Pac-12 Season Superlatives

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 9th, 2015

The regular season has ended and Pac-12 fans are looking forward to the postseason. Before we all descend on Las Vegas for a fun four days of action, let’s run down our Pac-12 superlatives for the 2014-15 campaign.

Player of the Year

Delon Wright, Sr, Utah – It came down to a three-man race for POY between Wright, Arizona’s T.J. McConnell and Oregon’s Joseph Young (who won the official Pac-12 award). McConnell was the senior leader on the conference’s best team and the glue that brought the Wildcats together, but he mustered only two second-place votes in our four-man vote. Young, the conference’s best scoring guard and an underrated playmaker, also earned two second-place votes. In the end, though, it was Wright who earned the first-place vote on all four of our ballots. As the Utes’ primary playmaker and the only player capable of creating his own offense, Wright was the best player on the floor in most of the games he played this season. Whether looking at traditional or advanced stats, Wright’s numbers across the stat sheet are very impressive.

Delon Wright: The Real Pac-12 Player of the Year (Rick Egan, The Salt Lake Tribune)

Delon Wright: The Real Pac-12 Player of the Year (Rick Egan, The Salt Lake Tribune)

All-Conference

First Team

  • Delon Wright, Sr, Utah (14.7 PPG, 5.3 APG, 4.7 RPG. 2.1 SPG) – The RTC Pac-12 Player of the Year.
  • Joseph Young, Sr, Oregon (19.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.7 APG) – The conference’s best shooter and scorer does so much more than put the ball in the hoop.
  • TJ McConnell, Sr, Arizona (9.6 PPG, 6.3 APG, 3.8 RPG, 2.1 SPG) – The consummate point guard and senior leader, McConnell’s impact cannot be summed up in numbers.
  • Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Soph, Arizona (11.2 PPG, 6.5 RPG) – The conference’s best defender made strides on the offensive end during his second year.
  • Stanley Johnson, Fr, Arizona (13.9 PPG, 6.8 RPG) – The Wildcats’ leading scorer is the third member of the squad on our first team.

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Picking a Pac-12 All-Star Game

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 13th, 2015

I was poking around some of the upcoming posts on Rush the Court last night, not entirely sure what I wanted to write about, when I stumbled across Brendan Brody’s piece over on the Big Ten microsite about picking a pair of All-Star Game rosters out of that conference. Well, that seemed like a perfectly brilliant idea to me, so I figured I’d steal borrow that notion and shift out west to the Conference of Champions. He’s got 12-man rosters in a 14 (or 16 or 18? God knows how many teams are in the Big-Can’t Count) team league, and we’ve only got 12, so I’m just going to fill out two 10-man rosters and split them based on the North/South divisions that the conference uses for football. One other caveat: We’re going to steal an idea from the MLB (probably the first time I’ve ever used that phrase) and require at least one player from each team. And, since we’re going to have an All-Star Game, we might as well make a full weekend out of it and host a dunk contest, a three-point contest and a skills competition, right? Let’s jump right in.

Seriously. How Cool Would An In-Season Conference All-Star Game Be?

Seriously. How Cool Would An In-Season Conference All-Star Game Be?

Pac-12 North All-Stars

Starters

  • G: Chasson Randle, Sr, Stanford
  • G: Joseph Young, Sr, Oregon
  • G: Gary Payton II, Jr, Oregon State
  • F: Anthony Brown, Sr, Stanford
  • F: Josh Hawkinson, So, Washington State

Bench

  • G: Davonte Lacy, Sr, Washington State
  • G: Nigel Williams-Goss, So, Washington
  • G: Tyrone Wallace, Jr, California
  • F: Jordan Bell, Fr, Oregon
  • C: Stefan Nastic, Sr, Stanford

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Pac-12 Halfway Home Awards

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on February 4th, 2015

The calendar has been flipped to February. The Super Bowl is in the rearview mirror. And all Pac-12 teams have nine conference games in the books. It’s a nice, tidy point to recap what we’ve seen so far and take a brief look ahead as the college basketball regular season takes the main stage (really, who actually watches regular season NBA games?) and we begin the downhill run to March Madness. We’ll be reconvening in Vegas before we know it.

