While the Arizona Wildcats come into Thursday's match-up with Oregon State as the No. 18 team in the land to the Beavers' 10-17 record, there's no guarantees. And considering what happened in January -- that'd be a 76-75 OSU victory against the Wildcats, for those of you counting -- there's, well, even less guarantees.
But this time, the Wildcats have the pressure to win the Pacific 10 Conference title at home, no less. We caught up with Andy Woolridge of Building the Dam to discuss the Beavs' season.
Also, check out Mike Schmitz's reciprocal Q&A over at Building The Dam.
1. Having won just two of the past 10 games, what's the general feeling regarding the Oregon State program. Coach Craig Robinson didn't inherit the most stable or talented of basketball teams in 2008, so is this year's squad just not very good or is it underachieving? And how hot is Robinson's seat?
This year's squad has underachieved to most people's expectations, mostly by not progressing as much and as fast as expected. Whether those expectations were reasonable or a little optimistic/inflated is the issue now being wrestled with.
Robinson's seat can be characterized as warm as a result. He has the backing of the administration, and a buyout clause that would be hard to fit into the existing over-stretched budget. He also has a measure of respect from many fans, who are willing to give it another year. But if there isn't a marked improvement in terms of wins next year, when Robinson will have all his own players, and no excuses, the seat will get quite a bit hotter quite quickly.
2. Sophomore Jared Cunningham is a bright spot, I imagine, for the 10-17, Beavers, who are No. 9 in the Pacific 10 Conference standings with a 5-11 in-conference record. How's he developed since his freshman campaign and through this year to average nearly 14 points and three steals per game?
Jared is a sharp individual who is always paying attention to what is going on, and as a result has improved by fine tuning in a number of areas. As a result, he is more court savvy, and has turned a lot of situations where aggressive play produced a fair number of fouls into steals, baskets, and drawn fouls. It's been a good example of the progress that can come from having a year's experience.
3. Looking through the schedule, Oregon State has lost to some bad teams, but I'd guess that their two best wins came against Arizona in Corvallis, Ore., then more recently against the then-No. 19 Washington Huskies. How'd they pull those two games off, in your opinion? Obviously, they must've played better than most of their other games this year.
Against Arizona, the Beavers shot well, and especially, got to the line a lot, and shot well there. It was one of their best games, largely because there was no one that had a bad stretch. It's that consistency that has eluded them much of the year. Against Washington, freshman Ahmad Starks, who wasn't starting yet when the 'Cats were here, had a breakout game defensively, substantially shutting down the Huskies' Isaiah Thomas. Thomas was a bit beat up as well.
Washington wound up relying on others to take a lot of three point and other outside shots, and they missed a lot of them. Historically, Washington is at their best when they can make good entry passes. Starks was a surprise to Washington coach Lorenzo Romar, and it sparked a defensive effort that better defended the passing lanes than slower Oregon St. teams from years past.
4. I've read some articles (I wish I could remember where) that question why Robinson doesn't play a more traditional and up-tempo style considering the athletes on the Beaver roster. Do you agree, or is there not enough talent on the roster to not play a scheme that limits possessions given to the other team?
The questions has been raised from both inside and outside Beaver nation, because of the players that have been recruited, Cunningham, Starks, Devon Collier, and Roberto Nelson, who can play at that pace and style. And the Beavers have done it at times, depending on matchups.
However, neither Joe Burton or Angus Brandt are nearly that fast, and one of them or Omari Johnson, who has never played that style is always on the floor as well. Also, a couple of other players from before who are not that fast, Calvin Haynes and Lathan Wallace, are still in the rotation, and until midseason, Haynes was starting. So not all of the players are best suited to that style. It will take a few more recruits with speed to be able to play at that pace regularly.
5. In the Beaver win against Arizona, sophomore center Joe Burton had one of his better games of the season, scoring 16 and grabbing five rebounds against the Wildcats. After Arizona's front line, including Derrick Williams, got beaten up in Los Angeles, would you say he's a big factor in this game once again? I would.
You are right, Burton will be a big factor, whether he is indeed a big factor, or a non-factor. When Burton plays well, Oregon St. generally does well. And Arizona appears to be a good matchup. In my opinion, a lot of fans don't adequately understand what a matchup league the Pac-10 is, but good/bad matchups have a lot to do with why some teams do so well, or poorly, against certain others, and independent of overall record.
Burton has appeared to be inconsistent this year, but I think it's more a case of him doing the same things, while some other teams have made adjustments, and others are a better matchup for them against him. Staying out of foul trouble is another big variable for Burton.
6. Looking ahead to next year, I see Oregon State nabbed 2011 power forward commit Daniel Gomis from Oak Hill Academy. Do you know whether he's the real deal? What are the expectation for him affecting the Beaver program?
I don't think anyone knows for sure yet, until he runs into Pac-10 level competition, but there is a lot of hope that he is in fact the real deal. He is expected to be one of those additions that by averaging something like 12 points and 8 rebounds will make Oregon St. less dependent on their outside shooting, which can (and has) let them down in some games. If he is that type of player, it will also free up Collier to be more productive as well.
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