No Gary Payton II. No Derrick Bruce. And no Malcolm Duvivier. That’s three talented/experienced guards that won’t be playing for the Beavers due to one reason or another (graduation, transfer, and personal reasons, respectively) this season.
So, it might be tempting say that if the Beavers are to build on their wildly successful 2015-16 campaign, it’s paramount that Stephen Thompson Jr. and newcomers JaQuori McLaughlin, and Ronnie Stacey step up this year.
But the biggest key to this season likely will be the play of the Beavers’ post players, specifically Drew Eubanks and Gligorije Rakocevic. Both are coming off vastly different freshman years, but together, they will factor heavily into the Beavers success this season.
Eubanks might have been last year’s biggest surprise, going from a potential redshirt candidate to starting 30 games. He displayed amazing athleticism for his size, an ability to dominate above the rim, and potential to be a good shot blocker. He finished the season averaging 7.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game, while his 58 percent clip from the field ranked fourth in the Pac-12.
There’s no question about it, Eubanks has a very high ceiling and could become one the top big men in the conference, if not nation. In fact, call me crazy, but if he develops well enough, I think he could play at the next level. But this season will be crucial to Eubanks’ progression as a well-rounded player at both ends of the floor. He will need to improve his rebounding, especially on the defensive glass, as well as continue to increase his defensive awareness — specifically in terms of positioning.
Rakocevic, on the other hand, didn’t start any games, only averaging seven minutes per game last season. But in his limited minutes, he played smart, used his size well, and showed a nice touch around the basket. He also can hit his free throws. The issue with Rakocevic appeared to be his conditioning, as he struggled with the speed of DI ball. However, he apparently has slimmed down and is much fitter this year.
If he can play his way into a starting role this season, it would be a huge boost for the Beavers. Can you imagine Eubanks and Rakocevic both playing major minutes down low? Their combination of size, skill, and savvy could make them a difficult matchup for most teams. At the very least, they need to be more effective on the boards for Beavers, who were one of the worst rebounding teams in the Pac-12 last year.
But if Eubanks and Rakocevic made major strides this offseason, there’s no reason to believe they can be forces offensively and defensively. You can’t teach size (both are listed at least 6-10 and 250 pounds) and that can be half the battle down in the post — and the even better news is that they both have strong skill sets.
The Beavers also have a wildcard in Ben Kone, who is working his way back from injury. If his rehab goes well and he’s able to return near the end of nonconference play, Kone would be an added bonus in the post. He’s not quite as big as Eubanks and Rakocevic, at 6-8, 235 pounds, but he’s an explosive player, especially around the hoop. He was averaging 23.4 points and 14.9 rebounds per game his senior season before tearing his left ACL.
And one last benefit of improved post play would be that Tres Tinkle could play more at the 3 and become more of an inside-out player, or vice versa, a role he could really thrive in. At the very least, it would probably help Tinkle to get easier looks at the hoop this season.
Let’s be real, you don’t lose a player like Payton II and not take some sort of step backward, and that probably played a factor in the Beavers being picked to finish ninth in the Pac-12 this year. After all, who will fill the defensive void in the backcourt left by Payton and Duvivier? And who can step up and be a dynamic ball-handler like Bruce was?
So, yes there is pressure on the Beavers’ backcourt to step up, but their lives will be a lot easier if the OSU frontcourt is able to take major steps forward this season. And while I loved Payton, one can’t help but wonder if the Beavers’ offense could be more balanced this season, and thus harder to defend. At times, last season, when the offense ran through Payton II, there were stagnant stretches on offense that really hurt the Beavers.
A true inside-offense could really open things up for the Beavers and help them defy the pundits. After all, outside of Oregon, Arizona, and maybe Cal, is there any team that head and shoulders above OSU? One thing is for certain, up top or down low, the Beavers should be a lot of fun this season!