Craig Robinson’s Oregon State Beavers were one of the pleasant surprises of the non-conference portion of the schedule last season, winning ten of their first 12 games heading into their Pac-12 opener at Washington.
But they were unable to sustain that momentum in conference play, dropping five of their first six Pac-12 games and going through another five-game losing streak and finishing 7-11 in league play.
The Beavers were able to knock off the regular season champion Huskies in the Pac-12 quarters and win two games in the CBI tournament.
But it can be argued that a team that featured wing Jared Cunningham and finished 10th nationally in scoring left some things on the table.
In the second day of their 11-day trip to France and Spain, the question now is whether or not the Beavers can use this trip as a springboard toward bigger and better things in 2012-13.
Cunningham’s now in the NBA but Oregon State returns talented players such as guards Roberto Nelson and Ahmad Starks in addition to forwards Joe Burton and Devon Collier.
“We have to get over the psychological effect of Jared not being here,” Robinson said. “I think physically and from a scoring standpoint, we’ve got quite a bit coming back … when you lose a team leader, a guy who is a pro and such a great defender, you have to get past the mental aspect of losing him.”
Add in freshmen Langston Morris-Walker, Jarmal Reid and Victor Robbins, not to mention sophomore big man Daniel Gomis (missed last season with a broken leg) and the pieces are there for the Beavers to be competitive.
“I think we look really good going into Europe,” OSU guard Roberto Nelson said. “The guys are playing really well and we’re really excited and everyone’s just trying to keep themselves in good shape and stay injury free and I think everybody’s doing that so far and we just look really good going into Europe.”
But in order to do so the Beavers have to perform better on the defensive end of the floor.
While Oregon State ranked among the best offensive teams in the Pac-12 last season that wasn’t the case on the other end despite the presence of Cunningham, who was a Pac-12 All-Defensive Team selection.
Oregon State was 12th in scoring defense (72.7 ppg allowed) and 11th in both field goal (45.5%) and three-point (38.8%) percentage defense.
And their defensive efficiency of 100.7 ranked ninth in the conference according to kenpom.com (subscription required).
(To be fair, they did average more than 71 possessions per game, tops in the Pac-12.)
With the number of contributors back in Corvallis, not to mention talented newcomers who are capable of working their way into the rotation, this is the deepest team of the Robinson regime.
“From a depth standpoint we’re in much better shape than we’ve ever been since I’ve been here.”
Whether or not they can take advantage of the depth will depend on their work without the basketball in their possession, and they can take that first step against some tough competition this week.