Oakland in the Vegas 16: Necessary?

Sam Schlenner

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Eleven days after losing to Wright State in a Horizon League Championship semifinal as taut as steel rope, some Oakland men’s basketball players gathered behind the arc after practice and played sevens. Basically, you shoot three-pointers in order, and the running score ticks up for every make. Next one to miss receives the count. First one to seven loses.

No air of defeat hung over the Golden Grizzlies that day. At least not visibly.

“We’re really just starting over,” Nick Daniels said. He said head coach Greg Kampe gave them some days off, but that beyond that, they’ve been getting ready for the Vegas 16, a new tournament that runs March 28-30 in Nevada.

“It took me three days just to get rid of that taste out of my mouth,” Daniels said about the tournament loss.

He said it took Jalen Hayes and Kay Felder about the same time, as well.

“They just stayed in their room,” Daniels said. “It didn’t seem real because we weren’t expecting that to happen to us. I mean it is what it is; we’ve moved on from it.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever shake it off because I’m using it to feel this run in this Vegas 16,” Felder said. “The game hasn’t gone out of my mind. Maybe in the summer it’ll be gone.”

Most of the team went to the finals of the Horizon League Championship after losing in the semis, Daniels and Felder said.

“Just to see how it feels,” Daniels said, “because two years in a row we lost in our first tournament game. … Put it in our back pocket for next year.”

“We have to come back hungry,” Felder said.

Oakland got a double-bye this year in the Horizon League Championship and faced off against Wright State, which was on its third game to Oakland’s first. Still no deal.

Now there’s another shot, if not up an orthodox avenue: Pay $50,000, the tournament picking up most of the travel bill, and get Oakland out there again into the torrent of hoops that is late March.

It was either that, go to different tournament, or end it.

And why not end it? After the blazing spark of Golden Grizzly promise got snuffed on March 7, shouldn’t they have given it a rest? Recovered? Stacked up for next year? Saved some money? Prepared for another grind of a season?

But that’s not the issue. They’ve proven themselves in the long haul. And the last two years, they’ve proven their ability to flake in the league bracket.

Yes, it’s tournament basketball. Unpredictable. Volatile as anything except maybe luge gone wrong. But like anything, it can be practiced.

So why not practice pressure? The Golden Grizzlies obviously need it. Yes, it’s fifty-grand worth of practice, but the payoff could be strata beyond that if Oakland makes March Madness next year, especially with someone as spectacular as Felder potentially blooming before the nation’s retinas one last season.

And hey, the Vegas 16 is nationally televised, so the school will still get some wide exposure, one of the things Oakland — and Felder in particular — has been good at this season.

The Golden Grizzlies have picked the good fight in heading out to Vegas, even if it looks the inappropriate and ill-timed opposite.

The Vegas 16 is really the Vegas Eight in its inaugural year. Oakland plays the Towson Tigers at 9 p.m. ET on Monday, March 28. Watch on CBS Sports Network, stream on College Sports Live and Vegas16.com, or listen on WDFN-AM (1130).

The semifinals are at 11:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, March 29 and the finals are at 10 p.m. ET on Wednesday, March 30.