For many years recently, the Oregon State men’s basketball team was more famous because of its coach than its on-the-court play. Craig Robinson may have been U.S. President Barrack Obama’s brother-in-law, but he couldn’t get the Beavers to the NCAA Tournament in six seasons, posting a 94-105 record. Last year, Wayne Tinkle took over and led OSU to a 17-14 record, but a first-round loss in the Pac-12 Conference Tournament kept the Beavers on the March Madness outskirts once again.
That should change in 2015-16, and it’s been a whopping 25 years since Oregon State played in the NCAAs. After making the Big Dance eight times in an 11-season stretch from 1980 to 1990, it’s been a barren existence in Corvallis for men’s hoops. Tinkle has Gary Payton II to lead the school to places it hasn’t been since the other Gary Payton was playing ball here, and there is a good mix of returning players and newcomers to put this team in the top half of the Pac-12 Conference. In the end, that will be enough to get Oregon State back to the NCAA Tournament come March.
Sports Illustrated claimed the Beavers have “the best recruiting class in program history” entering play this year, and that’s a big statement considering the elder Payton’s status as an NBA legend—not to mention all the years Ralph Miller led the Oregon State men to very high Associated Press poll rankings (including the No. 1 rank during the 1980-81 season, where the Beavers finished No. 2 after finishing 26-2 overall).
The younger Payton returns for his senior season, after averaging 13.4 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists last year. Look for him to be more of a shooting guard this year as junior point guard Malcolm Duvivier asserts himself a bit more as the “quarterback” of the team. Last year, Duvivier averaged 10.7 points, 3.0 boards and 3.5 dimes, giving the Beavers one of the better backcourts in the conference. Even so, Oregon State finished just 8-10 in league games last year and had that upset loss to the Colorado Buffaloes in the conference tourney.
Senior Langston Morris-Walker will see more time at small forward this year, as a result of the backcourt shift above, rather than shooting guard. Last season, he put numbers (9.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.4 assists) he should be able to improve upon this season. The returning big men inside—senior center Olaf Schaftenaar (7.8 points and 3.3 boards per game in 2014-15) and senior forward Jarmal Reid (8.3 points and 2.7 rebounds)—also must improve as seniors to put this team right in the thick of the NCAA chase. The front-court rebounding on the offensive glass, especially, will have to be better.
Those new additions touted by SI include shooting guard Stevie Thompson (namesake son of an OSU assistant coach) and small forward Tres Tinkle (the head coach’s son). Thompson can spell Payton II when the senior leader needs a rest, as he can’t realistically play all 40 minutes of every game this year, while Tinkle can help with the rebounding when he’s in the game. That’s a seven-deep rotation that can stay fresh, and if freshman twin towers Drew Eubanks and Gligorije Rakocevic can provide quality depth in the front court, then suddenly the Beavers can go nine-deep and really hang with most of the top teams in the Pac-12.
Two other freshman guards—Derrick Bruce and Kendal Manuel—will provide the foundation for the future of Oregon State basketball when Payton II and Morris-Walker are gone in 2016-17. Maybe Sports Illustrated was correct: The Beavers could be at the start of something amazing here under Tinkle. Only time will tell.
Oregon State kicks off its season on November 14 with a 4:30 p.m. game at Gill Coliseum against Northwest Christian. If the Beavers can get through their out-of-conference schedule with just two losses (Kansas, Tulsa), it will be a good sign for things to come in the Pac-12 season. Even a .500 finish in league play would leave OSU with a 18-11 recording heading into the conference tourney, and a solid run there can land the team in the NCAAs.