The 2016-2017 NCAA basketball season was a trying one for Oregon State fans. Two seasons ago the Beavers tied for 5th in the Pac-12 and made the NCAA Tournament. Coming into this past season, the only senior on the roster was little-used Cheikh N’diaye. Grow pains were expected. But a 5-27 record that included a last-place finish in the Pac-12 was enough to prompt me to take a look a what head coach Wayne Tinkle did stylistically in his third year in Corvallis.
About 10 games into the season Tinkle talked about emphasizing playing at a slower, more deliberate pace to help improve both the offensive and defensive issues the team was suffering from. About 20 losses later it was clear that the strategy did little to help a squad that finished last in assists and first in turnovers in conference play. But with so much uncertainty on the roster it is impossible to say that any systematic change would’ve altered last year. But with a Top 40 2017 recruiting class coming in, the pressure will be on Tinkle next year to press all the right buttons.
This writer believes that an up-tempo attack is the most obvious way to get Oregon State back on track.
Reason 1: The Roster Lacks A True Facilitator Or Knockdown Shooter
Tinkle brought up turnovers often last year, and I can’t blame him for trying to slow things down since his group was so inexperienced. The team finished 313th out of 351 schools in the KenPom.com Adjusted Tempo Rating. The main issue for OSU was that many of their offensive possessions took lots of time off the clock but oftentimes did not result in a great shot.
Jaquori McLaughlin, Kendal Manuel, and Stephen Thompson Jr. are all excellent candidates to make a leap next year. Due to the injury to leading scorer Tres Tinkle, they were all forced to take on bigger roles than initially expected. The three guards combined to score 34.6 points per game, which is not impressive. But these three players combined to shoot 36.1% from the 3-point line, which would’ve been good for 7th in the Pac-12.
There is another decent shooter arriving in guard Ethan Thompson. But none of these players mentioned are 40% or better from deep. If Wayne Tinkle was to push the pace and create more shot attempts he would surely improve what was the worst scoring offense in the league. Instructing his players to be aggressive and play fast could be the most efficient way to get a young group to trust the pass. Throughout most of last season the squad looked lost and committed tons of turnovers despite the double-post, ball-control offense.
Reason #2: The Brothers Thompson
Oregon State finished 97 spots higher in Adjusted Tempo in Thompson Jr.’s freshman year. The team played faster, and not coincidentally, he played more efficiently on both sides of the ball.
2015-16: 107.2 / 105.2
Provided by CBB at Sports Reference
This past season Thompson’s overall production increased quite a bit, but he shot worse from the field and the free throw line. I attribute this to the fact that he played 36 minutes per game. Eventually fatigue set in from his expanded role. But if an up-tempo style was instituted in Corvallis, Thompson Jr. would be able to play less minutes while increasing his efficiency. He would be able to go all-out while on the floor, and the up-and-down nature of the game would likely result in more free throws and lay-ups. This is a huge deal because last season he relied too heavily on his jump shot in an offense that lacked the movement necessary to deem those 3-pointers responsible.
A transition-based attack is the best way to get easy points before the defense is set. And next season the arrival of Thompson Jr.’s brother Ethan means that Tinkle will have two stellar combo guards to pair with guards McLaughlin and Manuel. This four-guard rotation means that their is no reason not push the pace as there will always be capable replacements.
Ethan Thompson finished his high school career—just as his brother did— an ESPN Top 100 prospect. He is more athletic than his older brother, and his skill set in the open court is enticing when you consider he also has a compact and quick shooting motion. For a player his age, his play-making skills are surprising. And overall the fluidity in his movements are impressive when you consider how lanky his frame is. Statistics and the eye test suggest that the Thompson brothers (if Stephen Thompson Jr. comes back) could realistically combine for anywhere from 24-30 points per game.
For that to work you don’t want these players second-guessing themselves in a ball-control offense. To take full advantage of the athleticism on the wing it would be best to let these players take the rebound and go.
Reason #3: It Could Fix The Defense
The last reason and up-tempo attack is the most obvious remedy for what is ailing the Beavers is....it could seriously fix the defense. A team that prided itself on defense just two seasons was ago was absolutely dreadful on that side of the ball last season. Tres Tinkle’s short season had a ripple effect on the team’s psyche and they never recovered.
Last season the OSU defense was focused on limiting 3-point attempts. It would’ve been a sound strategy had they not allowed the opposition to get to the free throw line so often. Their matchup zone was ineffective because the players did not apply pressure and couldn’t stay in front of their man, a double whammy.
I don’t blame anyone for the defensive struggles though. The team was extremely young and inexperienced. They were over-matched in most conference games. And when you are thin on talent, forcing turnovers while protecting the ball helps. The Beavers did not force turnovers last year (11th out of 12 teams in conference). That issue became magnified when their offense could not could not maintain leads and the defense started to eliminate the chance of creating them in the first place.
If Tres Tinkle and Drew Eubanks are both back next year, they bring with them a combined 3 blocks per game. Eubanks is a mobile big man who averaged 2.2 of the blocks on his own. If head coach Wayne Tinkle was to commit to full court pressure he would have the perfect safety nets in Eubanks and Tinkle. He has enough guard depth to get everyone some playing time, and the high-pressure defense is a perfect way to keep younger players engaged on that side of the ball.