This may be the most talented team head coach Craig Robinson has had in his four years at OSU, despite being projected to finish eighth in the Pac-12 this season. Even though Oregon State is off to a 1-3 start in conference play, it is certainly way too early to count the Beavers out of the race for the Pac-12 crown.
Robinson's team was able to knock off California in its first game last week, but it lost its most recent outing in a quadruple overtime thriller at the hands of Stanford by a score of 103-101 at home. The Beavers will be looking to get back in the win column on the road at McKale Center, a place they have won as recently as the 2009-10 season.
Oregon State will have a chance in every game in Pac-12 play, as it has one of the conference's best players in 6-foot-4, 194-pound junior Jared Cunningham. A Second Team 2010-11 All-Pac-12 and All-Pac-12 Defensive team selection, Cunnigham is one of the most exciting players in the conference and has developed over his career at OSU into a tremendous scorer.
Cunningham is averaging 19.8 points, four assists and three steals in four Pac-12 games, and for the season he's the leading scorer for the Beavers at 17.6 points per game. In five career appearances against Arizona he's averaging 11.6 points, but just seven points in two games at McKale Center.
For the season, Cunningham is shooting 45.7 percent from the field. His matchup against Kyle Fogg will be the one to watch, as it pits two of the conference's best defenders against one another.
Simply put, Fogg is going to have to rise to the challenge and prevent Cunnigham from having a huge game. The Oregon State guard has been scoring in a variety of ways, including at the free throw line where he has 138 attempts in 16 games. He has the potential to get to the rim, knock down a jumper, or elevate for an emphatic dunk, making him one of the most formidable foes UA will face all season.
In the past it has been entirely up to Cunningham to make things go for the Beavers, but some help has emerged for him this season in the form of Ahmad Starks, a 5-foot-9, 165-pound sophomore. Starks is the team's second leading scorer for the Beavers at 13.7 points per game, and in four conference contests that average is up to 17.2 points per outing.
Starks and Cunningham are the team leaders in minutes, averaging 32.1 and 33.7 minutes, respectively. The flow and success of the Oregon State offense flows directly through these two backcourt players, and if they are able to fill up the stat sheet they'll put OSU in very good position to get a road win.
The frontcourt for Oregon State will likely pose problems for Arizona based on its size, as it features three players above 6-foot-7. Joe Burton, a 6-foot-7, 280-pound junior is fifth on the team in scoring and is one of five Beavers who average double-digits in scoring.
Burton is second on the team with 6.6 rebounds to go along with his 10.1 points per game. He's a big body that is very physical in the paint, and in four Pac-12 games he's averaging 15.8 points and seven rebounds. In five games against Arizona, Burton puts up 11.7 points and five rebounds on average, and due to his style of play and skill set, he may be in line for a huge game against an Arizona team lacking competitive post defense.
Junior Angus Brandt is nearly the sixth Oregon State player in double digits, as the 6-foot-10, 242-pound forward/center is averaging 9.9 points. In 24.2 minutes per contest, Brandt is hitting 60.6 percent of his attempts from the field and has shown a nice stroke out to the three-point line, where he's connecting on 48.3 percent (14-29) of his tries.
The fifth and final starter for Oregon State is 6-foot-10, 215-pound redshirt-freshman Eric Moreland, the team's leading rebounder at 6.8 boards despite playing just 18.1 minutes per outing. He's also averaging nearly two blocks per game, and despite being a factor on the glass and defense he's putting up just 4.9 points per contest.
Two of Robinson's best players come off the bench for significant minutes. The primary reserve option for OSU is 6-foot-8, 215-pound sophomore Devon Collier, who has made 14 starts this season but was relegated to a reserve role for the team's weekend series against the bay area schools. For the season, Collier is third on the team in scoring with an average of 12.4 points per game on 63.8 percent shooting from the field. He's also third on the team in rebounding with 4.9 rebounds in 25.8 minutes per game. Collier is still developing as a Pac-12 player, but he's taken a big step forward in his second season and is a valuable contributor for OSU this season.
Sophomore Roberto Nelson may be one of the best reserve scorers in the conference, as in 20.3 minutes off the bench he's averaging 10.7 points on 42.6 percent shooting from three-point range and 45.9 percent overall. In the team's quadruple overtime loss he scored 19 points off the bench, and in spelling Cunningham and Starks, there's isn't too big of a drop off with Nelson on the floor.
Two other reserves are likely to make appearances, but will not like be huge factors in the outcome of the game. Kevin McShane, a 6-foot-9, 240-pound sophomore, is averaging 1.6 points and 1.6 rebounds in 9.7 minutes per game while 6-foot-3, 193-pound freshman is averaging 2.1 points in 10.1 minutes.
Arizona is going to have to protect the ball much better against Oregon State then it did versus UCLA and USC, especially with how skilled Cunningham is at creating turnovers. With all of its size, UA will need to do its best to keep OSU off the glass and prevent second chance baskets from offensive rebounds.
Oregon State is 1-3 in Pac-12 play, but that record is not at all reflective of the skill level of the team. Collier and Burton are a talented duo in the front court and combine with Cunnigham, Starks and Nelson to form a team that can score in a variety of ways. In what may be the toughest home game to date, Arizona has a tough challenge of defending well on the perimeter while crashing the boards on the interior and will have to limit its mistakes from the start of the game to the final buzzer.