After 11 Games, It's Go Time: Men's Basketball Pre-Season Wrapup

Calvin Haynes and the Oregon State veterans appear ready to start Pac-10 play on a high note. (Photo by Ethan Erickson)

The Oregon State Men's Basketball team has finished their early season non-conference slate of 11 games with a 6-5 record. Following their upcoming games against Washington and Washington State, they'll play Seattle U in the final scheduled non-conference game on the schedule. Here is a fairly lengthy recap of the games played thus far. 

The season started with a dissapointing loss to Texas A&M Corpus Christi at the Duel in the Desert Tournament in which the Beavers struggled from the floor, shooting 32 percent. They responded from that loss with their first victory of the regular season-- a 62-47 win over South Dakota in which the shooting percentage greatly improved to 52 percent.

After the first two games, it was still unclear whether the veterans-- who played the majority of the minutes in these early games-- were shaking off jitters. This team made no secret of the fact that their goal is to qualify for the NCAA Tournament-- and Coach Robinson felt that his guys felt the heavy pressure of heightened expectations in the game against TAMUCC.

But from the beginning, Coach Robinson wasn't afraid to insert his freshmen when players like Omari Johnson and Calvin Haynes struggled. Jared Cunningham played 13 minutes in the season opener, Burton played 8, and Angus Brandt played 18.

The win against South Dakota set the Beavers up in the tournament championship game against Texas Tech, a team that is 7-1 since playing the Beavers with wins over Washington (by 7 in OT) and Stanford (by 13). In that game, the Beavers quickly fell behind in the firs half, trailing the Red Raiders by as many as 14 at one point. Oregon State would then come up with 11 unanswered points thanks primarily to the effort of Joe Burton and Seth Tarver, and would go into the locker room down by just six.

It took Oregon State nearly 15 minutes in the second half to erase that six point deficit, but they did with seven minutes remaining. The lead would change several times in the final minutes of the game, but in the end David Tairu (19 points) and Texas Tech were too much for the Beavers.

For Coach Robinson, the third place finish in the Duel in the Desert Tournament was a disappointing way to start the season, as his team missed out on two opportunities to win games that quite frankly should have been won. But again, the bright spot of the trip was Joe Burton, who began to assert himself as a difference maker on the low block.

It was the ensuing home game against Sacramento State that was perhaps the most dissapointing of the preseason. The visiting Hornets shot 60 percent from beyond the three-point line in the first half and were able to control the ball all throughout the second half to prevent an Oregon State comeback of epic proportions. The Beavers found themselves trailing 44-22 at halftime but made it all the way back in the second half, yet couldn't finish off Sacramento State in the waning minutes, given the opportunity.

This was the point that Beaver Nation really started to re-address expectations for this team. It's interesting to note that the Beavers haven't had a strong pre-season for several years, as the run to the CBI Championship during last season got underway once the Beavers went to the Bay Area and swept Cal and Stanford.

Against Sacramento State it was the first half that was the problem, not the second. The game was played on a Saturday early afternoon against a low-tier opponent... could the team have been playing down to their competition? Yes, but here's what Coach Robinson had to say following the game:

"Everyone thinks we're a lot better than we are and we're just proving everybody wrong that we're not that good yet. It may take us a little bit longer for us to get to where everybody thinks we should be. That's the first thing. The second thing is that it's not a time to panic. It's a time to get better and keep working. You're taking guys who didn't win any game in the league just a full year ago. A year ago these guys played like this in the first half all the time."

The Beavers then flew to Washington D.C. to play George Washington and meet the President-- and play in front of him-- and here they performed much better in the first half. They jumped out to an early 14-0 lead, and were able to maintain a ten point margin at halftime. The Colonials crept back into the game with a late 6-0 run, but the Beavers hit 5 of 6 free-throws during crunch time to win.

