While the full Oregon State basketball schedule may be awaiting it's official release (the final version is expected to come sometime in September), the tentative dates for the Pac-12 match-ups have been released by the conference and now it is at known just who the Beavers will be matching up with in league play and a general time period of when that'll all take place as well. As the dog days of the end of summer begin to creep in and football season draws ever nearer, there's never a bad time to key an eye on the blossoming Beavers' basketball program and beginning to size up who they will be seeing down the line this upcoming season.
Dec. 28-Jan. 1: UCLA, USC
UCLA: The Bruins are coming off a tumultuous 2015-2016 season that started with some big highs around the turn of the year mark, when Steve Alford's guys found ways to knock off Kentucky, Gonzaga and Arizona. From there, it all went south for the Bruins. UCLA limped to a 6-12 record in conference play to finish the campaign and all summer long, the hot seat rumors surrounding Alford were suddenly magnified. It's easy to now say that 2016-2017 will be a crucial year for the Bruins' program.
By the time UCLA makes it's way to Corvallis, Alford's guys would have already likely navigated a fairly manageable non-conference slate that is highlighted by a road trip to Kentucky, a Pauley Pavilion showdown with Michigan and a meeting in Vegas with Ohio State. The Bruins also have the potential to match-up with Texas A&M or Virginia Tech in the Wooden Legacy contests. To kick-off Pac-12 play against a storied program like the Bruins is never an easy task, especially in a year where UCLA will be under an even more glaring spotlight. In order to get off to a hot start, Wayne Tinkle's guys must be locked in and ready for the opportunity that is going to come their way.
USC: Andy Enfield led USC back to the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time since 2011, a sight that was unsure if it would be seen after the head coach's 5-31 start in conference play over his first two seasons in Los Angeles. With that first tournament bid now in the past, the 2016-2017 season comes to the forefront as one of those transition years that potentially makes or breaks the trajectory of the Trojans program. Enfield will be hoping it ends with another trip back to the NCAA Tournament but at the moment, all signs point to it being another rebuilding year at USC.
The Trojans were devastated by player movement this off-season when forward Nikola Jovanovic and guard Julian Jacobs turned pro, but USC also lost Katin Reinhardt, Darion Clark, Malik Martin and Malik Marquetti, all to transfer. Enfield will now try to salvage the season around a trio of talent in standout Jordan McLaughlin, rising sophomore big man Bennie Boatwright and 6' 5" guard Elijah Stewart. Depending on how the start to the Trojans' non-conference slate goes, Enfield could have his guys anxiously awaiting or terribly dreading the start of conference play. A strong showing at home against USC gives Oregon State the potential to start off on the right foot in the Pac-12 against both Los Angeles teams.
Jan. 4-Jan. 8th: at Washington, at Washington State
WASHINGTON: An early January trip to the Evergreen State can always be an eventful experience and while the pressure may not fully be on Lorenzo Romar to plug the dam at Washington, the heat surrounding him is definitely beginning to pump, at least from the high-rise seats. Sure, Romar will be saved by what is projected to be one of the best 2017 recruiting scoops in the whole country but after missing the NCAA Tournament with three legitimate pieces last season in Andrew Andrews, Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss, it's only fair for the questions to be raised.
The overall morale of the Huskies' program will be interesting to monitor in this upcoming season as it seems like fans have already moved onto the 2017-2018 season, where Washington will sport the "next great hopes" in five-star recruit Michael Porter Jr. and four-star wing player, Jaylen Nowell. However in the meantime, Washington looks extremely beatable with a starting line-up that still hasn't been completed and a bench in disarray. Optimism can be a dangerous feeling some six months before a game is being played but on paper, you have to like the way that this one looks for the Beavers.
WASHINGTON STATE: A general sense of relief was felt by Cougar nation when Washington State hired Ernie Kent to take over the program in 2014, hopeful that the experienced West Coast coach would be the right fit to shift a stalling Cougars program into gear. Heading into the 2016-2017 season, it's hard to tell how much shifting has been done and how much stalling there is still left to fix.
