Wrapping Up Pac-12 Non-Conference Play By Reassessing Our All-Conference Selections

Posted by AMurawa on January 2nd, 2013

Later tonight, the second leg of the Pac-12 college basketball season begins as conference play tips off with the Battle of the Bachynskis, when Utah travels to Arizona State. After last year’s nightmare of a non-conference slate, this season the conference took major strides, with Arizona’s win over Florida, UCLA’s win over Missouri, Colorado’s win over Baylor, and Oregon’s win over UNLV making up the top tier of the best wins for the conference. Before we turn our complete attention to conference play, we thought we’d hand out some awards based on the season to this point, so Connor Pelton, Parker Baruh, Pachoops’ Adam Butler and myself voted and came up with the following results.

Player of the Year

Allen Crabbe, Jr, California – Crabbe’s 20.9 PPG and efficient all-around offensive game earned three of the four votes for our player of the year, with UCLA’s Jordan Adams receiving the other vote from me. Crabbe has been a rock for the Golden Bears (well, aside from that Creighton debacle, at least), scoring in double figures in every game, helping out on the glass and, thus far, knocking down better than 38% of his shots from deep.

The Pac-12's Leading Scorer, Allen Crabbe Takes Down The Mid-season POTY Award (credit: Jeff Gross)

The Pac-12’s Leading Scorer, Allen Crabbe Takes Down The Mid-season POTY Award (credit: Jeff Gross)

Coach of the Year

Dana Altman, Oregon – Despite losing three of last year’s top four scorers, and having the other guy in that quartet – E.J. Singler – struggle through the early part of this year, the Ducks have reeled off wins in 11 of their 13 games. Altman has gotten great production out of his freshman backcourt of Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson, has folded Rice transfer Arsalan Kazemi into the mix seamlessly, and coaxed great improvement out of senior center Tony Woods. As a result, he earned three of our four votes for the COY, while Arizona State’s Herb Sendek got my support.

Freshman of the Year

Shabazz Muhammad, Fr, UCLA – After missing the first three games of the season due to an NCAA investigation into his eligibility, Muhammad has come on strong for the Bruins, scoring in double figures in all 10 of the games he’s played in on his way to 19.6 points per night. He’s just beginning to ease into the best physical shape of the season, so the expectation is that conference play will see an even better version of Shabazz. Once again, Shabazz earned three of our four votes for FrOY, with the lone dissenter (again, me) nabbing teammate Jordan Adams.

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Pac-12 M5: 12.20.12 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton on December 20th, 2012

