In his first year as the head coach of the Oregon State men’s basketball team, the 2008-2009 season, Craig Robinson went 18-18 overall and 7-11 in conference. After an invite to the College Basketball Invitational we went all the way to eventually beat the UTEP Miners and bring home the crystal bowl. Robinson took Jay John recruits and got them to shoot almost 10% better from the floor and play with much more passion and belief as a team. It was a good start to Robinson’s OSU career. I remember more than a few days of being very happy that we were breaking a bunch of losing streaks and upsetting some of the stronger Pac-10 teams even on their own courts.
The following season had almost as many highlights during the Pac-10 schedule but they didn’t make any noise in the Pac-10 tourney and seemed to not have as much focus or passion at the end of the season. A CBI invite to defend our prior title seemed like it was a gift helped by Robinson’s brother-in-law being the leader of the free world. Not that there is anything wrong with that. It did prove to be a quick exit for OSU though and they finished the season 14-18 and 8-10 in conference.
Then there was last year. This past season was a frustrating one for the Oregon State Beavers basketball team. It was a year of some regression. The loss of Seth Tarver seemed to affect the feisty perimeter defense and the 1-3-1 defense when used was often shredded as the 3 ball went in alot against the Beavs. The shots were just not contested enough considering the 3 point line is not that difficult at the NCAA level. There seemed to be chemistry issues for most of the season as the seniors started to get less time for the freshman to get more experience. It was a tough balance to strike and, even if it was the right decision to make, the results weren’t there. The team finished 10-19 with a 5-13 conference record.
So the question is how can we get things turned around and capture lightning in a bottle again in Corvallis like we last had during the era in the late 80s-1990 of the great Gary Payton. Payton’s teams went to 3 NCAA tourneys and an NIT appearance was the low mark. Gary was even the MVP of the Far West Classic three times. Perhaps Robinson should consider trying to reintroduce this tournament which allowed Portland metro area based fans an early chance to get plugged into the team and be sure to follow them all season. Jim Anderson was the head coach for Payton’s final season and without him he was not near as effective as Ralph Miller’s
teams. Brent Barry kept things going for awhile but it was not enough. My personal favorite memory in Gill actually was a jam where Brent Barry launched and stepped off a guy’s chest to elevate another 5 inches and do a tomahawk poster-worthy jam on some unexpecting defender. Ralph Miller took the team to among the most elite in the nation for stretches. He was hired in 1970 and in 19 seasons with the Beavs only had two losing seasons. His 1980-82 teams went 26-4, 26-2 and 25-5 and were ranked among the top in the nation. The 1982 team made the Eilte 8. He finished strong as well with a 22-8 record in 1989.
So how can we try to get back to anywhere near these heights again? Can Craig find some magic and have his best teams yet? It is clear that players like Jared Cunningham, Devon Collier and Roberto Nelson have talent, but the team as a whole never found a great cohesiveness on the floor. Nelson in particular seemed to only play well for flashes. We do get to see UTEP transfer Eric Moreland and, cross your fingers, Rhys Murphy this year. Ahmad Starks also showed he is capable of finding his touch and being a pretty reliable jump shooter. Robinson appears able to recruit well but it is time for his system and ability to consistently build team chemistry to prove themselves. I am not sold yet on his system just because I have seen players make too many bad passes and opposing teams get too many good looks on offense. It can work, but at times it doesn’t seem like the way the players want to play and I am not sure that it maximizes the potential of our players.
So I want to get your opinion. Craig Robinson signed an extension after the season to be the head coach through 2016. How confident are you that we will atleast make the NIT a couple times during that window? Do you feel he can break us through to the NCAA tourney again? I am optimistic we can make atleast one NIT appearance but it is hard for me to claim more than that at this point. Ralph Miller’s teams were known as the Orange Express, and nothing would cheer Beaver Nation up more than flirting with a return to the NCAA tournament. I hope Craig somehow can get the team to reach deep and return some glory to what was once a strong tradition of great basketball
at Oregon State.
The planned basketball practice facility, modeled after the University of Florida one, will be a welcome and needed addition for the program. In the meantime, we can only hope Craig Robinson is working his beaver tail off figuring out how to reach new heights for the recent history of the program. Craig is right that a new culture with expectations for winning has to be built. It still remains to be seen, however, if Robinson can bring that level of high confidence and achievement back to the OSU program.