Oregon State, which is projected to still be the bottom-dweller in the Pac-10 this season, has had a pretty decent run in the last month. After some pretty dismal losses early, they've won the last four in a row, and five of the last six. Yes, some of those victories came against Seattle Pacific, Seattle (yes, they are two different schools), and Howard, but two of the victories were against Fresno State and Nebraska. Fresno State is 7-7 and Nebraska is 8-3.
So, you have to give new head coach Steve Robinson some credit. With the talent he has, it wouldn't have been surprising if he were 0-10 rather than 5-5. Robinson, though, has instituted a new style at Oregon State, and Robinson's personnel has quickly bought into it.
A good measuring stick of OSU's improvement is the two games it's played against Howard. In its first game of the season, the Beavers lost to lowly Howard, 47-45. A month later, they beat them, 90-54.
Robinson, who just about everyone knows by now is Barack Obama's brother-in-law (except James Keefe), came to Corvallis after coaching under Pete Carrill at Princeton and then most recently as the head coach at Brown. He is very much a Carrill disciple, and an advocate of Carrill's Princton Offense, the disciplined half-court offense based on intricate passing and cutting that tries as often as it can to create a back-door cut.
So, with some newfound confidence and energy, OSU heads into conference play hoping to improve upon its winless conference season a year ago. It's almost certainly not going to improve upon that record tonight when it faces the Bruins.
In fact, OSU should have a tough time of it over the next few weeks when it faces what are perhaps the best six teams in the conference – UCLA, USC, Arizona, Arizona State, Washington and Washington State. If they can get one win out of those six games it would be considered an achievement.
The Beavers have started to do better in the last month as its backcourt has gotten more comfortable in the Princeton offense. Senior Rickey Claitt (6-2, 175) is the team's leader, and has adapted to the offense well. He's playing 35 minutes per game and has a 2.14 assist-to-turnover ratio. He's also hitting 50% of his threes, even though he's averaging less than three attempts per game. He's not much of a scorer, averaging just under 9 points per game, but he is a good defensive player who is tough at the top of Oregon State's zone defense.
The other backcourt starter is junior Seth Tarver (6-5, 205), who has subverted much of his scoring to executing the offense. He's taking less than five shots a game, which is very low for a shooting guard, and averaging 6.8 points per game, just about three points less than last season. He, though, has become an integral cog in the offense, passing the ball well, already having nearly half of the assists (25) that he had all of last season.
What has given OSU its considerable boost in the last four games is the return of sophomore shooting guard Calvin Haynes (6-2, 185) from a suspension due to an academic issue. Haynes has come off the bench in his four games, and has averaged 18.8 points per game, playing 29 minutes. Haynes is definitely a square peg being stuffed into the round hole of the Princeton offense, known for playing mostly out of control and jacking up shots, but OSU has definitely benefited from his ability to score. He's a good athlete that can put the ball on the floor or shoot the three (55.6%). The secret to limiting Haynes is to make him go one-on-one and force him into bad shots. From the L.A. area, you would think he'd be plenty revved up to play UCLA.
Junior point guard Josh Tarver (6-3, 190) has had his starting job taken away by Claitt, but he's still getting 26 minutes off the bench, many times playing alongside Claitt in the backcourt and bumping his brother Seth to the small forward spot. Since the return of Haynes, however, Josh's minutes are down, and he'll probably get just 10-17 off the bench tonight.
Sophomore forward Omari Johnson (6-8, 215) can be a tough match-up because of his size and length. He's the second-leading scorer on the team at 11.3 points per game and tied for the lead in rebounding with 5.9. He likes to put the ball on the floor a bit too much, which leads to turnovers. The offense has been getting him more open looks from the outside, and it's benefited him, having made 7 threes in his last four games.
The Princeton offense needs some inside bangers to work well, and OSU has a couple of big-bodied guys. You might remember Daniel Deane (6-8, 245) out of high school since UCLA scouted him pretty extensively before he went to Utah. He transferred last year and he's the one new addition to the OSU roster from last season. He's not a great athlete, but strong and likes to beat up people. He averages 9.3 points per game and 5.9 rebounds, in 25 minutes, and leads the team in fouls and turnovers. You have to guard him outside because he can step out to catch and shoot.
The other big body is Dutch-born junior center Roeland Schaeftenaar (6-11, 240), who isn't near as physical as Deane, but maybe a bit more skilled. He's slowish and isn't more than a positional rebounder. Robinson will go small quite a bit now with Haynes back, take out Schaeftenaar and move Deane to the five. Expect to see that lineup for most of the game – Claitt, Seth Tarver, Haynes, Johnson and Deane.
Lathen Wallace (6-3, 200), a sophomore shooting guard, gets about 16 minutes per game off the bench. He's kind of a poor man's version of Haynes, prone to playing out of control and turning over the ball, but also being able to heat up for stretches and score quite a bit.
Junior center Calvin Hampton (6-10, 250) gets very limited spot minutes off the bench, mostly when Deane gets in foul trouble.
OSU isn't deep, and with Deane foul-prone, Robinson has gone strictly to a zone defense, and it hasn't been too bad. With its decent athleticism in its backcourt, the Beavers have been fairly good at quickly closing out on opposing shooters, allowing just 31% from three on the season.
OSU doesn't score much (64 points per game), because they slow it down and use the shot clock, but they also don't allow opposing teams to score much either (61 points per game).
They aren't a great rebounding team – in fact they're the worst in the Pac-10 at just 31 boards per game. They very rarely get an offensive rebound, preferring to rotate back an extra man after a shot goes up to prevent the opposing team any kind of transition opportunity.
Robinson, overall, has done a very good job of getting a team of leftovers from previous coach, Jay John – who aren't particularly suited for the Princeton style of play – to buy into the system.
The problem for the Beavers, though, is that their pretty soft non-conference schedule hasn't prepared them for what they'll face over the next few weeks – and especially tonight. UCLA is probably the best it's ever been at breaking down a zone since Ben Howland has been at UCLA. So while OSU is going to try to take the air out of the ball, UCLA will simply have too much scoring power. The most interesting aspect of the game will be how UCLA's defense, which has been prone to lapses in its rotations and help defense, will do against an offense that is designed to exploit such mistakes.
While it won't be a high-scoring game, which will limit UCLA's winning scoring margin, it will still be a blowout.
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