Washington State lost seventeen straight games to close out the 2016 season, after opening the campaign with a 9-5 record that included wins over UCLA and New Mexico. Somewhere along the way the wheels simply came off the cart for the Cougars, who showed early strides of being a dark-horse type of team in the league that could whittle their way into the thick of things. With most of those pieces back in the fold, cautious optimism probably hangs around this program more than any other team in the league. If Oregon State has their gears churning by the time they reach the state of Washington, the Evergreen State may be painted orange for a few days in January.
Jan. 11-15: at Oregon
OREGON: It would be fitting to say mark the date and circle your calendars now but since there's no official date just yet, it's probably good just to pencil in your plans between January 11th and January 15th. Just in case. It's the rivalry that never gets old and in the upcoming basketball installment on the Civil War, Oregon State will first travel to Nike-town before welcoming the Ducks back to Corvallis to end the Pac-12 slate.
The Oregon problem this season may lie in the fact that Dana Altman's team will actually be pretty damn good once again, almost to the point where they may be able to replicate last year's "31 win-Elite Eight trip" type of season. Oregon returns superstar Dillon Brooks, as well as five of it's top six guys to campus, while also adding a key transfer in Villanova's Dylan Ennis. As painful as it is to say, the Ducks look early on to definitely be Pac-12 favorites and this game could be a huge test for this Oregon State team. The Beavers will need to be fully locked in and loaded if they want to knock off Oregon in Eugene.
Jan. 18-22: California, Stanford
CALIFORNIA: The Golden Bears were the trendy pick of the conference a season ago, when head coach Cuonzo Martin welcomed a much heralded recruiting group led by Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb to campus, for what was expected to be a remarkable year for the Berkeley school. 23 wins and a trip to the NCAA Tournament and Cal "got the job done" when it came to managing a huge transition campaign under Martin. It may not be that easy for the Golden Bears heading into the 2016-2017 season.
The loss of the aforementioned Brown to the NBA Draft, the transfer of guard Jordan Matthews to Gonzaga and the well-documented scandal involving former assistant coach Yanni Hufnagel have all added to a tumultuous off-season for Martin and company, who are already dealing with the loss of Tyrone Wallace to graduation. This year, Cal will have to build around returning top talent Ivan Rabb, in addition to former five-star recruit Jabari Bird (who may be the biggest breakout player in the Pac-12) and Columbia transfer Grant Mullins. The Golden Bears fell to Oregon State in their trip to Corvallis last season, when forward Tres Tinkle and guard Stephen Thompson Jr. combined for 26 points off the bench. Pending Rabb or Bird doesn't have a career night in the Beaver State, Oregon State will have to like their chances against Cal again.
STANFORD: The enigma of the Pac-12, Stanford is one of those teams that just couldn't be figured out under former head coach Johnny Dawkins, who despite winning 23+ games (and two NIT Championships) in three of his last five seasons with the Cardinal, only made it to the NCAA Tournament once. So after last year's devastating 15-15 campaign, which included three separate 3-game losing streaks, Stanford was forced to make a move by letting go of the eighth year head coach and moving forward with former UAB head coach Jerod Haase.
Haase enters the fold at Stanford after leading the Blazers to an 80-53 record over his four seasons at the school, capped off by a trip to the 2015 NCAA Tournament. His job will be to return the Cardinal to the big dance, which may be a bit too tall of a task in his first year at the helm. Stanford returns four double-digit scorers from their .500 roster last season but they lose arguably their biggest piece in Hungarian forward Rosco Allen (15.6 PPG, 6.5 RPG). Allen was the main reason why Stanford was able to clip Oregon State last year in Corvallis, with his 21 point, 8 rebound performance. The Beavers should be out for revenge this time around.
Jan. 25-Jan. 29: at Colorado, at Utah
COLORADO: Coming off their fourth trip to the NCAA Tournament in the last five seasons under head coach Tad Boyle, Colorado is another intriguing customer this year in the Pac-12 as like Stanford, the Buffs return four of their top five scorers from a season ago. For the Colorado program, the importance of culture probably plays a bigger role than any type of infusion or loss of talent as since the school hired Boyle away from Northern Colorado in 2010, Boyle had led the Buffs to five 21+ win seasons. Simply put, Boyle seems to get the job done pretty well no matter how full the cupboard looks to be.
