Arizona is coming off its second loss of the season, a shocking upset at home to Washington State that has called into question whether the Wildcats are capable of matching or exceeding last season’s successes. The first chance to see if that’s the case comes Thursday when the UA begins a 2-game road trip, starting with a visit with the Oregon State Beavers in Corvallis.
OSU (7-9, 1-4) has shown major improvement from a year ago, when it went 3-28. The Beavers nearly beat Duke in a tournament in November and is 7-1 this season at Gill Coliseum.
To better understand the Beavs, we reached out to John Severs of SB Nation sister site Building the Dam. Here are his superb answers to our inferior questions:
AZ Desert Swarm: Oregon State entered the 2022-23 season on an 18-game losing streak, but by Dec. 1 it had already surpassed last year’s win total (3). The Beavers have dropped three straight overall and four in a row in Pac-12 play, but how much better is this team than a year ago, and why?
John Severs: “The team is definitely better than last year’s, but how much better is tricky to tell. Last year’s team was probably better than their 3-win record suggested; they just had a habit of melting down in close, winnable games. Some of this season’s improvement comes down to turning those close losses into close wins. They’re getting those wins thanks to contributions from new players like Jordan Pope and Dzmitry Ryuny, which has taken some pressure off returning players like Dexter Akanno and Glenn Taylor Jr., which has helped their performances this season.”
Jordan Pope is the highest-scoring freshman in the Pac-12, though he appears to be in a slump of late and didn’t start for the first time in OSU’s last game. What has enabled him to have such a big impact so quickly, and what does he need to do in order to right the ship?
“Earlier in the season Pope found a lot of success thanks to some very accurate shooting. He seemed to have a knack for either finding his shots or making the low percentage ones count. That’s really trailed off in recent games. Against Colorado, his first game coming off the bench instead of starting, he was 2 of 11 from the floor. There’s not an easy answer as to why. He’s been getting pressured more, which hurts but shouldn’t affect a dropoff of that extent. He’s also suffering from one of the recent teamwide issues, the inability to get to the foul line. Pope’s high water mark for scoring this season was 23 against Portland State, and it that game he was 10 for 10 on free throws. He never got to the foul line against Colorado, and the team as a whole only got six attempts. Team’s aren’t fouling the Beavers because they don’t have to, because the team just isn’t generating that many scoring opportunities.”
Overall, the Beavers’ offensive numbers aren’t pretty, but there have to be some good parts, right?
“Well, the highlights earlier in the season were mostly Pope based, so that’s trailed off a bit. There are still individual performances that have been fun to see, even while the team itself is dysfunctional. Those performances are usually going to come from Akanno or Taylor Jr., but Ryuny has also had some fun moments. Even when he’s not a major scoring presence he can usually get some great blocks in, like in the game against Seattle.”
Arizona has been in an offensive rut the last few games, but still has a formidable frontcourt duo in Azuolas Tubelis and Oumar Ballo. How does OSU plan to deal with those two while also paying attention to the guards?
“That’s going to be a big challenge for the Beavers. Ryuny’s minutes have been dropping recently, but I expect him to see a lot of time on the court because Oregon State will need a big body in the post. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Chol Marial spend more time on the court either. The Beavers have been limiting his minutes but this feels like a matchup where they’re going to need a lot more front court pressure. Rodrigue Andela is the other player to watch. He’s found ways to be effective against other team’s with strong frontcourt pairs, but Arizona’s may be a class above what he’s seen this season. If Arizona’s been in an offensive rut as you say, this seems like a good game for them to get out of it.”
Most schools would have fired Wayne Tinkle after going 3-28, even if it was only a year removed from a surprise Elite Eight run. Has he shown enough progress to not have to worry about his employment status beyond this season?
“I was also surprised Wayne survived 3-28, but the fact that the school had just given him an extension probably made it less eager to move on. He’s still got another four years on his contract, and Oregon State isn’t really the kind of program that likes to pay multiple coaches so he may have some security. That said, if the back half of the season is as dire as last year’s I’m not sure anyone can make the justification to keep him around. He needs some Pac-12 wins.”
Prediction time. Does Arizona beat OSU for the sixth straight time and 20th in the last 22 meetings, or do the Beavers snap those skids and pull off a major upset?
“As much as I’d love to be a homer, I think Arizona’s got this one. The Wildcats are a strong team, and they match up well with the Beavers. Hopefully Oregon State at least makes a game of it.”