From Elite Eight to eight consecutive losses?
That’s where Oregon State is headed if the Beavers can’t get things turned around this week when they open Pac-12 play Thursday at California.
OSU (1-6) has dropped six consecutive games following an 0-2 trip in Florida at the Emerald Coast Classic. It’s hardly a time to test Pac-12 competition, but the schedule says go as the Beavers have California, then play host to 11th-ranked Arizona at 1 p.m. Sunday.
On the other hand, maybe it’s the clean slate the Beavers need right now.
“We’re hoping the urgency that we’ve been looking for, across the board, will maybe hit home now we’re going into conference play,” Oregon State coach Wayne Tinkle said.
Tinkle felt the outset of this season would be challenging, given the roster turnover and the loss of the team’s key leadership in Ethan Thompson and Zach Reichle. Tinkle said the coaching staff repeatedly made offseason points to the team veterans that “this was a new team, and we were going to have to stay hungry and forge our own identity. We’ve been slapped in the face a little bit.”
The Beavers aren’t that far away from turning it around in Tinkle’s mind. Four of the six losses were by margins of six points or fewer, including back-to-back one-point defeats. On the bright side, the OSU coach says opponents have taken only two more shots than the Beavers, “so it’s not like we’re getting killed on the glass.” OSU’s defensive three-point shooting percentage is close to the program’s long-term average.
But there’s no sugarcoating the offense.
“We’re not shooting the damn ball,” Tinkle said.
That’s an understatement. Oregon State’s three-point shooting percentage of .288 ranks No. 300 nationally. The 5.1 made threes per game, even worse at No. 326. Free throws, a terrible .672 percentage, is No. 250. The overall shooting percentage of .429 is No. 230.
Players OSU had counted upon to hit three-pointers have flopped early this season. Tre Williams is 1 of 10, Dashawn Davis 1 of 8, Gianni Hunt, 3 of 20. Even the team’s best perimeter shooter, Jarod Lucas, is hardly lighting it up at 15 of 41.
“I’ve got to do a better job getting our guys more confident,” Tinkle said. “We’re rushing a couple a game, but it’s not like we’re jacking up horrendous shots. We’re not shooting them confidently.”
Improving the inside game could jump-start the threes. Tinkle said the games in which OSU has had success scoring in the paint are the ones in which the team has had its best three-point shooting as well.
One factor hurting OSU’s offense is Roman Silva’s troublesome knee. The 7-foot-1 senior has struggled this season, playing an average of 11 minutes a game. Without his inside offense, opponents haven’t had to protect the middle with as much focus and, instead, can key on the perimeter.
“It would make a huge difference,” Tinkle said of Silva’s presence.
Can Oregon State get it going and not have it turn into a repeat of 2020-21, when nonconference put the team in such a hole it needed a miracle finish to reach the NCAA Tournament?
“I still like this team’s potential,” Tinkle said. “We have some things we need to handle that are more about the way we do things as Beavers before we can iron out all the X-and-O stuff.”
One issue is trying to figure out how to meld seven new players with seven returnees. On multiple occasions nine or more players logged double-digit minutes. That’s going to change.
Tinkle said he’s not down on the team.
“We are closer. We have played some good basketball. But we’ve had a couple spurts in each game that really cost us,” Tinkle said. “We’ve got to eliminate that. By making sure everybody understands what a privilege it is to wear that uniform, I think we’ll get there pretty quickly.”