For the 2016-2017 version of the Buffs, Boyle will need the same faces to take on much bigger roles, beginning with sophomore guard George King, who might be one of college basketball's best kept secrets. After barely seeing the court during his freshman year, King averaged 13.6 points per game during his sophomore season when Boyle bounced the San Antonio native's playing time up to 25.4 minutes per contest. King should combine with fellow guards Josh Fortune and Dominique Collier to create a strong trio of talented ball-handlers. The Beavers, who lack a true perimeter lockdown defender without Gary Payton II, will need to bring their top games to Boulder after splitting home match-ups with the Buffs a season ago.
UTAH: The Utes have compiled a 53-18 (26-10 in conference) record over the past two seasons under Larry Krystkowiak, making two trips to the NCAA Tournament and finishing 2nd in the Pac-12 Regular Season Standings in both years. Talk about some serious consistency coming out of Salt Lake City at the moment. And while the West Coast’s "Coach K" may not shown signs of slowing day anytime soon, the tall and towering program director will face some tougher challenges without two of his most reliable pieces back in the fold this season.
While everything that Utah did well last season revolved around the steadiness of veteran guard Jordan Loveridge, the true key to the Utes’ success was star center, Jakob Poeltl. Poeltl, the 9th overall pick in this summer’s NBA Draft by the Toronto Raptors, posted averages of 17.2 points and 9.1 rebounds per game for the 27 win Utes and dominated in Utah’s "forwards-first" style of play. Without the seven-footer back in Salt Lake City, Coach K will have some reworking to do. The Jon M. Huntsman Center is never an easy place to play as the Beavers found out a season ago in a 59-53 loss so expect a dogfight when they return to Utah, this time around.
Feb. 1-5: Arizona, Arizona State
ARIZONA: Arizona. Arizona. Arizona.
Love them or hate them, it’s hard to deny the job that Sean Miller has done in the desert, guiding the Wildcats to four Pac-12 titles (3 Regular Season, 1 Post-Season) and three Elite Eight appearances since 2010. Not too bad for a 47 year old head coach, right? But still, the critics will bend and break about how Miller has never been to a Final Four yet, despite a myriad of superbly talented rosters. Could it be that this is finally the year that the Wildcats get over the hump?
It sounds strange to be pressing a sub-50 year old head coach to make it to the last weekend in April but when it comes to the expectations around this Arizona program, a "Final Four-or-bust" mentality seems to be reality. And with so much talent leaving the program after the graduation of Ryan Anderson, Gabe York and Kaleb Tarczewski, Miller needed to quickly reload with some new and younger pieces. Oh...and reload he did. Even with the recent departure of top-recruit Terrance Ferguson to play professionally in Australia, Arizona’s prospect haul makes the Wildcats once again one of the most feared names on the Beavers’ schedule. Wayne Tinkle’s guys should be pleased that they’re getting their crack at the Wildcats at home this season.
ARIZONA STATE: It would be easy to write off Arizona State as a team who is still a few seasons away from making noise in the conference but after last year’s self-destructing loss to the Sun Devils in Tempe, Oregon State is probably pretty comfortable that they get their match-ups with both teams from the Grand Canyon State in Corvallis.
Arizona State is probably the hardest team in the whole conference to gauge, as Bobby Hurley does return some good pieces in Tra Holder and Obinna Oleka but also adds a wealth of new guys to the roster as well, including three four-star recruits in forwards Sam Cunliffe, Romello White and Jethro Tshisumpa. Now it’s a guessing game of how all the pieces will fit together for the Sun Devils. As in their beatdown of the Beavers back on January 28th, Arizona State has shown some flashes of brilliance before but their consistency with those showings is what will make the true difference. Hurley’s group is definitely more talented heading into the 2016-2017 season but Oregon State should have their minds set on some strong retribution.
Feb. 8-12: at UCLA, at USC
UCLA: A return trip to Pauley Pavilion in mid-February could be a bit more frightening than the early season match-up with the Bruins as this UCLA is expected to severely improve as the year goes on. In past seasons under Alford, it seemed like UCLA almost wore themselves out as the season progressed but with a bunch of new faces in new roles, it feels like 2016-2017 will be more of a marathon than a sprint for the Bruins. Expect both of these games to follow very different storylines for both teams involved.
