When his alma mater came calling, Mark Pope knew there was no place like home.

Pope, a captain of the University of Kentucky’s 1996 National Championship team, has returned to Lexington as the 23rd head coach of Kentucky’s storied men’s basketball program, announced Friday.

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“The University of Kentucky is the pinnacle of coaching in college basketball,” Pope said. “It’s the definition of a blueblood program where hanging a banner is the expectation every year. Equally as important, UK changed my life forever as a human being. The love and passion I have for this program, this University and the people of the Commonwealth goes to the depth of my soul.”

“I’m thankful to Dr. (Eli) Capilouto and Mitch Barnhart for this opportunity. I’m proud to be your next head coach and I can’t wait to do this together!”

Pope is a nine-year head coaching veteran with stops at BYU and Utah Valley, amassing a 187-108 career record. His squads won 20 or more games in six of the last seven seasons and he has made six postseason appearances.

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Men's Basketball

REPORT: Mark Pope Set Sign Five-Year Deal to Become Next Kentucky Basketball Coach

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Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky has found their guy. Former Wildcat and NCAA Champion, Mark Pope, is now expected to be named the next Kentucky basketball coach on a five-year contract worth $5.5 million annually, first reported by CBS Sports. For perspective, based on last season’s salaries, that is more than Dan Hurley (UConn), Scott Drew (Baylor), and Nate Oats (Alabama).

Pope comes to Kentucky with nine seasons of head coaching experience, after serving as an assistant for six seasons, from 2009-2015. In 2015, he was hired by Utah Valley where he coached for four seasons. In 2019, Pope was hired at BYU where he has taken them to two NCAA Tournaments, but has been upset by a double-digit seed in both appearances.

Pope has proven himself as a good X-and-O coach in his nine-year career, running one of the most innovative offenses in the country, but recruiting will be a real test as he has never signed a four-star recruit. Who he hires on to his staff and collecting NIL support will be critical.

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The move has been met with much fan criticism, as fans have been quick to point out that Pope has never won a conference title or an NCAA Tournament game. However, Mitch Barnhart is confident in the move, with some reporting that he is “excited” with the hire.

Just three days into the coaching search, this is an interesting hire with several big names like Billy Donovan and Bruce Pearl potentially available. Barnhart made the decision not to wait for Donovan, who is currently coaching the Chicago Bulls, and Pearl was not considered due to his “baggage”.

A new era of Kentucky basketball has begun.

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