Player of the Midyear

He May Not Be The "Best" Player In The Conference, But He's Arguably The Most Important (Arizona Athletics)

He May Not Be the “Best” Player in the Conference, But He’s Arguably the Most Important One (Arizona Athletics)

A couple weeks back, my friend and colleague Adam Butler drew a line in the sand and argued that Stanford’s Chasson Randle and Utah’s Delon Wright were the only two options for Pac-12 Player of the Year. I read that post. I enjoyed that post. I disagreed – and continue to disagree – with that post. Don’t get me wrong. Both of those guys are very much in the conversation for the award. Both of those guys are awesome. Both of those guys are part of the reason why I love college hoops so much. And both of those guys currently take a back seat to Arizona’s T.J. McConnell in my POY calculus. Look, I get it: McConnell is not actually the best player in the Pac-12. He’s not even the best player on his team (I’d give that honor to either Rondae Hollis-Johnson or Stanley Johnson – or maybe Rondley Jeffer-Hollisson). In considering a national All-American team, I’d certainly consider Wright and Randle, while leaving McConnell’s name on the cutting room floor. But “Player of the Year”? That title is so open to interpretation. Here’s what I know: Arizona is the best team in the conference. Take away one of Jefferson, or Johnson, or Brandon Ashley or Kaleb Tarczewski, and that sentiment still stands. Take away McConnell and the whole darn thing is bound to fall apart. He is the catalyst for everything that Arizona does well. He gets the ball in the hands of the right players. He sets the defensive tone. And when the rest of the team is sleep-walking through a first half against the biggest contender to Arizona’s throne, there’s McConnell putting his team on his back and serving as a human alarm clock. He’s not the best player in his conference. He’s not the best player on his team. But at this midway point, he’s my Player of the Year front-runner.

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Pac-12 Weekly Honors: Week Ten

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 26th, 2015

Each week the Pac-12 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, which typically will include a Team, Player and Newcomer of the Week, along with our weekly Power Rankings.

Team of the Week: Arizona

Sometimes this stuff is pretty easy. My philosophy is that if you go on the road in the Pac-12 and come away with a pair of wins for the week, odds are good you’re going to be the Team of the Week. All of our voters this week agreed, rewarding the Wildcats for an impressive two-win trip to the Bay Area. While all the questions about this Arizona team aren’t exactly put away quite yet, we’ve definitely seen this team turn the corner and accelerate its progress since the stunning loss at Oregon State. The scary thing is that there’s still plenty of improvement to come from this bunch. Oh, and watch out, conference, because it looks like Stanley Johnson is in the middle of a tear.

Stanley Johnson and Arizona Are Beginning To Round Into Form (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

Stanley Johnson and Arizona Are Beginning To Round Into Form (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

Player of the Week: Gary Payton II, Junior, Oregon State

Back when he was doing this sort of thing in non-conference play against Corban, Mississippi Valley State and Grambling, we could be forgiven for having taken a wait-and-see approach. Now, when he’s posting full stat lines and occasional double-doubles against Power Five teams? It’s crazy, but Payton is in the conversation for all-Pac-12 consideration. And not that weird 15-person “official” All-Pac-12 team, but a legit, five-person only all-Pac-12 team. He’s already on the very short list of best defenders in the conference, with averages of three steals and a block per game. In fact, he’s third in the nation in steal percentage, which notes the rate at which he ends an opponent’s possession with a steal. Plus, at a slender 6’3”, he’s grabbing a defensive rebound 20 percent of the time that one is available to be grabbed. This week it was just more of the same. Against UCLA on Thursday he was the best player on the court, scoring 18 points, grabbing seven boards, handing out six assists and swiping five steals; and then he backed that up against USC by double-doubling: 21 points, 10 boards.

(Also receiving votes: Stanley Johnson)

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Building a Football Team From Pac-12 Basketball Players

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 13th, 2015

Yesterday was the day that college basketball paused one last time to make way for its college football friends. From here on out, college hoops has the right of way on the amateur level. With Oregon representing our proud conference despite the loss, we figured today would be a good time to tie college football and basketball together in a fun way by piecing together an imaginary football team made up entirely of current Pac-12 basketball players. This team would probably be pretty good, so let’s get right to it.

