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.
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.