Each week through conference play, we’ll offer up a couple of different takes on the biggest question of the week in the Pac-12. This week’s topic: After non-conference play, who is the favorite to win the Pac-12 regular season title?
In a conference full of mediocre teams (at best), Oregon State is as good a pick as any to win the Pac-12. Led by the conference’s leading scorer in Jared Cunningham, the Beavers are off to a 10-2 start. Their only losses have come against Vanderbilt and Idaho, which is a major improvement from last season’s missteps against teams like Texas Southern, Utah Valley, and George Washington. But even though the Pac-12 is in a major down year, Oregon State will be competing against teams much more athletic than their past few opponents (Chicago State, Portland State, Howard, etc.). So the question is, can the Beavers match up physically with the Pac-12’s biggest and best teams?
Against the previous terrible opponents that we have already mentioned, the Beavers were able to use their three main big men (Joe Burton, Angus Brandt, and Devon Collier) as facilitators around the perimeter. Burton would play the role of “point-center”, dishing the ball around and occasionally driving down the lane when it was open. Brandt would hang out in the corner and drain threes until the defense realized he could shoot, and Collier would just roam around and rebound whenever a shot went up. Unfortunately for the trio, they are going to need to do a lot more work in the paint when they face big and strong Pac-12 teams.
That is why the Beaver bigs will be the key to a conference championship. Cunningham will knock down his jumpers and get the crowd going with a couple highlight-reel dunks while Ahmad Starks and Roberto Nelson will hit their shots and play solid defense. But the games are going to come down to rebounding and points in the paint. So far this season they have been terrible in those categories, but have gotten away with it because of the caliber of the opponent. If they improve, a possible NCAA bid and conference crown is in the picture. If they do not, the Beavers will be headed to another disappointing season in Corvallis.