Offense

  • QB: Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington – If there was such a thing as a pocket passer in basketball, Williams-Goss would be it. We’ll get him out on the edge every now and then to make some plays, but we want our quarterback to hang tight and deliver the ball to our play-makers.
Let's Trade In Nigel Williams-Goss As A QB on The Floor For Just A Plain, Old QB (Getty Images)

Let’s Trade in Nigel Williams-Goss As A QB on the Floor For Just a Plain Old QB (Getty Images)

  • RB: Chasson Randle, Stanford – He’s got speed, quickness and power. We can dump the ball to him out of the backfield or let him pound ahead into the line.
  • RB: Malcolm Duviver, Oregon State – The first time I saw this guy I thought he looked more like a tailback than a point guard. At 6’2”, 205, he can be our workhorse back.
  • WR: Stanley Johnson, Arizona – Man, there are so many places we could play Johnson but we’re envisioning him as our Megatron. He’s got speed and great hands, and once he makes the catch, good luck bringing him down.

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Who Won The Week? Texas, Amere May and Gary Payton II …

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) on December 19th, 2014

wonweekWho Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Tacoma-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

WINNER: Texas

You know, I think the Longhorns have recovered from losing at Kentucky two weeks ago. And that’s a credit to their fantastic defense, which ranks third nationally in adjusted efficiency (thanks, KenPom!). Texas came out Saturday and held a not-entirely-terrible Texas State team to 27 points (and a cool 0.44 points per possession) in a 59-27 win, then followed that up with a comparatively pedestrian 103-61 win over Lipscomb in which the Bisons only scored 0.81 points per possession. Yes, that is a “comparatively pedestrian” 42-point win. That’s how good Texas’ defense is. Here’s some stats to back that up: The Longhorns are first in the nation in effective field goal shooting against, first in opponents’ two-point field goal percentage (32.7 percent!) and second in block rate, swatting nearly one in five two-point attempts. The defense is the third most efficient in the country despite being in the bottom five nationally in forcing turnovers. Oh, and by the way, the Longhorns are now 9-1, including 6-1 without injured starting point guard Isaiah Taylor.

Rick Barnes is Carrying the Big 12 Recruiting Flag This Week (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports Images)

It’s been business as usual for Rick Barnes and Texas. (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports Images)

(Related winners: People who really like defense. Related losers: Texas State; Lipscomb, but mostly for making “Bison” plural by adding an “S.”)

LOSER: Connecticut

Not to be an alarmist or anything, but the defending national champions are running out of time to get some good wins. Now 4-4, Kevin Ollie’s Huskies had an opportunity against a stacked Duke team Thursday night on a neutral court and came away with a 66-56 loss. But with the American looking like it will have a down year in the wake of Louisville’s departure, the only chances for statement wins are at Florida and a pair of conference match-ups with Cincinnati. (I reserve the right to judge SMU until Markus Kennedy is playing for them, but the Mustangs have taken three non-nconference losses already. Not promising.) And the best UConn non-conference win thus far, against Dayton, will lose a lot of shine after the Flyers dismissed their two tallest players after a campus incident. Now what I find alarming is that UConn gave up more than a point per possession to lowly Coppin State on Sunday, owner of a bottom-10 offensive efficiency, proving that the Huskies took at least one night off. You can’t afford to do that when you need to stack up a gaudy record in a conference full of minnows. And you certainly can’t afford to do that when you can’t score above a point per possession yourselves, which has happened in each of the Huskies’ four losses.

