Who Are You: Oregon State

Kevin Danna brings his insights and observations heading into Saturday evening's away contest versus the Oregon State Beavers in Corvallis.

If you were having panic attacks about the Oregon game before Thursday rolled around, you're probably checking yourself into a psych ward as I type this.

I mean to tell you that the Beavers are scarier than a team that just beat Stanford by 11?

Yes, yes they are. And Oregon State will be rolling back into the hospitable premises of Gill Coliseum tonight to take on the Farm Boys, fresh off a 92-85 victory over the Cal Golden Bears for their first conference victory.

The hangover following their 2009 CBI Championship is over; the Oregon State Beavers have finally become what many thought they would become two years earlier: a consistently dangerous team that could very well play in one of the two NCAA-sponsored postseason tournaments come March.
Entering the season, I was ready to disregard the Beavs yet again, but then Craig Robinson said two things that made me think twice: a) his team was going to start playing man defense and b) he stopped the 5:30 am practices. If he had the confidence to have his team start manning up and also didn't feel like early morning practices were necessary, he must really like his team.

Now I can see why.

The Beavers score. A lot. Their 83.6 points per lead the conference and are sixth in the nation.

And just about anyone Robinson throws out there is liable to go off at any moment; that's what makes the Beavers so dangerous. Oregon State might have the conference's leading scorer in Jared Cunningham, and sure, the man is a SERIOUS threat and is known to make a highlight reel out of a team (here's the nastiest dunk of the 2010-11 Pac-10 season as a refresher: Nasty Dunk!, and an insane alley-oop he had against Howard earlier this year: Alley-Oop!), but if he is having an off-night, the defensive task is far from over because opposing teams have to concern themselves with…

(1) Ahmad Starks. Jared's backcourt buddy, Ahmad can be just as streaky. The sophomore from Chicago has nailed 25 three-pointers in his last four games and has hit more than 40 percent of his longball attempts on the season. He loves to get to the top of the key, dribble between his legs, stop and pop for the long two or three. He and Jared both poured in 24 in the victory over Cal on Thursday.

(2) Joe Burton. Maybe my favorite player donning a Halloween jersey. The young man has an old man's game with a splash of athleticism. Burton put on a low-post move clinic against Washington in the conference opener and was the main reason why the Beavers were able to cut a double-digit second half lead down to three. On one possession, he caught the ball with his back to the rim on the right block, gave Terrence Ross a shot fake, got Ross up in the air and nailed the reverse lay-up while getting fouled. On another, he rapidly spun right around Aziz N'Diaye with his back to the basket for the easy deuce. He also is able to knock down a real-deal Holyfield hook shot with both hands. Not only that, he is by far the best passer on the team and leads the team in assists at almost four dimes per contest. He plays the point forward position in that Beaver offense and utilizes the bounce pass better than just about anybody in the conference.

(3) Angus Brandt. The man can do it all besides grab tough rebounds in traffic. He is an athlete that can sky for put-back dunks on the offensive glass and can stretch a D out by stepping back and hitting the trey.

(4) Roberto Nelson. The sophomore who was heavily featured in the best basketball book of all time (Play Their Hearts Out) has provided the Beavers 10 points per contest off the bench. He has no trouble getting to the hoop and is a very solid passer, averaging almost three assists.

(5) Eric Moreland. The redshirt frosh got his first start of the season against Cal and according to reports I've read on the internets (the Merc said the game wasn't televised, but they don't include ROOT games, so maybe I screwed up) was a real pest on defense with his length when Oregon State went zone and did a bang-up job on Cal's Allen Crabbe.

And how dare I forget Devon Collier, who is third on the team in scoring and rebounding.

The common denominator among all the major Beaver contributors is that no matter how big or small, they can all handle the rock. And with the exception of Collier and Moreland, all of them can shoot it from any spot on the floor within 25 feet.  There really is no one a team can help off, which makes them all that much tougher to guard.
On defense, the Beavers have steered away from the junkyard 1-3-1 they used to throw at opponents but brought it back for the Cal game, and apparently it was good enough to get a win. They also mixed in some other zone looks to complement what has been the main defensive philosophy all year: man-to-man.

I think their willingness and ability to go man on teams was a major reason why they avoided every potential bad loss in the non-conference besides losing to Idaho by 14 points. The 1-3-1 can keep teams like Oregon State and Northwestern in games against teams with superior talent and athleticism, but it can also get burned by low-majors that have guys who can just ball up and have good handles like Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Seattle U, both of whom knocked off Oregon State by more than 20 points on one occasion a couple of years back.

Now, Craig Robinson is saying his guys are just as good as or better than yours at every position on the floor, and he's not wrong for the most part. In addition to not losing to teams like Howard and Illinois-Chicago, the Beavers also own one of the conference's best out-of-conference victories with a 100-95 OT triumph over Texas on a neutral court. They also lost to then 18th-ranked Vanderbilt on a last second shot for the TicketCity Legends Classic Championship.

Bottom line: this team ain't bad. And in Gill Coliseum, they will be a handful.

That's not to say all is lost for Stanford, however. This is a classic match-up of offense vs. defense, and more often than not, defense wins out. The Cardinal would be well-suited to make this one a half-court game to mitigate the speed and athleticism of the Beaver perimeters. I'm not saying that Bright and Randle can't hang with their perimeters in the open court, but Oregon State is looking to push and beat anybody off the dribble at any given moment and the more half court Stanford forces Oregon State to play, the better off the Card will be.

A redux of the Raiders-Buccaneers January 2003 Super Bowl would suit the Cardinal just fine this Saturday. Can the Cardinal channel their inner-Dexter Jackson? Only one way to find out…
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