Oregon State was manhandled in the second half of their home game with USC, losing by 24 after being down by only two at the half. The Beavers only scored 19 points after the break.
The outcome of this game is going to be completely dictated by which UCLA team shows up; the one that lost its focus in a loss to USC last weekend or the one that beat Oregon at one of the toughest venues for a visiting team to win at in the country. The Bruins will be tired and that raises the only real question of the game: How tired will the Bruins be on Saturday? There were four Bruins who played at least 35 minutes. The other question is whether or not Mata-Real and Mbah a Moute, both suffering the effects of concussions, will be able to play.
Let's get this out of the way quickly and succinctly: Oregon State is a mess. They are the definition of a major conference program in disarray. In the past week, Coach Jay John was fired, and then, a day later, Kansas transfer and arguably Oregon State's most talented player, C.J. Giles, was dismissed from the program. There is speculation that both events had a connection, but that's not the point. Oregon State had been getting progressively less competitive over the course of John's coaching tenure. Even casual observers could look at the Oregon State roster coming into the season and see that this was going to be one of John's least talented teams to date. But the administration at Oregon State brought him back only to fire him six games into the conference season. It really makes no sense, and those around the program would surely feel the same way, except for the fact that there is talk that John's firing and Giles' dismissal were in some way related.
Associate Head Coach Kevin Mouton was named the interim head coach in the wake of John's firing. Mouton will not be expected to deviate much from the philosophies that John brought to OSU. Mouton has been with John at Oregon State for the past six seasons and was a player at Oregon when John was an assistant there. The two of them coached together as assistants at Butler in the early ‘90s. The point is that Mouton has some very deep ties to John. Mouton has stepped in for John before, in the 2004-2005 season when John was out with an illness.
Mouton is in a difficult situation. Unless he can turn around the fortune of the Beavers, he is likely out of a job at the end of the season. Word out of OSU is that they now want to get rid of the John regime as quickly as they can; that includes the assistants.
Unfortunately for Mouton, Oregon State is one of the least talented teams in the Pac-10 in the past decade. They have perhaps one player who would start for most of the programs in the conference and maybe two or three other players who would see minutes on many of the other Pac-10 teams. Three or four Pac-10 level players, that's it. Not Pac-10 starters, just Pac-10 players. There isn't a player on Oregon State's roster that would start for UCLA, even with the rash of injuries the Bruins have suffered.
The one player that the Beavers have who is a Pac-10 level starter is senior forward Marcel Jones (6'8" 220 lbs.). Jones is second on the team in scoring at 11 PPG and leads the team with 6.3 RPG. Jones, however, seems to have regressed significantly on the offensive end of the floor. He's shooting only 35% from the floor and a terrible 27% from behind the arc. It has been so bad for Jones that he has been removed from the starting line-up at times, including Thursday night against USC. Jones has always been known as a player who works hard, even under difficult circumstances, but it was known before the season that Jones was hoping John wouldn't return and that when it was clear he would, Jones had the proverbial life sucked out of him. He truly looks like he's going through the motions at times. It remains to be seen what effect John's firing will have on Jones.
The two other players who have Pac-10 level talent are the Tarver brothers, Seth Tarver (6'5" 205 lbs.), and Josh Tarver (6'3" 185 lbs.). Both are sophomores, although Josh is the older of the two, redshirting his freshman year. Seth leads the team in scoring at 12 PPG and, with the dismissal of Giles, is the second-leading rebounder at 5.4 RPG. Seth is "shifty" but not particularly quick. He will use his size and strength to get to the basket, but he is rarely going to "turn the corner" on his man. He does like to shoot the ‘3', and is doing it at a respectable 36% clip, especially considering how poorly he shot the ball last season.
Josh is the team's point guard and has been doing an adequate job. He has 53 assists compared with only 40 turnovers on the season. His shooting has been much worse than his brother's, averaging only 34% from the floor and 26% from behind the arc. In fact, all three of Oregon State's top players shoot significantly below the 50% mark from the floor. Josh also leads the team in steals with 24. Josh is serviceable, but he isn't very athletic. The UCLA backcourt, having faced a very quick Oregon lineup on Thursday, is bound to think that the Beaver backcourt is moving in slow motion.
This may sound ridiculous, but that's really all the Beavers have in terms of Pac-10 level talent. That's it...seriously…I'm not kidding. The Beavers remind me of the Washington State teams before Dick Bennett showed up. They pretty much had little talent and laid down in many games. That's how OSU looks now. The Washington State, circa 2002, comparison is even more appropriate because that's what John was trying to do with his team in terms of tempo. John knew he had a lack of talent and he saw what Dick Bennett was able to do in Pullman with marginal talent. The difference was -- and is -- that Bennett is a very good teacher of the style he wants, as is his successor, his son Tony, and, perhaps more importantly, the Wazzu kids seemed to care even when they were getting blown off the court. That's not to say that the Beaver players don't care, but they will give up on a particular game much easier than would have the Cougars several years ago. Another problem is that the Beavers are a horrible shooting team. They average 38% from the floor…as a team! It's much worse from behind the arc where the Beavers shoot at 28%. If you're going to slow down the game, you had better take advantage of the possessions you get and the Beavers don't. I don't know if the shooting is just that bad or if the malaise that surrounds the program is affecting the players.
There are some other Beavers that may be able to have a solid game on Saturday because of the fatigue of the Bruins. Sophomore post Roeland Schaftenaar (6' 11" 240 lbs.) will take up space in the middle and provide size to work against Love, Alfred Aboya and James Keefe. Freshman Omari Johnson (6'7" 205 lbs.) looks like he may turn into a decent Pac-10 player in another year or two, but right now he looks overmatched. Johnson is the 3rd leading scorer on the Beavers at 8.5 PPG. Junior guard Ricky Claitt, (6'2" 175 lbs.) has started 11 games and plays more than 20 MPG, but he averages 29% from the floor and is 2-20 from behind the arc.
I think the picture is pretty grim for the Beavers and will be depending on who they get to come in as a coach after the season. One thing's for sure: It will be very tough to be successful in Corvallis because of the location and the general apathy around the program at the administrative level. The Beavers need a dynamic personality or someone who understands both the Oregon State climate and players that will fit into that climate.
As to Saturday, the game will be kept somewhat close because of the fatigue of the Bruins and because Coach Ben Howland will undoubtedly want to get more minutes for Chace Stanback , James Keefe and Nikola Dragovic. There may even be serious minutes for the non-scholarship players. OSU will certainly be up for the game at the start because they're facing the top team in the conference, but if the Bruins start with any run at all, this one will be over and ugly.
The thought is that with Howland trying to get the team healthy and with both Arizona schools coming to Pauley, this won't be the blowout that many think it will be. Taking that into account and the fact that OSU will play slowdown offense and zone defense, OSU will stay relatively close…but not that close.
Oregon State 51