(Related winners: Duke, which managed to overcome a nearly 50 percent turnover rate in the first half to win somewhat comfortably. Related losers: UConn stud guard Ryan Boatright, who has to be wondering what he did to deserve his woeful offensive supporting cast; the American, which needs all the good teams – and NCAA Tournament teams – it can get.) Read the rest of this entry »

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An Under the Radar Pac-12 Newcomer Team

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 18th, 2014

More than a month into the season, we’ve had a chance to see each of the Pac-12 teams multiple times, with every school getting a crack or two (or more) at good competition. As for the returnees, we’ve already got a good idea of what to think of their games; but it’s been the newcomers who have made their impressions on us through five weeks. In the spirit of getting to know them, we’re going to put together a team – an honest-to-goodness team with a point guard and bigs and defenders and shooters – made from among our favorite newcomers in the league. Easy enough, you might say. Start with Arizona’s Stanley Johnson, Utah’s Jakob Poeltl and UCLA’s Kevon Looney and go from there, right? Nah, child’s play. Future NBA lottery picks are ineligible for this team. We’re going to dig a little deeper.

Arizona State Freshman Kodi Justice Running The Point: Bold Choice

Arizona State Freshman Kodi Justice Running The Point: Bold Choice

  • PG: Kodi Justice, Arizona State – He’s not your typical point guard. He’s not the small, quick athlete; he’s more of a long, lanky glider. But he’s got savvy and awareness; he’s capable of dropping a dime on his teammates’ hands given only the slimmest of openings. Back off of him and he’ll drill a three in your face. Get up on him and, even though he doesn’t exactly have the quickest first step, he’s got a good enough handle to slide by you and open things up on the move. This Arizona State team will have to make up for Justice’s average athleticism and defensive shortcomings for his position, but we’ll make up for it with great athletes everywhere else in this lineup.

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: Favorite Newcomer?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 17th, 2014

It’s been a while since we last did this, so it is now time for another round of Pac-12 Burning Questions, where we ask our panelists all to take a crack at one key question. This time, right to the point:

Of all the new players around the conference, who is your favorite?

Kevin Danna: For me it’s gotta be Utah’s Jakob Poeltl. Maybe it’s from spending too much time around Brian Scalabrine when he was demoted to Santa Cruz last year, but all I want out of a big man is someone who defends the paint, rebounds, and finishes well at the rim. The Amazing Austrian does all three of those things wonderfully, averaging 10.9 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game while shooting 69 percent from the floor, mostly on shots in the paint. Sure, there’s plenty of other stuff he can work on – starting with his free-throw shooting (44.9%) – but he patrols the paint on defense and doesn’t mess around with the rock when he gets it inside. Dunk, defend and rebound… just like God intended from his big men.

Jakob Poeltl Does What You Want A Big Man To Do (Utah Basketball)

Jakob Poeltl Does What You Want A Big Man To Do (Utah Basketball)

Adam Butler: Gary Payton II. Let me know if it seems I exhaust this narrative, but Oregon State was projected to be the worst major conference team. I’m not talking about pundits, either. We’re talking 10K simulations run by Winn and Hanner. So the fact that Oregon State isn’t in the cellar, is playing impressive ball, and is being led by the spawn of Gary Payton – I’m paying attention. GP2 put up a triple-double this week, which puts him in rare Pac-12 air. His numbers speak for themselves but the important part is that he’s leading a team that was desperate for leadership.

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Pac-12 Preseason Poll and Preview Wrap-Up

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 14th, 2014

And then there was basketball. Starting tonight, if you play your cards right, you can watch college basketball straight through for the next four months, maybe taking a Friday night off here and there to recharge the batteries. Hopefully we’ve done a good job here at the RTC Pac-12 microsite getting you ready for the season. As our last hurrah before we have actual games to talk and write about, we’d like to unveil the results of our five-man preseason poll (Adam Butler, Andrew Murawa, Connor Pelton, Kevin Danna and Tracy McDannald), linking to our team previews for each of the 12 teams in this conference. Below that we also link to our preseason All-Conference teams for one handy spot to return come March to figure out all the places we screwed up. Besides that, the recommendation from these parts is just to sit back, enjoy a tasty snack or enticing beverage, and enjoy some hoops tonight. Happy New Year everybody.

preseasonpoll

  1. Arizona. The Wildcats are our unanimous choice for first place and, all things considered, we mark them and point guard T.J. McConnell as the team to beat by a wide margin.