pac12_morning5

  1. Larry Drew II‘s collegiate career will come to a close this season, and UCLA head coach Ben Howland regrets not having Drew for a longer amount of time in Los Angeles. While in the middle of his senior season at Woodland Hills Taft High School, Howland offered Drew a scholarship but only kept it on the table for “roughly one week.” Wanting to keep his options open, the kid that grew up a Bruins fan decided to wait out the recruitment process. He eventually landed in Chapel Hill, a place Drew “never really liked.” Five years later the point guard is back in the City of Angels, and as I pointed out a few weeks ago, has been one of the few bright spots for the Bruins in 2012.
  2. If you felt like you were dreaming while watching Arizona knock off a top 10 Florida team last Saturday, it’s probably because of this statistic: The last time a Pac-12/10 team beat a top 10 non-conference opponent was back in 2009, when USC beat #9 Tennessee. A lot of things have happened in those three years, including the slow demise of our conference’s national reputation and RPI rankings. Perhaps that’s why coaches from all around the league were excited by the Wildcats’ triumph. It had already been a disappointing November and December with losses to the likes of Albany, Cal Poly, and Sacramento State dotted throughout the league, so hopefully the rest of the Pac-12 can follow Zona’s suit and keep the quality wins coming.
  3. With Ahmad Starks slumping and Angus Brandt out for the year with a torn ACL, Oregon State has desperately needed the energy provided by Devon Collier, both on the offensive and defensive ends of the court. Collier has been doing a terrific job coming off the bench so far this season, but he actually got the start last night against Howard as Craig Robinson was looking for more energy to begin the game. The plan worked, with the Beavers jumping out to a 14-2 lead, including six points from Collier. They still couldn’t escape their early lull, however, as the Bison jumped right back to pull within three at 20-17. It will be interesting to see how Robinson plays with the lineup in the future as Pac-12 play nears.
  4. Oregon State’s rival was also in action Wednesday night, but instead of playing 48 miles to the south, Oregon nearly went south of the border to face UTEP.  Remember when we were discussing how the conference was beginning to turn around? The Ducks set that back a bit, giving away opportunity after opportunity against the Miners before UTEP finally pulled out a triple-overtime victory. As David Piper mentions at the end, this is a bad loss. Sure, UTEP nearly beat UNLV on Monday, but that’s a Runnin’ Rebels team that Oregon had already posted a victory against. On the road. Also noted was UTEP’s 24-point loss to Vanderbilt, a team Oregon destroyed by 26. Bottom line, Oregon’s shooting woes were going to cost them eventually at some point, and that happened in El Paso last night. You hate to make assumptions bubble-wise this early in the season, but this makes the Ducks’ New Year’s Eve date with Nevada a near must-win to keep its at-large hopes alive.
  5. We close with our weekly Pac-12 Hoops Pick’em selections. Adam and Parker continued to cruise last week and now lead the competition with records of 31-6. I am currently a game behind, while Drew is stuck three games out. For our games of the week, we have chosen Stanford’s trip to Evanston on Friday night and the Kansas-Ohio State showdown on Saturday.
Game Connor (30-7) Drew (28-9) Parker (31-6) Adam (31-6)
Cal Poly at Washington Washington Washington Washington Washington
UC Irvine at USC USC USC USC USC
Northern Arizona at Colorado Colorado Colorado Colorado Colorado
Stanford at Northwestern NW 71-69 Stan 77-59 Stan 65-58 Stan 74-61
Washington State vs Buffalo Washington State Washington State Washington State Washington State
Cal State Northridge at Utah Utah Utah Utah Utah
USC at Georgia Georgia USC Georgia USC
Arizona State at Texas Tech Texas Tech Arizona State Texas Tech Arizona State
Houston Baptist at Oregon Oregon Oregon Oregon Oregon
Kansas at Ohio State OSU 80-75 OSU 65-63 KU 78-73 OSU 80-77
Prairie View A&M at California California California California California
Northern Illinois at Washington Washington Washington Washington Washington
Oregon State vs San Diego Oregon State Oregon State Oregon State Oregon State
Arizona vs East Tennessee State Arizona Arizona Arizona Arizona
Fresno State at UCLA UCLA UCLA UCLA UCLA

 

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Rushed Reactions: Oregon State 79, Portland State 74

Posted by Connor Pelton on December 13th, 2012

Connor Pelton is an RTC correspondent and Pac-12 microsite writer. He filed this report from tonight’s Oregon State-Portland State game in Portland.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. 100 Wins. Tonight’s win was Craig Robinson’s 100th victory in his career, just seven seasons in. While there have certainly been some struggles along the way (an 11-18 year at Brown and a 10-19 campaign with the Beavers in 2010-11), it is becoming more and more evident from the finish to last season and the start of this year that Robinson will be in Corvallis for a long time. And that’s a good thing for Beaver fans. What plagued him and Oregon State early on in his career were three things; halftime adjustments, correctly picking a defense to match up with the opponent’s strengths, and getting the team up for games against lesser opponents. It was fitting Robinson did all three of these things correctly in his milestone win. The Vikings quickly built up a 16-7 lead against the Beavers, and recognizing a need for energy and disruption, OSU went to its signature 1-3-1 trap. That forced three consecutive PSU turnovers, and in a matter of minutes the Beavers went on a 18-8 run to gain the lead for the first time.
  2. The Emergence of Joe Burton. As Joe Burton goes, so do the Beavers? That would have been a crazy statement to make at the beginning of the season, but ever since the season-ending injury to fellow center Angus Brandt, we’ve seen a new and more confident Burton. That was especially true tonight, as the big man led all starters with 20 points. Big Joe is now looking to shoot more instead of instantly going into pass-first mode, and tonight he rolled off four straight buckets after missing the first three he took. If Burton can continue this type of production, the sting of losing Brandt will be lessened significantly.
  3. Stopping Starks. Oregon State’s leading scorer only put up four shots from the field on Wednesday night, and missed every single one of them. Normally the junior point guard gets his pull-up threes off of screens on the perimeter, but instead of switching on those screens, the Vikings did a terrific job of fighting through them and doubling Starks before the screen even came. This worked for the first ten minutes, while the Beaver bigs couldn’t put anything away inside the paint, but eventually the shots would fall and Portland State was killed in the paint. Regardless, the strategy more or less worked. Anytime a team that hasn’t beaten a Division I opponent all season can hold one of the Pac-12’s top scorer to only four points, you’re doing something right.
Despite A Terrific Defensive Effort Against Ahmad Starks, The Beavers Pulled Out A 79-74 Road Victory. (Photo by Connor Pelton)

