Hope is Running Out in CorvallisPosted by Connor Pelton on January 19th, 2012
Just three short years ago, Oregon State coach Craig Robinson led the Beavers to a CBI Championship in his first year as head coach in Corvallis. A year later, the Beavers went to the CBI for a second straight season and Robinson was given a two-year extension thru 2015-16. Then things went south. The Beavers won a total of 11 games in 2010-11, with head-scratching losses to opponents like Texas Southern, Utah Valley, and George Washington. That season had Beaver fans questioning Robinson and the direction in which the program was going, but rest assured Robinson said, next season would be the year. The team was entirely his, and in his words, “We have the talent to compete in every game we play in.”
Fast forward to three months later. The Beavers are 11-7, which is not a bad record by any means, but not very good either. Their best win was over a mediocre Texas squad on a neutral court, and they have lost five out of their six conference games. But worst of all, the team (all of Robinson’s guys) have stopped playing for him. And it’s because, quite honestly, the guy isn’t a very good coach. Beginning on the offensive side of the ball, the Beavers look completely lost. Robinson has fallen in love with Ahmad Starks, and the team is suffering mightily because of it. Forget the offense that got you ten wins in nonconference play, why not just give the ball to Starks, let him dance around the perimeter for however long he deems necessary, and throw up a shot? This might be a good idea when you need a barrage of threes late in the game, but in the first half? Why not work the ball in and out, maybe get it to the guy who is the supposed “leader of the team” in Jared Cunningham? Robinson has completely abandoned Cunningham on offense, and opponents have picked up on this.
Defenses are more than willing to simply pack the key and let Starks shoot away for two reasons. One, he’s incredibly streaky. Starks loves to shoot, obviously, and when he’s making them, that’s fine. But those moments are few and far between. Secondly, when the defense already has three players in the paint, it makes it pretty easy to get a rebound. But when Starks is launching threes with the Beaver bigs (especially Devon Collier) out on the wings or on top of the free throw line, it is absolutely IMPOSSIBLE to get offensive rebounds and second chance points. You’d think Robinson would work on this in practice, but yet we see Collier and Brandt reaching and going over the back every single game because they are never in position.
Another reason offensive production has gone down in conference play is because of Eric Moreland. While Moreland is a great defender, he has no clue what to do on offense and should not be taking up minutes until he learns some basic offensive skills. To Starks’ credit, he does do a good job of slashing through the paint and creating options for everyone. But Moreland is constantly clogging the lane and that takes a way too many possibilities. Players like Angus Brandt and Joe Burton have to get more playing time since they can not only score and pass but also move around and open up the offense.
For the Beavers to see productivity like they did in November and December, they need to go to a three-guard lineup consisting of Cunningham, Roberto Nelson, and Challe Barton, with Brandt and Collier down low. Starks and Burton will come off the bench often, as will Kevin McShane and Rhys Murphy (more on those two later), with Moreland coming in for 10-15 minutes a game and in special defensive situations. Barton should be the main ball-handler, cutting thru the lane to draw attention and then hitting Nelson and Cunningham on the wings. Once those two begin to knock down shots (which should happen eventually), the defense will come out, leaving plenty of opportunities for points in the paint and second chance opportunities. This is actually really simple, and Robinson needs to seriously consider a change before the Beavers have another performance like they did against Arizona State.
On the defensive side of the ball, the players need to take some responsibility. Robinson is doing a good job of mixing up the man-to-man with the 1-3-1 trap, but players are simply missing assignments. This leads to players who haven’t shot the ball well all season like Chanse Creekmur and Chasson Randle suddenly look like they have All-Pac-12 talent. This is why an increase in minutes for Barton and McShane would be huge. Barton is a speedy, get-in-your-face type defender who can force steals, and McShane is just a hustle guy who makes good things happen. We already know about Cunningham’s ability to force steals, and if you group that with Moreland and Collier’s length, this should be a shut-down defense that causes fits all-night long.
Another player who needs to see more minutes is Murphy. Coming down the home-stretch this season, the Beavers are going to be in a lot of games where they need a late three; or two, or three, or four. Of course, the usual suspects (Cunningham, Nelson, and Starks) will be guarded heavily, so I want to see Murphy in there as well. Not only can he stroke it from deep, but he can also jump out of the building. Once he gets his chance he will eventually earn more and more playing time until he is a big part of this team.
But back to Robinson. We’ve gone over what he needs to do on offense and who he needs to play more (and less), but it’s time to look at how he handles the game itself. And it’s not pretty. Obviously, Robinson doesn’t like using timeouts. But when the other team is going on ten-point runs, you HAVE to take time. You don’t even have to say anything smart or basketball-related! A simple “Guys, settle down and pass the ball” will work just fine! It would be one thing if he was saving all of his timeouts for the end of the game, maybe to set up a key play or offer up some words of wisdom, but he refuses to do even that. His late-game substitution tactics (or lack thereof) is atrocious as well. I tried to cut him a little slack for the quadruple-overtime game, considering not many coaches have ever been there before. But my God, when all five of your players are dragging their feet and can barely run the court, it’s time to make some substitutions. Especially when your best three-point shooter is sitting on the bench and your offense looks more inept than ever.
But out of all the things that Robinson does to drive Beaver fans crazy, one of the most painful is listening to his excuses. Some of his quotes want to make you throw your radio through a window, like “The best part about being 10-2 is it takes a while to get to 10-10.” I mean, who says that? Ever hear Mike Krzyzewski say that, or even Sean Miller? It’s like he’s already making excuses for himself so it doesn’t seem as painful when he goes on a losing streak. Then there’s the dandy, “It’s a victory to have the other team change their lineup when they face you.” Actually coach, a victory would be a victory. And then there’s the “I think we’re working them too hard in practice” quote after the ASU game. Maybe if they spent some of that hard work learning how to switch and help on defense they wouldn’t get burned from behind the arc as often. I don’t know, just a thought.
Robinson isn’t going to get fired this season, and with Bob DeCarolis as the Oregon State Athletic Director, it’s most likely not going to happen next season either. But Robinson has to make some changes, because what he’s doing now is obviously not working. The offense is painful to watch, the lack of timeout taking is questionable, the substitution patterns are crazy, and his excuses are terrible. It’s time to start making changes and winning games, because if these patterns continue the Beavers are going down a road they haven’t traveled since the Jay John/Kevin Mouton debacle.