Oregon State Week’s Burning Question: What Expectations Must Craig Robinson Live Up To?Posted by Connor Pelton on August 26th, 2012
Each week this summer, we’re trying to ask the single biggest question about the program we’re profiling. And, as has become routine, we’ve got Adam Butler of Pachoops.com along to help us answer those questions. Without further ado, here’s the burning question facing the Oregon State program this summer.
Oregon State head coach Craig Robinson appears to be one of those coaches that brings in a highly touted recruit every once in a while, pulls a few big upsets every year, has an up-tempo offense, and will take his team to the NCAA Tournament once every six seasons or so. The question is, should this be good enough for Oregon State? Once a program that went dancing eight times from 1980 to 1990, the Beavers haven’t made it back to the NCAA Tournament since that 1989-90 campaign. What are reasonable expectations throughout this decade for Robinson, the man charged with bringing the program as close as possible to the heights reached during the 80s?
Adam Butler: Sounds about like you’re describing a mid-major and that’s about the peak of expectations in Corvallis. The problem is: They don’t play other mids night-in and night-out. They play Washington and UCLA and Arizona and while that hasn’t been the most frightening lineup (along with anyone else in the conference) for the past few years, it sure isn’t Pepperdine and San Diego. This is ultimately a blessing in disguise. Robinson doesn’t need to set lofty expectations. The general resume for a major conference team to make the Tournament is pretty straight forward: 18-23 wins, RPI in the 50s or better, a couple of quality Ws, and no glaringly awful losses. That’s realistic every few seasons. But one hurdle of late has been this down conference in which there are no save-all resume games, that immediate RPI booster that drops you onto the committee’s radar. A nothing to lose victory over a Top 10 squad can go a long way in helping a team and a program, and helps to set the barometer for the conference’s lesser teams like OSU. But when there are no Top 10, let alone Top 25, programs going, it’s tough to make the Dance when the cards are already stacked against you. Ultimately, I think the overall conference up-tick will help Robinson build what can be a solid, something-to-be-proud-of program.
Connor Pelton: It’s tough to say, but Oregon State will never reach those heights under Robinson. And we know this because while four years is a pretty small sample size, he’s proven that the average season will include close to 20 wins, but with a four- or five-game RPI and resume-killing losing streak in the middle. I once heard someone describe Robinson as a coach who won’t regularly take you to NCAA Tournaments, but he won’t be consistently bad enough to lose his job, either. And that’s alright, because once Oregon State fans realize their expectations should be somewhere in the realm of “NIT every few years, an NCAA bid sprinkled in every five, and just an entertaining, fun basketball team to watch”, the sport will become much more enjoyable and be rescued from attendance figures that only Utah, USC, and Arizona State have seen as of late. Coaching hoops at Oregon State is not an easy job. The older generation of fans remembers the good ol’ days and will always expect a return, while the newer generation, and this is true of any fanbase in the nation, waits for results before they start forking over money to see the team. Right now, Robinson is stuck right in the middle. He’s got the older fans that show up game after game but are clamoring for a return to the days of Ralph Miller, while some of the newer generation is beginning to hop on board after the Beavers changed to an up-tempo offense and had a future first rounder handling the ball. The only thing we know for sure is that he needs to keep trending upward and eventually make another postseason tournament not designed for underachieving mid-majors — because a step backward like the one he took in 2010-11 could prove fatal for his job security.
Andrew Murawa: Robinson’s biggest problem is, as the question describes, the program’s history of success under Ralph Miller. There were the three consecutive conference titles in the early 80s starting a streak during which the program made the NCAA Tournament nine times in 12 years. So, if it has been done before, it must be possible again, right? Well, the good news for Oregon State fans is that Robinson’s up-tempo style the last couple of years (side note having nothing to do with the question – Robinson may be the prime example of a coach drastically changing tempo mid-career, going from being near the bottom of Division I in terms of possessions per game to, in the last couple years, ranking in the top 10% of the nation) is sure to play well with potential recruits, as is the fact that he helped turn Jared Cunningham from an afterthought of a recruit into a 1st round NBA draft pick. Throw in OSU’s commitment to improving its basketball facilities and the program’s ties to Barack Obama and Robinson should be on the verge of upping the ante on the recruiting trail (not that any change has been readily apparent quite yet). Does that mean it is likely that OSU goes head-to-head on the recruiting trail with programs like UCLA or Arizona (not to mention Washington, Stanford, California, and even Oregon) and regularly come out on top? No, but if they can establish a niche for themselves as an up-tempo, player-friendly system, the Beavs can be a regularly middle-of-the-Pac team while occasionally rising up and competing for a conference title.