Despite A Terrific Defensive Effort Against Ahmad Starks, The Beavers Pulled Out A 79-74 Road Victory. (This photo, apparently found in the LOST hatch, is from  Connor Pelton)

Star of the Game. Devon Collier. We’ve already discussed Burton’s exploits, and he’d make a great pick as well, but Collier’s buckets came at the biggest times. The junior would go on mini-runs all by himself, salvaging the Beavers from offensive droughts and igniting not only the team, but large contingent of Beaver fans in attendance. His post moves were spectacular, consistently putting down shots and drawing contact in the process. The big man finished with a team-leading 23 points, and came up huge on the offensive glass as well.

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A Spin Around The Pac-12

Posted by AMurawa on November 28th, 2012

Now that we’ve got games coming fast and furious, every team around the conference has a story to tell, and often we don’t have time to get to them all. So, in the interest of checking in semi-regularly with every team, we’re going to take a quick spin around the conference and check the temperature of each team, beginning with the spots that have gone the most terribly wrong and working backwards to the success stories.

UCLA – More or less a co-favorite heading into the season, the Bruins are likely the biggest story going in the Pac-12 right now – and not for anything good. Sunday night’s blown 18-point second-half lead en route to a loss to Cal Poly is one (terrible, horrible, atrocious) thing, but the fact that this team is doing this kind of thing with a the level of talent they’ve got is unforgivable. If Ben Howland is going to stick with more or less this personnel in his rotation (you know, the Wear twins, Larry Drew and a pair of wings), he’s gotta just break down and play a ton of zone. Really, this will do two good things: (1) minimize the effect of this team’s low level of overall athleticism, and (2) give them plenty of work on their zone offense in practice, something they desperately need. The other thing that absolutely has to happen for UCLA to even get within shouting distance of its potential ceiling is to find a way to get Kyle Anderson comfortable in this offense, and really that means putting the ball in his hands and letting him create, at least in the halfcourt. Drew has been excellent running the show and in no way should be scapegoated for UCLA’s struggles, but this team needs Anderson to be a factor and, while he’s shown his versatility, his defense has been bad, his shooting has been worse, and he hasn’t done enough elsewhere to make up for those serious drawbacks. There is still plenty of time for this team to turn things around, but UCLA fans have rightly run out of patience with Howland and are demanding immediate success. If this team doesn’t get drastically better, the big story come March will be whether UCLA’s legacy will be enough to pull either Shaka Smart or Brad Stevens away from their current jobs.

Kyle Anderson, UCLA

Ben Howland Needs To Find a Way To Get Kyle Anderson Comfortable, Or He’ll Be Looking For A New Job

Washington – The thinking at the start of the year was that maybe, minus a pair of talented but conflicted wings, the Huskies could be a textbook example of addition by subtraction. Minus Terrence Ross and especially Tony Wroten Jr., the remaining members of the team would know and accept their roles better. Well, somebody forgot to tell guys like Desmond Simmons, Jernard Jarreau and Martin Breunig that a big part of their roles would be to clean the defensive glass. While the Huskies have more or less won the battle of the boards against lesser teams, versus Ohio State and Colorado State they were dominated – in fact, against the Rams, the Huskies actually grabbed fewer defensive rebounds than CSU grabbed offensive boards. Sure, it sucks that Shawn Kemp Jr. went down with an injury just before the start of the year, but either Jarreau or Breuning needs to be ready to step in and do some of the dirty work, lest they be not asked back next season.

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Clean as the Opening Whistle: A Recap Of The Pac-12’s Undefeated First Weekend

Posted by Connor Pelton on November 13th, 2012

The Pac-12 made it through the opening weekend of college basketball with an unblemished record (13-0), one of only two power conferences to do so. Let’s take a closer look at how it all went down through the first few days.

Upsets – None. Zip. Nada. The Pac-12 team was the favorite in each of the 13 games played this weekend, and they won each and every time. Oregon State and Arizona were the closest schools to a loss as the Beavers held off New Mexico State, 71-62, and the Wildcats pulled away late to win 82-73 against Charleston Southern.

