Now the Bruins have one day to prepare for one of the PAC-10 Conference's worst teams in Oregon State.
There's nothing really superlative to write about this game. It's at Pauley Pavilion, where UCLA is undefeated this season; UCLA has already defeated the Beavers this season, in Corvallis, relatively handily; UCLA just has more talent than OSU. But that's why they play the games, and as it's been pointed out to me on numerous occasions, my predictions in games like this have been…off, this season.
The lone bright spot for Oregon State up to this point has been the increasingly better play of freshman point guard Josh Tarver (6'3" 175"). Tarver has seen his assist totals increase slightly since the last time these two teams met and, more importantly, he has seen his turnovers drop. Against USC on Thursday, Tarver had only two turnovers while playing 36 minutes. He only had three assist, but much of that can be attributed to the fact that his teammates couldn't shoot the ball well on Thursday, because Tarver did put them in positions to take good shots. Tarver is averaging 9.8 PPG, 3.8 APG and 2.7 RPG while shooting 64% from the line. Tarver's obvious weakness is his shooting ability, or lack thereof. He is averaging only 37% from the floor and 26% from behind the arc. Expect Darren Collison to match up on him, and Collison's quickness should force Tarver laterally, much like he forced Oregon's Tajuan Porter to move laterally on Thursday. That will take OSU completely out of their offense. When OSU can't score easily, they are in trouble. Tarver was quoted earlier this week as saying, "When a team gets on a run, we tend to break down and start pointing fingers at each other…" The rest of the quote indicated that Tarver still has a great deal of enthusiasm, and that he is probably a future captain of this team, but it also indicates what happens to the Beavers mentally when the offense breaks down.
Coach Jay John, who may be feeling the seat he is on getting hotter by the second, tried shuffling his line-up against USC on Thursday in a move that screams desperation. At the ‘2' guard, John started freshman Seth Tarver (6'5" 205 lbs)., Josh's brother, in place of junior post Sasa Cuic (6'10" 253 lbs.). This move really speaks to two things: First, like I said, the Beavers may be hitting the panic button and, second, that Sasa Cuic, for all of his talent, is a major disappointment. Tarver may eventually be a good Pac-10 player, but right now he's in over his head. Being a true freshman (his brother is a redshirt), he is being thrown into the fire early and often. He has nice size and a fairly impressive wingspan, but he's not very quick and hasn't yet learned to offset that through positioning. Seth is averaging less that 3 PPG, hasn't made a 3 all season and is shooting 46% from the free throw line. Perhaps the Beavers are having depth issues. Junior guard Wesley Washington (6'3" 175 lbs.) sat out the loss to USC with a badly sprained right (shooting) wrist that he injured against Washington on January 18th. There is talk that Washington may need surgery. They gave him a cortisone injection this week, but evidently the swelling didn't go down. He is questionable to play on Saturday, and even if he does, his shooting will be very limited.
Cuic showed so much potential as a freshman and just hasn't made that leap in production or leadership that Coach John probably had in mind. Cuic is the second-leading scorer on the team at 12.9 PPG, but you just feel like he could do so much more. He disappears at times in key stretches of games. Now, be that as it may, Cuic has had a tendency to always play well against the Bruins. For all of Cuic's size, he only averages 3.2 RPG. He is a pretty good passer and he can step out and hit the three. In fact, he's probably the best long-range shooter on the team, having hit 31 threes this season. Cuic will probably be guarded by any one of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Alfred Aboya or Lorenzo Mata. Based on the effort those three gave Thursday night, Cuic is in for a long evening.
There are two other starters who have been consistent this season. The first is leading-scorer and rebounder, junior Marcel Jones (6'8" 215 lbs.). Jones (who I think Arizona would love to have right about now) is averaging 15.9 PPG and 5.9 RPG. He is shooting only 46% from the floor and only 30% from behind the arc, but these are pretty good numbers when you realize that every opponent is keying on him most of the time. One of the Bruin forwards, most likely Josh Shipp, will be charged with taking Jones out of his comfort zone. Some people think Shipp played really well against Oregon, while others thought he played poorly. I thought he played average. He did some nice things on offense, and he made some mistakes, and I thought he played better defense than some others thought. In Shipp's defense, Oregon's Bryce Taylor made some very difficult shots.
The other consistent starter has been senior center Kyle Jeffers (6'9" 258 lbs.), who has had a solid but not spectacular senior season, averaging 6.9 PPG, 5.9 RPG and generally playing pretty good post defense. Jeffers is another player that several teams in the conference wish they had. Jeffers has had solid games against UCLA in the past, but he isn't the kind of player that can win you games. He is a solid role player who knows and is comfortable playing his role. UCLA's Lorenzo Mata can probably stay with Jeffers straight up most of the game.
As I stated earlier, OSU seems to be in panic mode right now. At the very least, John is trying to shake up things. There are rumblings out of Oregon that he may be on the hot seat, not because OSU has a record below .500, but because they really have looked very bad at times. I also think that being a disciple of Lute Olson doesn't help right now. With the ship sinking as it is in Tucson, being a former assistant of Olson's isn't exactly a confidence booster these days. So John is trying different combinations on the floor. Sophomore center Calvin Hampton (6'10" 247 lbs.) and freshman post Roeland Schaftenaar (6'11" 230 lbs.) both saw significant minutes against Southern Cal, as did three-point specialist, senior Angelo Tsagarakis (6'3" 195 lbs.). None of the three are real threats to the Bruins; Tsagarakis is still hitting less than 29% of his threes.
This game really is a mismatch if, for nothing else, the Beavers look like they are rudderless at times. It is really difficult to see the plan that John has for this team or if he is or even can build for the future. He has a team that will be much better next season, but he may not be around, so he's playing kids that he thinks can help him win now. By doing that, he's sacrificing playing experience that will help him and the program in the long-term.
The Bruins should see some zone, but if they attack it the way they did against Oregon, then OSU will be forced to go man. About the only thing that will be in OSU's favor is that the Bruins will probably not be as focused on the Beavers as they were on Thursday against the Ducks. Still, this game will be another opportunity for Coach Ben Howland to play some kids off the bench, like James Keefe and Russell Westbrook. All in all, it should be a comfortable, though maybe-not-as-easy-as-some-would-like, victory.
Oregon State 57