USC: To echo the same sentiment around the UCLA rematch in the Sunshine State, the return trip to visit the Trojans will probably be fairly comparable as USC is one of those teams will be very different in December than they are in March. The Galen Center may be a wonderful state-of-the-art facility but it doesn't provide the best home-court advantage in the league, meaning there's potential there for the Beavers to sweep the Trojans if they can show up to play in both games. USC won't be one of the upper-tier teams in the league this season. Oregon State will have to take advantage of that.
Feb. 15-19: Colorado, Utah
COLORADO: What a stretch of four days this could be for the Beavers with two legitimate conference foes visiting Corvallis with likely, one of the trio’s NCAA Tournament hopes on the line. After you finish cancelling your plans for the Civil War weekend, start cancelling your plans for these few days. It’s hard to say before any games have been played but I have a feeling Oregon State will have to at-worst, split the regular season showdowns with Colorado and Utah to keep their case floating on the right side of the bubble come Selection Sunday.
UTAH: Utah’s return to Corvallis may feature one of the most unique re-matches of the Pac-12 schedule, as last season’s meeting between these two teams ended in the now famous "Stephen Thompson Jr. Half-Court Heave...Foul" play. If you don’t remember it, Utah’s Brandon Taylor fouled Thompson Jr. on a half-court shot with 0.1 seconds on the clock, as the Beavers trailed by one. The refs called the foul and awarded Thompson Jr. three free-throws, of which he made, to secure the 71-69 victory. The foul call was only proceeded by another foul on a three-pointer, this time by Oregon State, which put the Utes’ Jordan Loveridge at the line with 2.2 seconds left to give Utah the lead. With an ending like that, it’s safe to say Utah probably hasn’t forgotten their last trip to Corvallis.
Feb. 22-26: at California, at Stanford
CALIFORNIA: California seemed to be a perplexing match-up for Oregon State a season ago, especially away from Corvallis, where the Beavers dropped both of their match-ups against the Golden Bears in some hard-fought fashions. Cuonzo Martion's guys handled the Beavers pretty handedly in Berkeley but it was California's defeat of Oregon State in the Pac-12 Tournament that really had Beaver nation sitting uncomfortably on Selection Sunday. Wayne Tinkle will need more out of his guys when they visit the Golden Bears in late February.
STANFORD: Maples Pavilion had become the "Valley of Death" for the Oregon State program over the years, as before last season's 12 point win at Stanford, the Beavers hadn't won there in 20 of their last 21 tries. In 2017, Oregon State has the chance to start their own streak of success at Stanford now, with the chance to make it two successful road trips in a row. The Cardinal may be under new leadership in head coach Jerod Haase but don't expect this one not to be decided on who controls a firmer grip in the paint. Stanford likes to make it's living, dominating the interior at Maples.
Mar. 1-4: Oregon
OREGON: There's no more perfect way to end a conference slate than by welcoming your arch rival onto your court in what will likely be a match-up with huge Pac-12 standings implications. It's not like the lead-up to the Civil War ever needed more fuel added to the fire. As we stated before, Oregon will be a tough team once again this upcoming season but it's games like this where Tinkle and company can stake their claim in the rivalry. If they can't clip the Ducks in Eugene, they'll have to find a way to hold them off on their return trip.
The Known Non-Conference Foes
In addition to the Beavers' now being able to size up how their Pac-12 schedule lays out, Oregon State also has a pretty firm grasp on their non-conference slate and just how that will turn out. The official non-conference schedule is expected to be released fairly soon but already, there are nine known opponents that the Beavers will be seeing before the start of 2017. Below are the listed opponents:
Home: Fresno State, Kent State, Lamar, Prairie View A&M, UTSA
Away: Charlotte, Mississippi State, Nevada, Tulsa
The mix of teams is not an overwhelmingly intimidating one but it does mean the pressure will be on Oregon State to win and win early. Without a featured piece like Gary Payton II in the mix, Tinkle's guys will have to quickly figure out how to gel together and improve throughout the course of the early season slate. Match-ups with Fresno State, Mississippi State, Nevada and Tulsa should go a long way in revealing the true colors of this team.