With their 19-point victory against Kent State on Wednesday, the Beavers limped out of nonconference play with a 4-9 record, the worst among Power 5 schools in the country.
Let that sink in for a minute. As painful as it may be… The losses include Lamar, Savannah State, Long Beach State — hardly NCAA powerhouses.
And while the Beavers played with a lot of heart and grit (everybody loves that word) to overcome 23 turnovers and Kent State’s 34 offensive boards, make no mistake about it, this is going to be a long season.
Yes, a drop off was expected this season due to a myriad of factors. And not just because of the loss of GP II or the abrupt departure of Malcolm Duvivier. Let’s be honest, the Beavers overachieved last year, a testament to effort the players and coaching staff put forth in returning the program to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1990.
But much like the Fiesta Bowl season did for the 2001 season in football, perhaps last season’s success set up unrealistic expectations for this year, even for those who thought an NIT berth was the ceiling for this squad. One of my favorites sayings is that expectations are the first step toward disappointment.
Because the Beavers have issues right now, ones that even when Tres Tinkle returns will remain. Where do I start? They are still woeful on the boards, they’ve been careless with the ball, and several newcomers have struggled.
What’s glaringly obvious is that the Beavers have looked slow and not as athletic compared to their opponents, who are exploiting the Beavers with quickness and physical play, OSU’s size advantage be damned.
It was easy to groan about players such as Duvivier, Langston Morris-Walker, or Jarmal Reid. While they might have not been the most skilled or consistent players for the Beavers, they were solid, physical athletes — the type that the Beavers are sorely missing this season. They could put a body on someone and not be easily pushed around, on both ends of the court.
You know who would look great right about now in orange and black? Cameron Oliver, the one-time OSU commit who now plays for Nevada. He has got size, is athletic, and is explosive. No doubt Oliver would help shore up OSU’s rebounding issues.
With Tres Tinkle hurt, Big G struggling to get minutes, Ben Kone looking more perimeter-based early on, and Keondre Dew suspended, Drew Eubanks doesn’t have much support down low. No disrespect meant to Matt Dahlin. No wonder the Beavers are getting killed on the boards.
Then there’s the issue at point guard; the Beavers don’t really have a true floor leader due to the departures of Duvivier and Derrick Bruce. JaQuori McLaughlin is going to be a good, possibly great player, but he’s being asked to score more than distribute right now due to OSU’s offensive struggles. Meanwhile, JUCO transfer Ronnie Stacy’s promising start seems like a distant memory. To be brutally honest, he isn’t cutting it and appears to be a recruiting miss.
Speaking of recruiting misses that’s on Coach Tinkle and Co. If there are any doubts about Tinkle, it’s his staff’s ability to recruit outside of the family. Eubanks and McLaughlin withstanding, it’s a legit question. No, GP II doesn’t count, because he was originally a Craig Robinson recruit.
It’s hard not to look at several players on the roster and wonder. Plus, in Year 3 having to rely on walk-ons or former walk-ons isn’t encouraging. Perhaps, it’s time for Tinkle to soften his stance on adding graduate transfers? Bottom line, to keep up in the talented and deep Pac-12, this staff has to recruit even harder than most of its peers.
All of this does not bode well for the Beavers as they enter Pac-12 play next week against No. 23 USC and No. 2 (GULP) UCLA, who also are two of the more athletic, up-tempo teams in the conference. Hate to be a boo bird, but they could really expose the Beavers even more.
Looking at the schedule, it’s hard to forecast more than three wins (at WSU, Stanford at home, Utah at home), and that might be too optimistic. The harsh reality is the Beavers don’t have enough talent, depth, and athleticism to compete this season. So, look at this year as preparing for 2017-18, when Tinkle, Thompson Jr., and Eubanks are experienced, savvy juniors — and the Beavers welcome Ethan Thompson.
In the meantime, if the Beavers can take care of the ball better, find an offensive rhythm, and stay competitive in Pac-12 play, that should be considered positive steps toward next season, and who knows, they might squeeze out a few more wins than expected. But at this point, the NIT, much less the dance, seems highly unlikely.
Most importantly, while you can’t necessarily control how athletic you are, you can control how tough and physical you want to be, so let’s hope we continue to see the Beavers fight like they did against Kent State in the second half — because that’s something that’s easy to root for no matter the score. Go Beavs!