Pac-12 Basketball: Oregon State Beavers Looking to Surpass Expectations

Max RogersCorrespondent ISeptember 25, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 10:  The Oregon State Beavers mascot performs on the court during a break in the game against the Arizona Wildcats in the quarterfinals of the 2011 Pacific Life Pac-10 Men's Basketball Tournament at Staples Center on March 10, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Could 2012-13 be the season Oregon State men’s basketball gets back in the NCAA tournament? If the Beavers football program’s performance as of late is any indication, OSU basketball should also not be so easily written off. 

OSU football has been making waves (albeit smaller than their in-state rival, the Oregon Ducks) this fall, having now beat two ranked opponents, Wisconsin and UCLA. The Beavers were not expected to do much this football season, and quite the opposite seems to be happening. Could the same end up holding true for OSU’s men’s basketball program?

While it's way too early to tell, there is some indication of just that. Oregon State has been ranking pretty low in the preseason basketball rankings. Lindy’s Sports Magazine recently picked the Beavers to come in 11th in the conference in front of Utah and behind WSU (h/t Seattle Times). Lindy’s also has UCLA, Arizona, Stanford, Cal and Washington predicted to go to the 2013 NCAA tournament.

Earlier this year the Seattle Times’ Bud Withers predicted Oregon State will finish 10th in the Pac-12, while in what may be a more realistic outlook, the Seattle Times’ Percy Allen predicted the Beavers would finish seventh in the 2012-13 season. 

The Beavers finished this past season ranked eighth in the Pac-12. OSU had a solid 21 wins in 2011-12, and fell just shy of making it to the CBI championship series after losing, 72-55, to WSU in that postseason tournament. It was the Beavers' third appearance at the invitational in the four years under their current head coach, Craig Robinson. 

Last season the Beavers’ performance showed some potential of breaking out, although it never really came to fruition. This is something that could just as easily be said about the rest of the Pac-12 Conference, which only sent two teams to the 2012 NCAA tournament. 

Early in the season the Beavers lost a one-possession game (64-62) to then No. 18 Vanderbilt, a team that would go on to pull off a rare upset against the now reigning NCAA champion, Kentucky.

While Oregon State had an unremarkable performance in regular season conference play, the Beavers did upset the 2011-12 regular season Pac-12 Conference champion, Washington, in the Pac-12 tournament. That win essentially sealed Washington’s fate as being the first major conference champion in the modern era to miss out on the NCAA tournament. 

OSU has been absent from the NCAA tournament since the college days of Gary Payton, having last made the event in 1990. Oregon State has made a total 16 appearances in the postseason event, with a 12-19 tournament win-loss record.  

The Beavers will be returning most of last year’s squad with the notable exceptions of Kevin McShane and Jared Cunningham. Cunningham went in the first round of the 2012 NBA draft. Last year Cunningham was the Beavers’ leading scorer with 17.9 points per game. He also averaged 2.8 assists and 3.8 rebounds in 34.6 minutes of play.

Following Oregon State’s European tour last month, in which the Beavers went 4-0 (averaging 82.8 points), Robinson had this to say on how they were dealing with the loss of Cunningham:

I think everyone, I have said all summer, understands that we all have to pick it up because we don't have Jared. We have to be much better on defense than what we were on this trip. I think we are getting there…It looks like we don't have as much to worry about with our offense as we thought we'd have. We had some guys step it up. Angus is scoring points, Ahmad is scoring more, Roberto is scoring more and Devon is scoring more. So all we need is four more points apiece from those guys and that's 16 points right there.

While Oregon State’s 2012-13 postseason hopes will largely depend on how the Pac-12 does overall (assuming programs like UCLA and Arizona live up to expectations, and where some other teams like Stanford, Cal, Washington and perhaps Colorado end up finishing), the Beavers have a schedule that could give them a shot at the NCAA postseason. 

Early on, OSU will be taking on some very solid programs including several teams from last year’s Big Dance.

In November, the Beavers will be playing New Mexico State in the 2K Sports Classic. As a regional host team, Oregon State will then play at Madison Square Garden in the semifinals along with Alabama, Purdue and Villanova. Later that month, the Beavers will be facing Kansas, which while highly unlikely, gives them a chance to pull off a huge upset. 

In conference play, Oregon State will have home-court advantage against Arizona on January 12, although they’ll be facing UCLA in Los Angeles the following week on January 17. 

While Oregon State should not be expected to run the Pac-12, don’t be completely shocked if the Beavers go past the low preseason expectations currently set for them. Will they make a return to the Big Dance after what is approaching a near quarter-century absence? While not by any means a certainty, it is far from being an impossible feat. And if not the NCAA tournament, the postseason NIT seems well within the Beavers' reach this year. 

As with all postseason predictions, it is really too early to tell anything. However, I would keep an eye on Oregon State, even with the loss of Cunningham: Like the football program has done this fall, OSU's men's basketball program may end up surprising quite a few people this coming season.