Best Game – New Mexico State at Oregon State: This one had all the makings of an upset for the first 10 minutes of the game. The Aggies used their height advantage to dominate the glass and took advantage of a slow-to-rotate Beaver defense by nailing mid-range and three-point jumpers. But down 18-12 midway through the first half, the Beavers went on a 22-6 run to kill the Aggies’ morale. New Mexico State hung around for the duration of the contest, and even had a chance to cut the deficit to three with 30 seconds left, but Terrel de Rouen clanked a three-point attempt and the Beavers escaped.

Ahmad Starks’ 33 Points Led Oregon State To A Nine Point Win Over New Mexico State (credit: Andy Wooldridge)

Player of the Week – Dwight Powell: Stanford’s junior forward scored 27 points in 32 minutes on Friday night against San Francisco. Even more impressive is the fact that Powell didn’t have a point in the final seven minutes of Stanford’s 74-62 win at the Oracle Coliseum. However, his final bucket, a tip-in to extend the Cardinal lead to 13, was a dagger to the heart of the Dons. Powell also pulled down seven rebounds on the night.

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Pac-12 M5: 11.13.12 Edition

Posted by KDanna on November 13th, 2012

  1. To the surprise of probably nobody, Oregon State’s Ahmad Starks was named the first Pac-12 Player of the Week for the 2012-13 season. The junior guard from Chicago earned the honor in large thanks to a 33-point effort against New Mexico State on Sunday night, a game that saw him consistently get to the rack and beat the tall-but-slow-footed 7’5’’ Sim Bhullar and others on his way to the paint. Starks is probably known more for his trigger-happy right hand from beyond the arc, something he showed off in the season opener against Niagara during which he hit six three-pointers. In a land chock full of diminutive guards, Ahmad Starks might be the most underrated of them all. This honor (his second such of his career) helps shine some light on Craig Robinson’s perimeter player, and conferences love to heap praise on players from teams that don’t receive a lot of positive national attention (see: Colorado quarterback Jordan Webb being awarded the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honor for the Buffs’ lone win of 2012 against Washington State). It’s a well-deserved honor for Starks, who also averaged six rebounds, three assists, and two steals per contest.
  2. The new AP Top 25 and USA Today Coaches Poll came out yesterday and there wasn’t much movement for the Pac-12 constituents. The AP kept Arizona and UCLA and 12 and 13, respectively, while dropping the Wildcats and Bruins a spot in the USA Today to 12 and 14. The reasons for the slight drops in the coaches poll surround Arizona’s too-close-for-comfort victory over Charleston Southern and the news out of Westwood that Shabazz Muhammad has been ruled ineligible. It’s good to see that UCLA didn’t get punished harshly for the ineligibility of a player who has yet to contribute to the program in a game; others like the CBS Sports Top 25 (and one) dropped the Bruins precipitously. Sure, a lot of preseason rankings are based on projections, but these preseason rankings came out with the knowledge that Muhammad might not play in the first place. It would unjust in the humble opinion of this blogger to dock the Bruins any further.
  3. More on that Arizona win over Charleston Southern- it leaves plenty of room for improvement for the Wildcats, according to The Tucson Citizen. Regardless of how good Charleston Southern may be this year, it’s never a good feeling to have to grind one out against a Big South school at home as a top-25 team. This isn’t the first time this has happened for Arizona, either. Look no further than last year, when a preseason top-20 Wildcat squad sweated out victories at home against Valparaiso and Duquesne before eventually dropping off in non-league play with losses in all of their most important non-conference games (Mississippi State, San Diego State, Florida, and Gonzaga). Lessons are always easier to learn in close wins, but a similar effort against UTEP and Long Beach State, two programs that are a notch above Charleston Southern, might not yield as friendly of a result.
  4. The Colorado sports information department has to rank among the best in the conference, partly due to features that move beyond your normal fluffy and propaganda-sounding pieces. Case in point: this B.G. Brooks article concerning André Roberson’s need to play with more energy. He didn’t have a horrific game in the Buffaloes’ 74-59 season-opening victory against Wofford, but it wasn’t the performance many have come to expect from the only guy to average a double-double in the conference last year. Both Boyle and Roberson himself agree that he needs to play with a little more spunk, and it needs to happen right away as Colorado gets ready for the Charleston Classic. It isn’t a loaded field, but Dayton should provide a good test immediately, and the Buffs could also square off against Baylor and Murray State in future rounds.
  5. Lastly, the Stanford basketball team sent out a get-well motivational video to the injured Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. The Cardinal made headlines in the NIT last year when Lewis was caught on tape giving a motivational speech to Stanford right before its semifinal game against UMASS in Madison Square Garden. While this video won’t get anyone pissed off for greatness (even though the players mention the phrase a few times in the video), it’s a nice gesture to an NFL great who really helped put Stanford back on the map of national relevance.
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Oregon State Wins 2K Sports Classic Regional, But NYC Was Booked Regardless

