On January 10th, 2020 Oregon State was on top of the world. Fresh off a hard-fought road victory against #16-ranked Arizona the Beavers were 15-0. The team looked poised to claim their first #1 ranking in program history thanks to losses to UConn and Oregon. And it seemed like it was Championship or bust time in Corvallis.
What a difference a couple of weeks can make... The Beavers are reeling after losing four of their past five games; including three straight. The team is just .500 in Pac-12 play (4-4) and has scored more than 66 points just once in their past six games.
Things aren’t as bleak as they may seem though. Their three-game losing streak came against truly elite teams. They’ve struggled with turnovers and have been bogged down offensively; but defensively they’ve held up okay all things considered. Also the schedule starts to open up in a big way. The Beavers will likely be favored in their next 5 games before a road contest against UCLA.
If the expectation for this team is to make a run to the Final Four they’ll need a favorable seed in the NCAA tournament. Earlier I wrote “in order to have a good chance at getting to the final four the Beavers need to earn a one or two seed once the NCAA bracket is revealed. Looking at past brackets that means they can probably only lose four or five games in conference play.” Well they’ve already lost four conference games, so a 1-seed is probably out of reach. ESPN Bracketology has the Beavers as a 3-seed in their most current projections. In the same region as UConn and Louisville. That would be an absolutely brutal draw for Oregon State.
In each of the Beavers four losses they’ve turned it over significantly more than their opponents and have had double-digit turnovers. While strong play has continued from freshman Taylor Jones and Kennedy Brown, at times they both can look like true freshman. Oregon State like to play inside-out on offense and they can get bogged down when a post player can’t reliably create her own shot.
The reality is that the Beavers need more from their top three players. And those players are: Mikayla Pivec, Destiny Slocum and Aleah Goodman. Don’t get me wrong they’ve all been very good this season. They’re shooting it well, providing a large chunk of the scoring and doing a little bit of everything; but all three guards are hovering around a 2-to-1 assist to turnover ratio. That’s a good ratio, but you want more from your ball-dominate guards and top players. Destiny Slocum is the only true play-maker on this team who can create her own shot when the shot-clock is winding down. Against Oregon the offense really struggled when she was on the bench.
Head coach, Scott Rueck, has repeatedly stressed that Oregon State is growing and learning as a team regardless of wins or losses. They’ve hit a bit of a rough patch and it’ll be fun to see them come out of it even stronger. They’ll get a chance to right the ship tonight when they tip of on the road against Colorado.
Overall I do think a modest expectations reset might be needed for Oregon State. This team is of course extremely talented and can compete for a Final Four berth; but I don’t think that should be the expectation. The Final Four should probably be the ceiling this season; with a Sweet Sixteen exit as a more realistic outcome.