Colorado posed an interesting matchup in Oregon State's Pac-10/ Big 12 Hardwood series game. Against a  great shooting team, the Beavers knew that defense and rebounding would be key in order to win. The Beavers did those things, and sealed the game with stellar free-throw shooting (17-18) in the second half.

After going 7-23 in the previous three games combined, Calvin Haynes returned to the forefront of the offense against Colorado with 19 points of 6-of-9 shooting.

The win got the Beavers back to .500 at 3-3 on the year, and the Beavers would move above the .500 mark with a blowout win against Cal State Bakersfield. Josh Tarver's offensive game was the best it had been all season as he was 6-of-7 from the floor, and freshmen Jared Cunningham and Joe Burton were the leading scorers with 13 points apiece.

While this game was chalked up as a win for the Beavers, I really think it marked the low point of the Beavers' pre-season. Daniel Deane was inserted into the starting lineup along with Cunningham and Burton, while capable veterans like Lathen Wallace, Omari Johnson, Calvin Haynes, and Roeland Schaftenaar all played reduced minutes. All we have to look off of is boxscores from games, but something tells me that around the point the returning stars off of last year's team were really struggling in practice. It's unclear as to whether Coach Rob was using the freshmen as motivation for the older guys to step up, or the young guys were outworking the vets in practice, but it's obvious that guys like Schaftenaar, Wallace, and Johnson weren't playing to their potential come game-time.

This trend continued with the Beavers getting swept on a roadtrip to Coach Robinson's stomping grounds in the Midwest. The Beavers couldn't top Nebraska in the first game of their trip despite a strong performance from the previously inconsistent Roeland Schaftenaar (16 points). But the real downer of the trip came at UIC, when the Beavers took a 10 point lead midway through the first half, but let UIC back into the game and eventually win it. The Beavers, who lost by two, had a shot to tie the game with one second remaining in the shot, but Josh Tarver committed a turnover on the inbounds play, and UIC prevailed.

The game again made the Beavers look uninspired and unprepared to make a push to the top of the decimated Pac-10 conference. Clearly, the team was still struggling to find it's identity.

This brings us to the final two games of non-conference play: wins against Mississippi Valley State and Fresno State. Mississippi Valley State entered the game at 1-10 on the year, yet gave the Beavers a game. But it was at this point that the veterans began to blossom. Five players reached double figures--one being Joe Burton--but the rest being the guys Coach Rob and the rest of us had been more or less waiting on all year: Lathen Wallace, Omari Johnson, Calvin Haynes, and Seth Tarver.

The so called "blossoming" continued in Oregon State's final pre-season game against Fresno State, in which Calvin Haynes made it rain from outside (5-6 from three, 25 points), and Johnson, Wallace, and Seth Tarver all scored in double digits. The three freshmen played the fewest minutes they had all year, which, quite frankly, is the way it probably should be as the Beavers head into Pac-10 play.

The freshmen have looked good at times, but that has been against competition far inferior to what we are going to see when Pac-10 play starts on Thursday. There's no doubt that these guys can play, it just seems that they would be better off in backup roles, learning from the older players on the team and providing energy and athleticism off the bench when needed.

Craig Robinson agrees that what's happening on the roster works in favor of Oregon State, as it's given experience to the young players who have earned heavy minutes at times during this 11-game stretch. 

"I'm glad we're at the point where they're coming off of the bench. There's a lot of pressure to put on them to start a game and have to win games for us. Our veteran guys have started to play better and have earned that spot back. It's almost the best of all possible worlds. Those guys got some experience as starters but now they can come in and help us out without having to feel like they have to carry the entire burden on themselves."

It seems that the Fresno State game was a positive cap to what was a frustrating pre-season-- but one the Beavers needed in order to motivate the upperclassmen and give experience to the three freshmen contributors. 

Pac-10 play begins this Thursday when the Beavers travel to Washington to play the Huskies, followed by a Saturday game against the Cougars in Pullman. 

--Jake | (jake.buildingthedam@gmail.com)

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