Posted by Kenny Ocker on November 11th, 2012

Kenny Ocker is an RTC correspondent. He can be reached on Twitter @kennyocker.

Ahmad Starks had an incredible game. By halftime, he had 19 points, five assists and three steals. His first three-pointer changed the face of the game, taking an Oregon State team that was trailing New Mexico State by six with 10 minutes to go in the first half and righting their course, setting them on a trajectory to win the 2K Sports Classic preliminary game and set the Beavers on a course to Manhattan for the tournament’s finals.

Starks’ Career Night Catapulted the Beavers to NYC (Amanda Cowan | Corvallis Gazette-Times)

…which they would have gone to anyway, given the weird nature of the preliminary rounds of the tournament. In what essentially is a way to scam the NCAA’s scheduling rules to get more games into teams’ schedules, the tournament brackets teams in different regionals, but pre-selects which teams are going to the final bracket and which teams are shipped off elsewhere to continue playing the “tournament” while not playing for hardware. Because exempt tournaments count as one game in a team’s schedule limit of 30, it lets schools play more games. But because it’s not a true knockout tournament, lower-seeded teams, such as the Aggies or Niagara – Oregon State’s victim Friday night – are denied an opportunity to be rewarded if they pull off a big win. At least New Mexico State gets a trip to New York out of the tournament. No, not to New York City. The Purple Eagles of Niagara will host the Aggies and Bucknell Bison (which beat 2K Sports Classic “finalist” Purdue) on back-to-back days next weekend.

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Pac-12 M5: 10.15.12 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton on October 15th, 2012

  1. With the departure of Tony Wroten, Jr., Washington is currently without a defined leader on the team. When asked who might be the face of the team after the second day of practice, senior guard Abdul Gaddy replied “The team is the face of the team.” That’s a stark change from last season, when Wroten was the go-to guy whenever the Dawgs needed a late bucket or to break out of a dry spell on offense. There’s certainly no problem with having no set leader going into the season; after all, it’s one of the bigger clichés in college sports that every team needs one of them. As long as someone, whether C.J. Wilcox, Scott Suggs or whoever, is willing to have the ball in their hands in the waning minutes and has the ability to make a play, there’s no problem. However, there is such a thing as being too unselfish, and close wins will soon become losses if that happens in Seattle this winter. The Huskies will play their one and only exhibition game on October 24 against Western Washington.
  2. Oregon State finished the month of March last season with a record of 6-2, an eight-game stretch in which leading scorer Jared Cunningham didn’t play very well. With Cunningham now playing for the Dallas Mavericks, that stretch gives Beaver fans the hope that players like Ahmad Starks, Devon Collier, and Angus Brandt can keep up the same offensive output without their star guard. Even more important than the trio above, however, will be the play of junior shooting guard Roberto Nelson. Nelson will be the Beavers’ only non-starter-turned-starter from a year ago, but he did play in all 36 games. According to head coach Craig Robinson, Nelson has matured and built on the experience gained from playing in each and every contest as a sophomore, and is ready to take the next step needed in 2012-13.
  3. Just one year removed from a cancer scare before the start of practice, California head coach Mike Montgomery is healthy and ready for the 2012-13 season to tip off. The tone was much different last year at this time, as Montgomery underwent surgery October 19 for bladder cancer, and subsequently he was declared cancer free and able to work the entirety of his 31st season as a head coach. The Golden Bears were the only Pac-12 team to gain an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament last season, and if they are to return it will be behind the play of sophomore guard Ricky Kreklow and junior guard Allen Crabbe. Both are strong shooters but need to show the ability to get to the free throw line more if the Bears are to compete for a Pac-12 championship.
  4. The air is crisp, the leaves are turning, and practices across the nation are beginning. That means it’s time for some preseason predictions. Bruce Pascoe of the Arizona Daily Star, like everyone else around the country, said that he’s been wrestling on whether to put Arizona or UCLA at the top of the Pac this year. He eventually went with Ben Howland’s Bruins, with Arizona and the two Bay Area schools rounding out the upper third of the league race.
  5. We close with some recruiting news, and some big news at that. Class of 2013 small forward Jabari Parker, largely considered to be the top recruit in the nation, named Stanford as one of his final five schools on Friday. Parker’s ability to score from anywhere on the offensive end of the floor makes him this year’s can’t-miss prospect. The Simeon Career Academy (IL) product is also considering BYU, Duke, Florida, and Michigan State. Noticeably missing is Kentucky, who just got verbals from the second and fourth best players in the country on October 4 in the Harrison twins.
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Pac-12 Team Previews: Oregon State Beavers

