Can Beavs effect turnaround in Pac-10 play?

OREGON STATE HAS the worst non-conference record in the Pac-10 at 5-6. They've lost to the likes of Utah Valley, George Washington and Texas Southern -- at home. So why do some feel the Beavers are about to pull off a shocker when Arizona State comes to town on Thursday?

In a nutshell, the optimism is because of defense.

Oregon State has made some large leaps on the offensive side of the ball but they haven't been nearly as effective on defense as they were in Craig Robinson's first two seasons.

True, the Beavs lost Seth Tarver and Roeland Schaftenaar to graduation but Jared Cunningham, Calvin Haynes, Joe Burton, Daniel Deane, Omari Johnson are all back.

Against ASU, it might come down to defense. And how much newcomers Roberto Nelson, Devon Collier and Ahmad Starks have progressed following non-conference play. All have high ceilings, but they're, as freshmen almost always are, prone to the mistakes of youth and effectively playing Oregon State's 1-3 and 2-3 zones has been an issue. And OSU is certainly a young team, with a combined nine freshmen and sophomores on the roster.

Cunningham in his freshman season had OSU fans buzzing last year and more than met expectations in the non-conference slate in 2010-11. He leads the Pac-10 and ranks fifth in the nation with 3.1 steals per game. He also leads the Beavs in scoring at 13.4 ppg.

Robinson's first two years were marked by a slow-down offense that struggled to score much of the time. OSU is running more this season, and their scoring has improved by leaps and bounds -- 73.7 points per game compared to 60.3 last season.

But OSU's defense has suffered as a result.

Opponents are shooting at a 45 percent clip and scoring 71.2 points per game, the worst in the conference. Last year, those numbers were 43 and 62.

Arizona State is something of a mirror image, struggling on offense but allowing teams to shoot just 40 percent from the field.

"Now, we're not having a problem scoring, but it has come at the expense of our defense. We just have to spend more time working on it," Robinson told the Register Guard this week.

Thursday night would be a pretty good time to show the results of that labor.

The OSU-ASU game will be televised live by FSN-Northwest at 7:30 p.m.

OSU has lost freshman F Eric Moreland (shoulder) for the season. Redshirt freshman F Rhys Murphy (wrist) is out indefinitely.

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