For just the second time since 1990, Oregon State will not be turning to baseball season in mid-March.
The Beavers men’s basketball program jumped into the field of 68 by making a run for the ages through the Pac-12 Tournament. Now, Wayne Tinkle’s squad is set for a first round meeting with Tennessee in Indianapolis this Friday, a team they also haven’t played since 1990, but boast a 3-1 all-time record against.
Oregon State will enter their 18th overall NCAA Tournament with wind in their sails and an upset of their minds, hopeful that they’ll be able to take down a very dangerous, yet somewhat inconsistent Volunteers group, who themselves are coming off a tough loss in the SEC Tournament semifinals to Alabama.
For the Beavers, a win in the NCAA Tournament would mean breaking a dry spell of 39 years, as the last time they advanced in the March Madness field, they year was 1982 and the opponent was Idaho.
If there is one main storyline for Tennessee entering Friday’s clash, it would revolve around the status of forward John Fulkerson, the Volunteers’ fourth leading scorer, who missed the SEC Championship due to a face injury suffered the previous day. Without Fulkerson, head coach Rick Barnes won’t have one of their tough-minded pieces on the interior that takes the rebounding load off the shoulders of guys like Yves Pons and Josiah-Jordan James.
In general, Tennessee relies more on a litany of 6’ 4” to 6’ 8” guys to play an open style of offense, which forces mismatches and relies on solid motion and execution. Part of that philosophy has been where the success of the freshmen duo of Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson hasn’t been hard to comprehend. The other part is where it sometimes can fall apart without true post-up options to turn to.
The wealth of talent across the board though is what makes the Volunteers exactly the team you wouldn’t want to see in your bracket. Oregon transfer Victor Bailey Jr. has been the deadeye shooting court-spacer he was expected to become and international man of mystery Yves Pons is a complete handful on both ends of the floor.
And that’s not even counting Santiago Vescovi, who at times down the stretch was arguably their best player last season and is now the 6th leading scorer on a team that just narrowly missed out on an SEC title. It leaves you to wonder just how Oregon State can really pull off the upset.
In upsets, three things usually go the winning teams way.
One is a sporadic run that cripples the other team’s comfort. Maybe no team in the field of 68 is more prone to these type of letdowns, as the Volunteers have been their own worst enemy all season long. Through the midst of the season, it looked like Barnes’ boys wouldn’t be able to get out of the SEC alive with their offensive issues. They went through and 8-7 stretch which almost buried their path to an NCAA Tournament seeding hopes all together if not for the resilience of this team.
Two, a player usually has to have an out of body experience and with the way that Warith Alatishe or even Jarod Lucas has been playing for Oregon State, that’s a very real possibility. Alatishe has been a near-nightly double-double threat with his ability to clean up around the rim and attack the offensive glass and Lucas’ improvement in the shooting department on the offensive end can’t be overlooked. Both are efficiency at it’s finest.
And three, the favorited team - Tennessee in this case - needs to be a group that’s quite susceptible to letting teams hang around. As we learned yesterday in our “Q&A with Rocky Top Talk”, the Volunteers have made an issue of not shutting the door on foes, increasingly so in big-game scenarios.
Of all the five-seeds in the field, Oregon State is probably just happy they didn’t draw Villanova or Creighton (the other 5 seed is Colorado) and that they have a puncher’s chance against a rollercoaster Tennessee roster. This is a Volunteers group prone to upsets an a Beavers group trying to keep this miracle run going.
Oh yeah, and you never know what may happen in the absolute chaos that is March Madness.
- Date: Friday, March 19th
- Time: 1:30 PM PT
- Location: Bankers Life Fieldhouse (Indianapolis, Indiana)
- Coverage: TNT