Posted by Connor Pelton on October 10th, 2012

Throughout the preseason, the Pac-12 microsite will be rolling out these featured breakdowns of each of the 12 league schools. Today’s release are the Oregon State Beavers.

Strengths: Oregon State returns four starters from last year’s squad, all of whom had terrific finishes to the 2011-12 season. Ahmad Starks, a shoot-first, pass-later point guard, will be the key to making the Beaver offense run in the post Jared Cunningham era. As Cunningham’s offensive control began to wear down in postseason play last March, Starks stepped up and averaged 11.3 PPG in his final seven outings. If he is able to show that lights-out ability once again, defenses will have to give Angus Brandt and Devon Collier some space in the post. Both can go to work on either side of the hoop, and Brandt also has the luxury of a soft jumper to extend defenses even more. The Beavers should once again shine in the stealing and shot-blocking facets of the game, even if they do lose arguably the top defender in the conference. Starks will take Cunningham’s role of the feisty, energetic man up top, while Collier and Eric Moreland’s long wingspans make it virtually impossible for anyone to float up a shot in the lane.

Weaknesses: After Starks, the guard position gets downright scary for Oregon State. Junior Roberto Nelson will join Starks as the other starter in the backcourt, and while Nelson can certainly shoot the ball, doing it with consistency and becoming a triple threat are completely separate issues. Freshman guard/forward Victor Robbins will be next in line for backcourt minutes, and he is the player most like Cunningham on the current roster. Robbins’ athleticism and ball-handling ability made him a great late get in the 2012 recruiting class, but it’s never good when you might have to count on a true freshman at significant times throughout a game.

Roberto Nelson’s (right) Ball Handling Left Something To Be Desired Throughout The 2011-12 Season (Jae C. Hong)

Non-conference Tests: The Beavers loaded up their slate with five challenging non-conference opponents in 2012-13, four of which will be played away from home. Starting off the list is a visit from New Mexico State on November 11, followed just four days later by a matchup with Alabama in New York City. They’ll face either Villanova or Purdue the next day at the same site, then get a small break before playing a top five Kansas squad in Kansas City on November 30. The final “test” will be the easiest of the five; a 90-minute road trip up to Portland to face Portland State on December 12.

Toughest Conference Stretch: The Beavers will play arguably five of the toughest six teams throughout a 19-day stretch in January. The stretch starts off with a visit from Arizona on January 12, and continues five nights later with a trip to Pauley Pavilion to face vaunted UCLA. A tricky USC team is next, followed by a pair of home games against the Washington schools. Finally, they’ll face California in Berkeley on the last day of January. If Oregon State can come out of these six with a 3-3 split, the schedule lightens up enough for the Beavers to make a run at a first round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament. Anything less and coach Craig Robinson proves once again his team isn’t ready to hang around with the conference’s elite.

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Oregon State Week: Q&A With Building The Dam

Posted by Connor Pelton on August 27th, 2012

As part of our Oregon State week, we wanted to reach out to the guys at Building The Dam for their takes on the upcoming Beaver basketball season. Andy Wooldridge was kind enough to spend some time with us and give us his thoughts.

Rush The Court: Let’s get the most important topic out-of-the-way first. Jared Cunningham was the team’s top defender and threat on offense. How do you replace him, and is there any chance at improvement with him gone?