    T.J. McConnell and The Wildcats Are The Runaway Favorites In The Pac-12 (Lance King, Getty Images)

    T.J. McConnell and The Wildcats Are The Runaway Favorites In The Pac-12 (Lance King, Getty Images)

  2. Utah. The Utes still have a lot to prove, especially in close games, but with All-America candidate Delon Wright leading the way, their talent wins out for our voters.
  3. Stanford. The Cardinal are coming off a thrilling Sweet Sixteen run, and if the Johnny Dawkins can find a few breakout players they could be the team to challenge the Wildcats.
  4. Colorado. Tad Boyle’s squad returns all of his familiar faces, save one. One of their point guards will have to step up for the Buffaloes to sneak up the standings.
  5. UCLA. The Bruins are the conference’s blue blood, but they’ll need Isaac Hamilton to have an impactful freshman season to get much higher than this.
  6. Cal. Cuonzo Martin’s first year in the Bay Area will be a lot easier if Sam Singer steps up and earns the point guard spot.
  7. Washington. The last time the Huskies made the NCAA Tournament, Isaiah Thomas was their point guard. If they’re going to break that streak, Robert Upshaw needs to begin to live up to his promise.
  8. Oregon. Joseph Young is the team’s star, but newcomers like Dwayne Benjamin are going to have to contribute for the Ducks to have a chance.
  9. Arizona State. Guys like Jahii Carson and Jordan Bachynski are gone, meaning newcomers like Willie Atwood are feeling the pressure to produce.
  10. USC. In Andy Enfield’s second season, the Trojans are starting to look like the team he has in mind, but Jordan McLaughlin and company might need a little more experience to move up the standings.
  11. Washington State. Ernie Kent is ready to change the culture in Pullman, but in the short-term, DaVonte Lacy is the Cougars’ best bet.
  12. Oregon State. The Beavers are ready to bring in a talented recruiting class next season, but in his first year, Wayne Tinkle has to hope Gary Payton II plays a lot like his father.

Beyond all of that content, below you’ll find the rest of our preview pieces. Feel free to make fun of us for our misses, and congratulate us for our hits, when all is said and done a few months from now.

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The RTC Pac-12 All-Freshman and All-Transfer Teams

Posted by AMurawa on November 11th, 2014

With the season imminent, it is time to start rolling out our preseason picks. Later in the week we’ll release the results of our preseason poll from our writers and friends of the microsite for things like standings, All-Conference Team, Player of the Year, and a host of other specialty awards. In getting this week’s events underway, though, we start by naming our Freshmen of the Year, Transfer of the Year and our All-Freshmen and All-Transfer teams, a group of new faces that we’ll get to know better as the season takes shape. Let’s jump right in.

Preseason Freshman of the Year: Stanley Johnson, Arizona

Stanley Johnson May Not Be An Immediate Starter At Arizona, But He Is Our Unanimous Pick For Freshman of the Year

Stanley Johnson May Not Be An Immediate Starter At Arizona, But He Is Our Unanimous Pick For Freshman of the Year

The unanimous choice among our five voters, Johnson is the latest in Sean Miller’s increasingly long line of elite recruits. Expected to be on the short list of potential leading scorers for the Wildcats, Johnson checked off all the boxes during his prep career: playing on international tournament-winning teams; McDonald’s All-American and Jordan Brand Classic participant; two-time California High School Player of the Year; Parade All-American; MaxPreps National Player of the Year. Oh, and four CIF Division I state titles in four years of high school. So, smooth sailing at Arizona, right? Well, not so fast. In Arizona’s lone exhibition game, Johnson was conspicuously absent from the starting lineup, coming off the bench while junior Gabe York started in his place. Still, Johnson proved his bona fides by overpowering lesser competition on the way to 12 points in 24 minutes of action. Miller describes him as a “physical freak,” and while you can make the argument that the Wildcats are actually better off with him bringing energy off the bench, you can count on the fact that he is going to be one of the best players on a team already loaded with All-Conference players who you will see later in the week. There might well be other freshmen in the conference that wind up with better overall numbers by season’s end, but none of those first-year guys will be the same difference-maker that Johnson can be.

