In the midst of a five-game losing streak that is part of a larger trend of 13 losses in their last 16 games, the Washington State Cougars probably see a crack of hope in breaking this streak against tonight’s opponent, the Oregon State Beavers.
Tip off is at 7:30 p.m. from Gill Coliseum in Corvallis. The game will be broadcast on Pac-12 Networks, and you can also find it streaming online via Pac-12.com or the Pac-12 app.
Wayne Tinkle’s crew isn’t great. The Beavers are 11-11 overall and just 3-7 in the Pac-12. They’ve lost four games in a row, the most recent of which was a dreadful performance in Berkeley against the California Golden Bears, who can only be described as terrible.
That said, the Beavers’ record is probably a little misleading, at least for the purposes of comparing them to the Cougs. Of their seven losses in league play, three of them have been by four points or less, including losses to Utah and Arizona State. They also feature a home victory over UCLA.
As you probably already know, of the Cougars’ nine Pac-12 losses, the closest they’ve come in defeat was a five-point loss to UW at home; all the other losses have been by at least nine points.
Then there’s this: WSU has played five road games, lost all five, and lost them by an average of 14.4 points.
The point? Despite not having a much more impressive record, the Beavers have been much more competitive against similar competition, and the Cougs have been bad on the road. Which more or less explains why kenpom.com forecasts the game as one the Cougs would only win about three out of every 10 times, and why the Beavers are nine-point favorites in Vegas. (Kenpom.com forecasts a seven-point margin in favor of OSU.)
The Cougs’ biggest challenge (other than the game being on the road) is that the Beavers have a really nice defense — they’re fourth-best in the Pac-12 in efficiency since league play started, allowing just 1.03 points per possession. Their shot defense is excellent — they’re second in the conference defending twos — and they rebound really well.
Their one “weakness” is putting teams on the free throw line. I put “weakness” in quotations because it’s not really one; they defend the paint vigorously, refusing to give up open looks — hence, the excellent two-point defense. And if you happen to get by them, they’re going to hit you rather than let you have an open layup.
OSU defends every inch of the floor around the basket. Basically, they’re the anti-Cougs.
That might be good news for a team that relentlessly attacks the paint, but ... we don’t. We shoot tons of threes. And when we do attack the paint, we’re not good at making shots, and we’re the worst team in the conference at drawing fouls.
In short, there’s a really good chance this is a very bad matchup that results in some exceptionally ugly offense for us.
On the other end? OSU’s offense is bad, so maybe there’s some hope this gets held down into a low-scoring affair. The thing the Beavers do best is offensive rebound — 6-10 center Drew Eubanks is best at it, but it’s definitely a team effort — and the Cougs are usually at least competent on the defensive glass when they’re not completely overmatched physically.
Wayne’s son Tres Tinkle is the center of the Beavers’ offense; he’ll be on the floor for about 35 minutes and he’ll take about a quarter of OSU’s shots. He’s efficient with them, too, making 54 percent of his twos and 34 percent of his threes. He also draws a ton of fouls, then makes 87 percent of his free throws.
He’s a very good player who is going to be a very tough matchup for (probably) Robert Franks. Given Franks’ propensity to get into foul trouble, this is another thing to keep a close eye on. Maybe Kent will put Drick Bernstine on Tinkle and take his chances with Franks on Eubanks? That’s going to be interesting.
Or: Maybe Kent whips out his zone and dares the Beavers to shoot from three, where they are generally reluctant to shoot because they’re not very good at making them. (Although, they’ve been better in Pac-12 play.) If I were coaching, that’s what I’d probably do, even though it likely would mean giving up a bunch of offensive boards.
Of course, that would require some game plan creativity ...