Building The Dam: There’s no one player who can replace Cunningham on this team. He was a rare player, the type who only comes along once every decade or so at programs like Oregon State. That doesn’t mean that the Beavers can’t collectively step up to the challenge, though. Ahmad Starks and Roberto Nelson must both find better consistency, and more consistent offense from the frontcourt wouldn’t hurt either. Defensively, Cunningham wasn’t a lockdown defender, and it wasn’t that unusual for some of the better guards in the conference to break him down with the dribble. Cunningham wasn’t that great at denying the perimeter shot either. These are two things Oregon State needs to improve on this season as a team, and that would have been the case even if Jared had returned for his senior season. But what he did have was both the anticipation and the acceleration to make opponents pay for a mistake, often explosively. It wouldn’t just be a four- to five-point swing, it would be a momentum changer. That’s going to be the toughest thing to replace. Challe Barton has a huge opportunity to step up and fill the void Cunningham left; we should know by Christmas whether he’s up to it.

Barton Will Have A Huge Opportunity To Step Up in 2012-13 (credit: Amanda Cowan)

RTC: Considering he’s churned out good recruiting class after good recruiting class and is already four years into his tenure, is there any pressure on Craig Robinson to make at least an NIT appearance in 2012-13?

BTD: Pressure? No. Expectations, yes. By that I mean there isn’t immediate pressure from the Athletic Director or the University President, who are the ones who matter. Remember, Robinson just delivered the best season in 22 years, and only the second winning record in that time frame. And they played an entertaining, high scoring style of ball in doing so. Both Bob De Carolis and President Ray remember the Jay John days very clearly. But fans are having expectations of even better things to come, at least the newer generation of them. Continued growth in attendance, which translates to continued growth of income, will only come with wins, and actual quality non-conference opponents, which only wins and fuller houses can deliver. If Robinson suffers another fallback as happened in the 2010-11 season, then the pressure will start to mount in the 2013-14 campaign in direct inverse to ticket sales and donations. Oregon State does not have a “quick hook” management style, so Robinson, like most coaches on campus, has more time to work with than would be the case at several other schools in the conference in any number of sports.

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Oregon State Week: Running Down The Returnees

Posted by Connor Pelton on August 23rd, 2012

Six significant Beavers return for Craig Robinson this season, a group that will be called upon to quickly meld with four freshmen and a newly eligible transfer. Below we’ll break down those returnees in order of their per-game scoring averages last season.

Devon Collier, Junior, Forward (13.1 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 1.3 BPG) – Collier graduated from starting all but seven games as a freshman to all but just three as a sophomore. His scoring totals nearly doubled in 2011-12, going from 7.0 PPG to 13.1 PPG. He was by far the team’s best scoring option in the post, and at times when Jared Cunningham couldn’t find his jumper, the best option, period. The next step on the road to becoming an all-conference performer is to finish more of his opportunities off the glass. That should come as he makes the transition to an upperclassman, and he already showed some improvement in the Beavers first European Tour game, going six-for-six from the field against Saint Charles Basketball Club. If he can continue anywhere near that kind of production, he has a solid passer in Ahmad Starks to get him the ball on the block. Collier can also run the court and is a great dump-off option in transition. On the other end of the court, Collier’s defense will be just as important to Oregon State’s success this season. The combination of Eric Moreland and Collier’s long wingspans made it nearly impossible for opponents to have any success in the lane, with Devon himself having one four-block game and three three-block outings.

Once Starks Begins To Get Going, There Isn’t A Better Shooter In The League (credit: Andy Wooldridge)

Ahmad Starks, Junior, Point Guard (12.1 PPG, 2.3 RPG) – Along with Collier, Starks is the only other player from Robinson’s 2010 freshman class still with the team. Starks is a shoot-first point guard, the best of his kind in the Pac-12. Despite only standing a generous 5’9″, he is able to get up and make shots consistently with his unique fadeaway jumper. Starks was the main reason for Oregon State’s late success in 2011-12, as the Beavers went 6-2 in their final eight games. With Cunningham struggling to put down his three-point shot, Starks averaged 11.3 PPG in the seven games he played during that stretch. Not surprisingly, Oregon State’s two losses came in games where Starks scored only four points or sat out. The guard is at his best when he catches the ball on a wing or is able to create separation by stopping on a dime, pulling up, fading away, and shooting. More of this, and less of the jacking up random shots outside of the offensive flow, will result for more offensive production for both Starks and the Beavers.

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Oregon State Week: Evaluating The Recent Past

Posted 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.

Craig Robinson Has Made Basketball Fun Again At Oregon State. The Next Step Is An NIT or NCAA Tournament Bid. (credit: Bleacher Report)

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.

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