Oregon State Week: Evaluating The Recent PastPosted by Connor Pelton on August 21st, 2012
It’s taken four seasons, but excitement has finally been infused back into a program that lost 20 straight games to close out the 2007-08 season. Craig Robinson, the man charged with rebuilding Oregon State hoops following that infamous campaign, has brought in a feisty defense, up-tempo offense, and good recruiting class after good recruiting class. The Beavers haven’t ranked lower than 34th in the country in the steals category since Robinson has had his own recruits, and they finished fifth and sixth in the last two seasons, respectively. Former guard Jared Cunningham, who was selected in the first round in this summer’s NBA Draft (a first for Oregon State since Corey Benjamin in 1998) led the conference in steals in 2010-11 and 2011-12. Last season saw the Beavers finish in the top 15 nationally in offensive tempo, leading to a Pac-12 leading 78.9 PPG. Along with Cunningham, Robinson has brought in highly touted recruits such as Jarmal Reid, Angus Brandt, and Roberto Nelson. Needless to say, basketball is fun again at Oregon State.
And while basketball is fun, it could be a lot more fun. Despite all of the things we talked about above, the Beavers have yet to make an NCAA Tournament under the guidance of Robinson. Heck, they haven’t even made the NIT. And there’s some reasons for that. Robinson straddles a line between fun basketball and strong, fundamentally sound basketball. Oregon State finished 328th in the nation last season in three-point defensive field goal percentage, which is one of the main reasons you’ll see losses to conference bottom-feeders and mediocre WAC teams. Robinson and his staff have elected to go with a gambling, trap-based defense, which is fun to watch and works against opposing point guards that freeze up when they are trapped in a corner. But against upper-level Pac-12 teams or even lesser opponents with a solid one man? The Beavers get burned, and they get burned often.
On offense, once again there is more than meets the eye. Yes, the Beavers are fun to watch with their new up-tempo style, and that equates to a spike in the scoring averages. But the story is much different once they settle into a half-court offense. At times they’ll look completely lost, and Cunningham, their main ball handler, admitted to not having a plan when they would be forced to slow things down. Often the ball would be passed around the perimeter for 30 seconds before someone jacked up a three-pointer. Not exactly an ideal offensive set. Even worse, the entire team would be so out of sync that the shots would go up when the forwards and centers weren’t in position to try to get an offensive board.
Next season will be a make-or-break year for Robinson and the Beavers. Fans are coming back in droves and they want to see a winner, but there will be pressure to provide the same kind of offensive firepower and trapping defense that got them there in the first place. With their most athletic player now playing for the Dallas Mavericks, it’s not going to be easy. In order to switch things up on offense, point guard Ahmad Starks and the man filling Cunnignham’s role (either Nelson or Victor Robbins) should alternate handling the ball in half-court sets. This should prevent things from getting too stagnant. On the defensive side of the court, there’s no choice but to ease up on defense and work on playing solid defense. The guards are quick enough to man things on the perimeter and force the ball inside, where Devon Collier and Eric Moreland, arguably the top shot-blockers in the league, will be waiting. There will be opportunities to get those extra possessions, and it will be worth waiting for them so as not to be leaving a bulls-eye shooter alone in the corner. Oregon State’s summer trip to Europe over the next two weeks will be a good indicator on how the coaching staff and team is adapting and making the necessary changes as life without Cunningham begins.