OSU hoops becomes must-see viewing again

USUALLY AROUND THIS TIME of year the only thing that's on the mind is Signing Day, when the year long efforts of the Oregon State staff will culminate in the football recruiting class. So why is it today that more and more Beaver fans are instead occupied with thoughts of Oregon State on the hardcourt, and the hoops Civil War on tap?

Probably because in defiance of all things hoops prognostication, there's promise once more in Corvallis.

The painful cellar slide of last season, when Oregon State made history in not winning a solitary Pac-10 game, has been replaced by some heart stopping, foot stomping thrill ride wins -- and more than half the conference slate remains.

Oregon State has already upset USC, Cal and Stanford, the latter two resulting in OSU's first road sweep of the Bay Area teams since the early 90's. The Beavs are one game out of sixth place in the Pac-10 standings. They've won as many Pac-10 games this season as the past two years combined.

AND THEN THERE is this: No one wants to play Oregon State right now.

ESPN for crying out loud called Oregon State one of the hottest teams in the Pac-10 this past week. Craig Robinson in his first year has installed a variation of the "Princeton offense", a system crafted with cuts, kickouts and deft passing and a 1-3-1 defensive zone. As the Beaver players have become more adept in his system, their belief has welled while opponents have become more flustered. Just ask Stanford and Cal.

The Beavs are also feeling confident right now and in college sports, that's so often the deciding factor between winning and losing. Roeland Schaftenaar is 6-foot-11 but he plays a "point-forward" position more than a traditional center and his confidence is in the clouds after 22 points against Cal, including 4-4 on three-pointers, and 18 points against the Cardinal, where he went 8-for-11 from the field. But it is also Schaftenaar's passing in helping to run the Beaver O that has had purists cheering.

Calvin Haynes after the Bay Area sweep must think he can rip the nylon on any shot he chooses, inside or outside of three-point land, and whenever he wants. After scoring 25 and 21 points in the last two Pac-10 wins, who can blame him.

And the Beavs have those worker bees, too, just as every successful team does. Daniel Deane, for one, is a physical force who has made big buckets and rebounds down in crunch time.

THE NEXT FIVE games could well end up telling most of the tale on the season. Oregon State meets Oregon, shockingly down this season and winless in the Pac-10 at 0-8, this afternoon in the hoops Civil War. The game (4:30 pm, FSN) is in Corvallis.

After that, the Beavs get Arizona and ASU -- at home -- followed by a road trip to take on the Washington schools. The 'Zona schools will be a tall order, both pummeled the Beavs earlier this month. But what will be so fascinating to watch will be how Robinson, and the players, make adjustments the second time around. And will the Beavers' home court give the men in black an edge?

The loss to UW was arguably the worst of the season, the Beavs looking more like the '07-08 vintage. Washington has surprised this season, but they also just surrendered a staggering 68 points in the second half to UA -- 106 total. WSU, meanwhile, will be perhaps the truest test of the five. OSU dominated most of the earlier meeting but tightened up down the stretch. Not making the same mistakes twice will be one barometer by which the Beavs will be measured during this quintet.

And it is certainly, clearly no sure thing that this recent hoops resurgence is here to stay this season -- Oregon State is just not that far removed from those humbling losses to the Arizona schools and Washington, and gift wrapping the game to Washington State.

The Beavs, clearly, are still learning how to win.

But it sure has been fun so far watching them do it.

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