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A healthy Oregon State would make the forgettable 2016-17 season a distant memory

September 25, 2017 Columns No Comments

When Oregon State signed a much-heralded class during Wayne Tinkle’s first season at the helm, there was reason for optimism once again. When they came in as freshmen and helped lead the Beavers to the NCAA Tournament earlier than most expected, that optimism had to hit a new level. Perhaps this class was going to outperform overall expectations.

Then came last season, which was one to forget and possibly make some of that optimism wane. It was like the Beavers of old as they won just one Pac-12 game, a buzzer-beater against Utah that certainly hurt the Utes’ NCAA Tournament hopes.

Oregon State was the only Pac-12 team to not win a game away from home all of last season, as they went 0-15 away from the friendly confines of Gill Coliseum (two losses were at neutral sites). But there is still hope, with a caveat that really applies to a lot of teams.

Health was a big problem for the Beavers last season. With the team already in the midst of a four-game losing streak, including a 63-60 loss to Lamar to start, Tres Tinkle was lost for the season with a broken bone in his non-shooting wrist in a game where he scored a career-high 31 points. Stephen Thompson Jr. missed six games early on, including the four straight losses, Ben Kone missed nine games early on, and big man Cheikh N’Diaye’s season was over before Pac-12 play, just as he looked ready to be more than a bit player.

This is a team with three seniors, including N’Diaye as a redshirt senior and graduate transfer Seth Berger from UMass. But the core of this team is in the sophomore and junior classes, and they will largely determine where this program goes the next couple of seasons. When taking the temperature of this program, look towards them.

It starts with the return of Tres Tinkle, as he had a fine freshman season and looked ready to be an All-Pac-12 player before getting hurt. Thompson had a nice season, but with another scoring threat next to him for defenses to worry about, he will be that much better, even if it means a drop in his scoring numbers since there won’t be the necessity to score as much. Drew Eubanks, the least-talked-about of the three from that class, made a big jump last year, aided no doubt by having the opportunity to be a bigger part of the offense, though he also made big jumps in rebounding and blocked shots, and he will be complemented up front by classmate Gligorije Rakocevic, who started 14 games last season and was third on the team in rebounding.

Right behind them is a promising sophomore class, where JaQuori McLaughlin and Kendal Manuel both made an impact right away last season. Manuel is actually a redshirt sophomore, having missed the prior season due to a broken right leg, and he started 25 games last season. With Tres Tinkle out, Manuel was their best three-point shooter at a 38.5 percent clip, while McLaughlin had a 1.5 assist-to-turnover ratio at the point. Manuel did run into off-court trouble as he was arrested following a fight with his former roommate in March, but he appears to be in the clear right now.

The Beavers’ biggest area to improve may be at the defensive end since offense should be less of a concern if Tres Tinkle is healthy. Offense was a big problem last year, as they were last in the conference in scoring and only Cal shot a lower percentage from the field, and they led the conference in turnovers by a big margin with over 15 giveaways a game. With a healthy and more experienced team, in theory turnovers will become less of an issue. At the defensive end, opponents shot over 44 percent from the field against them last season, and they were out-rebounded by almost three per game.

The non-conference schedule is quite home-heavy, with just five games coming away Corvallis. They open with visits from Wyoming and Long Beach State, then head to Orlando for the AdvoCare Invitational, where they open with St. John’s. After four straight at home that are all winnable, they take on Saint Louis in Portland and travel to Kent State in their only true road game before Pac-12 play. There, they have a nice start with the first three games coming at home.

Last season showed what injuries can do to a team, especially a season-ending one to a key player as happened to Tres Tinkle six games into the season. The Beavers made the NCAA Tournament a year earlier, which was thought to be ahead of schedule as their celebrated recruiting class had just arrived on campus. The thought was they would do it again last year, especially with the Pac-12 seeming unlikely to repeat its stellar top-to-bottom performance from the 2015-16 season. Tres Tinkle’s injury, as well as the others, did a lot to change that, as it can for many teams.

If the Beavers are healthy this season, there’s every reason to think it will look more like the 2015-16 season than last season. The optimism that was around when Wayne Tinkle’s staff signed the first big class could very well return.

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