In some ways, tonight's 7:36 p.m. PST game at Oregon State is the reverse image of the last game against USC. No, I am not comparing used prophylactics to semi-aquatic rodents but rather basketball teams. Just as USC was a good defensive team but terrible on offense, Oregon State is terrible on defense but good on offense. However, Oregon State has more talent than USC in one player alone: Jared Cunningham. That talent is tempered by an Oregon State coach whose greatest accomplishment remains his sister's marriage.
This game is a must win and a "should" win. But it will be an interesting test. Oregon's shooting guard Jared Cunningham is such a great talent, that even Coach Robinson can't screw him up too much. Cunningham leads the conference in scoring by a small margin but leads the conference in free throw attempts by a large margin. To put it in perspective Jared Cunningham has more free throw attempts than UCLA's top two players combined. In fact Cunningham has more free throw makes by 40 than the next nearest player in the conference. Tyler Lamb fouled out against USC and may not be able to make it to the end of this game as he will be assigned to guarding Cunningham. The SPTRs tend to favor the home team and if Cunningham goes to the line a dozen times, the Bruins may literally run out of guards and/or have to play David Wear at small forward (not by choice).
Oregon State's backcourt is impressive offensively as PG and primary three point threat Ahmad Starks is not too shabby either:
In order to do so, they will have to contain Jared Cunningham, the leading scorer in the conference at 17.6 points a game, and Ahmad Starks, who is 12th in the league with 13.7 points per game. In conference games, Cunningham and Starks are averaging 19 and 16.2 points per game, respectively, to rank first and fourth.
"This is going to be really challenging," said coach Ben Howland, whose team has won 13 consecutive games against Oregon State. "They have really good guards, I'm telling you. Starks and Cunningham are really good."
The Beavers (11-7, 1-5 Pac-12) have lost five out of six conference games, but are the only conference team to have defeated California and also had an overtime victory against Texas earlier this season. Oregon State is 8-2 at home this season.
As far as the rest of the team, Bruin Report Online has an interesting preview:
With teams starting to key on shutting down Cunningham and, to a certain extent, Starks, sophomore Devon Collier (6'8" 215 lbs.) has been stepping up. He's coming off a 21-point effort at Arizona State last weekend. Because of the size of the other two OSU starters in the post, Collier creates a massive match-up issue for the Bruins. Collier is strictly an inside player, which means that one of the Bruin posts is going to have to take him if Howland decides to play man-to-man defense. However, the Beavers start two 6'10" players and, although one of them is more of a perimeter player, asking one of the Bruin guards to take one of the 6'10" Beavers is a tall order (no pun intended). Collier shoots 63% from the floor and averages 5.1 RPG. He is also a good defender, with 25 blocks and 21 steals on the season.
The two 6'10" posts are junior Angus Brandt (242 lbs.) and freshman Eric Moreland(215 lbs.). Interestingly, Moreland is the inside threat while Brandt is a good outside threat (46% on threes). While it would seem that the roles should be reversed based on their respective weight, the reality is that OSU runs the Princeton-style offense and the center, in this case Brandt, handles the ball quite a bit in the high post looking for backdoor cutters and having open looks from the three-point line as the opposing defense sags to help on those cuts. Moreland deals with things in the low post and while he doesn't have the kind of girth to deal with UCLA's post players, he has become a relatively accomplished shot blocker, having 33 on the season. He's also shooting 53% from the floor.
If one of the two posts needs to be replaced by Robinson then he will certainly call on junior Joe Burton (6'7" 280 lbs.), who has given UCLA fits in the past when OSU has the ball. Burton leads the team in assists with 58 (again, because of the nature of the offense) and has been a solid 50% shooter, even going 3-6 on the season from behind the arc. He's also the leading rebounder for the Beavers at 6.2 RPG. He will play close to 30 minutes on Thursday, with Robinson inserting him for one of Brandt or Moreland, whoever isn't cutting it.
As good as they are offense they are terrible on defense. For those of you who try to analyze defense on statistics, Oregon State presents proof that individual statistics, such as blocks or steals, do not mean much. Oregon State leads the conferences in blocked shots and steals, yet is ranked between 10-12 in other categories like defensive rebounding, three and field goal defense, scoring defense, etc. Basically Oregon State is a team that gambles a lot on defense and pays for it. They are 1-5 for a reason in conference.
The Bruin Report Online preview says the game hedges on whether Ben Howland choses man-to-man defense or zone. Zone has given some problems to Oregon State. They could well be right and I am sure they have watched Oregon State more than me. But I think it will be interesting clash on the other side of the court. How will UCLA's offense, which does not make many make turnovers (least in Pac-12), fair against OSU's defense, which is predicated on making turnovers (most in Pac-12)?
For what it is worth I think OSU's hope is in Cunningham and fouls. While UCLA's is in the "UCLA Factor" and Ben Howland as a coach. In an article mentioned in Bruin Bites and by Kingsfalife the follow quote from Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is key (emphasis mine):
"What I think I learned under Coach Howland that pays off at this level is just how to get yourself on the floor," Mbah a Moute said. "I think most Howland guys can play defense and we learn how to be tough guys. If you're tough, you can deal with coaches yelling.
"And one other thing, when I first got to college I thought, 'Gosh, we have so many plays.' We were expected to know every small detail of every play or we wouldn't play. When I got to the NBA, I couldn't believe how many guys can't remember the plays."
After a slow start against USC (as UCLA always seems to start slow), the offense was destroying USC's good defense for a long run in the first half. It was not Josh Smith overpowering people or Zeek raining down threes, it was an offense running on all cylinders dismantling a good defense. It was fun to watch. Was this a fluke? We will know tonight. But I think CBH has a team that executes his offense well, low turnovers are one example. I think against OSU they will do well because of this execution.
I think UCLA will win because UCLA's players will run plays while the Oregon State's players will just try to run. Maybe I am over valuing coaching. OSU's talented Cunningham and home court did lead to their only conference win over a good Cal team, but I think CBH will out coach Robinson and UCLA players as a whole will out play the Pac-12's best player.