Joining Johnson on the All-Freshman Team are:

  • Kevon Looney, UCLA
  • Reid Travis, Stanford
  • Jordan McLaughlin, USC
  • Isaac Hamilton, UCLA

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Oregon State’s Most Important Player: Gary Payton II

Posted by Tracy McDannald on October 21st, 2014

Taking over a program and instilling a new system can be difficult enough on its own. First-year Oregon State head coach Wayne Tinkle must first figure out who on his decimated roster can score. Oregon State’s top five scorers from last season are now gone — including Pac-12 scoring champion Roberto Nelson. So, attempting to pinpoint a key player is a bit difficult when the returning leader in the clubhouse, Langston Morris-Walker, averaged a whopping four points per game.

Wayne Tinkle inherited a depleted Oregon State roster that lost its top five scorers from last season. (Stephanie Yao Long, The Oregonian)

Wayne Tinkle Takes Over In Corvallis and Expects Early Help From The Glove’s Son (Stephanie Yao Long, The Oregonian)

To add to the woes, there weren’t enough bodies to field a 5-on-5 scrimmage when practice opened in Corvallis at the start of October. Tinkle had just nine of his 11 players available, with one-time practice player Justin Stangel awarded a scholarship during the offseason. There are still questions as to whether freshman guard Chai Baker (who collapsed during a summer workout) and redshirt freshman guard Alex Roth (shoulder) will be able to suit up at all this year.

A blind man could throw darts more accurately than zeroing in on one key body for this team. The smart pick is usually the most experienced returnee, but all players here will have the same learning curve in Tinkle’s system. The next best option: Pick the splashy name. Enter junior college transfer Gary Payton II, the son of the NBA legend and the school’s all-time leader in points, assists and steals. While those shoes are much too big to fill by himself, there is no pressure when the team will likely be a preseason pick to finish last in the conference.

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Pac-12 Season Preview: Oregon State Beavers

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 17th, 2014

The Pac-12 microsite will preview each of its league teams over the next few weeks, continuing today with Oregon State. 

Oregon State Beavers

Strengths. Well. Um. Geez. Yikes. Can I pass? Do I get a pass? Look, we’re not here to tear down kids or rip coaches or make fun of programs, and certainly, at some point, this Oregon State team will have something that is a relative strength. But, goodness gracious sakes alive, there probably aren’t many people outside of new head coach Wayne Tinkle and his staff who have a good idea what that strength might be. The most experienced player on this roster – junior Langston Morris-Walker – had career highs of 18 minutes and four points per game last season. The most anticipated new recruit is a JuCo guard (Gary Payton II) most famous for being the son of an NBA Hall of Famer. But in a way maybe that newness will turn out to be the strength of this edition of the Beavers. Gone are bad habits and underachieving and questions about the direction of the previous coaching staff. Now this roster – from the head coach on down – is filled with guys looking to prove that they belong.

Gary Payton II Follows His Famous Dad's Footsteps To Gill Coliseum, But Has His Work Cut Out For Him

Gary Payton II Follows His Famous Dad’s Footsteps To Gill Coliseum, But Has His Work Cut Out For Him

Weaknesses. Many. Pick one. Their top two big guys (junior Daniel Gomis, sophomore Cheikh N’Diaye, and junior Justin Stangel) are most accurately described as “raw offensively.” They’ve got a handful of wings with experience, none of whom have shown the ability to create for themselves and few of whom have shown an ability to handle their defensive assignments. The point guard spot will be held down by either Payton — who is still a work-in-progress perhaps best suited for the off-guard spot — or Malcolm Duvivier, who may be best suited to be a running back. Really, this season is just a building block for the future of the program, giving all of these guys a chance to show whether they can be a part of the second block in the foundation next season.

Non-conference Tests. Every game Oregon State plays this season will be a test. Whether that involves home games against teams like Oral Roberts, Mississippi Valley State, Grambling or even Corban, or more challenging contests against bigger schools like Mississippi State, DePaul or Oklahoma State (in the MGM Grand Main Event Tournament during the week of Thanksgiving), there are no sure things on this Beaver schedule. Read the rest of this entry »

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