The Arizona Wildcats return to action Thursday when they host the Oregon State Beavers, who have been one of the better teams in the Pac-12 so far.
OSU was a dismal 5-27 last year, but is 10-5 overall and 2-1 in the Pac-12 this year, including wins over Oregon and Colorado.
We wanted to know more about the Beavers before they arrive in Tucson, so we asked Marcus Russell of Building the Dam, Oregon State’s SB Nation site, for some insight.
Here is our Q&A.
Ryan Kelapire: At 10-5 and 2-1 in the Pac-12, has Oregon State exceeded expectations so far?
Marcus Russell: Last season was a nightmare for Beaver fans. The 5-27 record and lack of competitiveness was alarming, but mostly the 2016 season was considered an anomaly. Expectations were all over the place for this season. They started off slowly and suffered a few bad non-conference losses and haven’t exactly showed they can win on the road. Doubling their win total from a year ago in the first 15 games and nabbing a big rivalry win over Oregon definitely has Beaver Nation excited and has exceeded most fans expectations.
RK: We didn’t get a chance to see Tres Tinkle play last season because of injury, so how would you describe him as a player? How much better does he make the Beavers?
MR: Tres Tinkle is really the engine that makes the Beavers run. He’s very underrated, in my opinion, and when fully healthy he’s Oregon State’s best player.
At 6-foot-8, OSU is best when they slide him down to power forward, but he plays a majority of his minutes at small forward. Tres has a solid three-point shot, but does most of his damage driving to the basket and drawing fouls (he’s very good at getting to the foul line).
RK: What type of players are the Thompson brothers?
MR: The Thompson brothers (Stevie and Ethan) are almost indistinguishable on the court. Both are around 6-foot-4 and have similar styles of play. I’d say they would both probably be labelled as crafty scorers.
Ethan might be a little more athletic, but as a true freshman he is less consistent than his older brother. Stevie on the other-hand is just a savvy scorer and might be the Beavers best shooter. He’s also adept at scoring in the paint.
RK: Besides those three, which players should Arizona keep an eye on?
MR: Drew Eubanks, he’s Oregon State’s best big man and joins Stevie/Tres to form a dangerous trio. At 6-foot-10, 250 pounds, Eubanks is surprisingly athletic and continues to improve offensively.
Eubanks has NBA aspirations and it’s going to be very interesting to see how he performs against Arizona’s stud freshman, Deandre Ayton and he’s honestly the Beavers only hope at trying to contain him.
Seth Berger, Alfred Hollins and Kendal Manuel are also some potential x-factors that could hit a couple of big shots for Oregon State on Thursday.
RK: What style of defense do the Beavers play? Will we see some zone this weekend? Do they stand a chance of slowing down Arizona’s offense?
MR: The Beavers’ defense wasn’t great during the non-conference portion of their schedule, but in their three Pac-12 games it has looked vastly improved.
They’ve been playing a lot more zone defense in their last few games and it seems to be working. Expect Oregon State to switch back and forth between man and zone defense on Thursday.
They will also try some full-court pressure to try and disrupt Arizona’s guards a little bit. Eubanks’ rim-protection has been key to the improved defense, but I’m skeptical that the Beavers will be able to slow down Arizona’s offense enough to pull off the road upset.
RK: The Beavers are a poor 3-point shooting team and don’t take many, so how do they generate most of their offense?
MR: Oregon State is comfortable slowing it down and grinding possessions out against their opponents. They generate a decent amount of their points from the free-throw line or in the paint inside. About 65 percent of the Beavers’ points are scored by their ‘Big 3’ (Tres Tinkle, Stephen Thompson Jr. and Drew Eubanks) with Ethan being the only other semi-consistent offensive contributor. The Beavers aren’t a particularly deep team offensively.
RK: What are some keys to the game for the Beavers on Thursday?
MR: In order for Oregon State they need their ‘Big 3’ to all play well. Drew Eubanks will need to stay out of foul trouble and anchor the defense. The Beavers will also need to be very efficient with the basketball against Arizona. They lack a true floor general and struggle when they turn the ball over. They also better hope their shots are falling because they probably aren’t going to hold Arizona under 70.
MR: Oregon State has not proven to be a good road team in recent years. Arizona is also extremely talented (even if they are facing some adversity). I’ll say Arizona wins it, 72-61.
RK: Bonus question: Do you still have nightmares about Khalil Tate?
MR: The entire football season was a nightmare. Khalil Tate nightmares rank just below the 69-10 Civil War nightmare that I refuse to believe actually happened.
Thanks to Marcus for answering our questions about the Beavers. We answered questions for them about Arizona basketball, which should be posted on BuildingTheDam.com shortly. Keep an eye out!