For mid-majors, opportunities can feel fleeting
By NOAH TRISTER
Dec. 22, 2017
DETROIT (AP) — Greg Kampe is in his 34th season as Oakland University's coach, and he's closing in on 600 victories. He was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame this year, an acknowledgement of the job he's done turning the suburban Detroit school into a reputable Division I basketball outpost.
Now, Kampe feels the Golden Grizzlies need to take another big step — one that's eluded them year after year.
Oakland is 0-16 against Michigan State after an 86-73 loss to the second-ranked Spartans last weekend, and after the game, Kampe was blunt in saying how upset he was that his team couldn't pull off the upset. Oakland has built a solid mid-major program that can compete with big-name schools, but without a signature accomplishment — like an NCAA Tournament run or a win over a team like Michigan State — it's hard to get noticed.
"It's time for this program to win that game," Kampe said. "We win them, but we beat Clemson and we beat Georgia and we beat teams like that, and nobody cares. This is a game that people would have cared."
Oakland has come close against the Spartans, losing in overtime in 2015, by four in 2013, by one in 2010 and by four in 2007. This season, Kampe thinks he has a lottery-worthy player in Kendrick Nunn, but the Spartans were still too talented and too resourceful.
"We're 0-16 against the pillar of college basketball — the blue blood," Kampe said. "We've got to beat 'em, and then we can legitimize who we are because we're a story nobody wants to tell."
Kampe at least has a willing opponent in Michigan State, and Oakland has had chances to play Tom Izzo's team in reasonably neutral environments. Saturday's game was in downtown Detroit, and there will presumably be more opportunities for the Golden Grizzlies to try to knock off the Spartans.
But this season, there's no guarantee Oakland will get another shot at a team of Michigan State's caliber — and that's a frustration many mid-majors can relate to. You don't get many opportunities like that, and it's important to try to make the most of them.
Here are a few other under-the-radar teams that have had brief chances to shine on a bigger stage this season — and what they've done with those opportunities.
BUFFALO AT SYRACUSE
The Bulls made the NCAA Tournament in 2015 and 2016, and remain a solid Mid-American Conference program, but they haven't beaten Syracuse since the 1962-63 season. In fact, Tuesday night's matchup at the Carrier Dome was the first meeting between the teams since 2001-02.
Buffalo led the Orange with just over three minutes remaining, but Syracuse came away with an 81-74 win . Afterward, Bulls coach Nate Oats sounded as disappointed as Kampe.
"I felt we were right there," Oats said. "I feel like we definitely could have had it."
DAVIDSON VS NORTH CAROLINA
Davidson hasn't won an NCAA Tournament game since Stephen Curry's run in 2008, and although the Wildcats have moved up to the Atlantic 10 since then, they can always use more signature wins. They took on North Carolina in Charlotte on Dec. 1 and lost 85-75 . Luke Maye — who grew up about a 10-minute drive from Davidson — had 24 points and 17 rebounds for the Tar Heels.
INDIANA STATE (AND FORT WAYNE) AT INDIANA
With the Hoosiers struggling under new coach Archie Miller, in-state rivals are getting their licks in. Indiana State routed Indiana 90-69 , snapping the Hoosiers' streak of 32 straight wins in home openers. Earlier this week, Fort Wayne beat Indiana for a second straight season.
LIPSCOMB AT TENNESSEE
Lipscomb was one of the top teams in the Atlantic Sun last season, but the Bisons have never made the NCAA Tournament and remain in relative anonymity, even compared to some of their mid-major brethren. One way to start changing that would have been to knock off a nationally ranked Tennessee team earlier this month, but the Volunteers prevailed 81-71 .
VERMONT AT KENTUCKY
This list has mostly focused on games between in-state foes — a mid-major with a chance to upset the big program down the road. Vermont doesn't have that opportunity because of the lack of top teams in that part of the country, but the Catamounts did get to play at Kentucky this November and pushed the Wildcats quite a bit before losing 73-69 .
More AP college basketball: www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25 .
Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister