The progress Oregon State believes it has made on the defensive end will be revealed soon.
The Beavers came away from last Friday’s men’s basketball exhibition against Pacific with areas of needed improvement. This Friday, the regular season begins against Southern Utah at Gill Coliseum.
It’s a season of high hopes following a season of disappointment. Coaches and players agree the boundary between success and failure for this year’s team could be determined on the defensive end.
“I don’t think scoring the ball is an issue of ours, but we’ll beat ourselves if we can’t defend,” said senior forward Seth Berger.
Coach Wayne Tinkle, in his fourth season, says this year’s squad is capable of getting to where it needs to be to find success.
He points to his first two Oregon State teams — including 2015-16, which reached the NCAA tournament — as groups that had the defensive prowess that helped them break through.
“They just had a little more experience and maturity,” Tinkle said. “As we move forward and we bring those things out with some of these guys, I’ve got a confident feeling we’ll be able to do the same.”
In the exhibition, a 91-69 OSU win, Pacific worked the ball for open 3-pointers and shot 12 of 25 from beyond the arc. The Beavers also gave up 17 defensive rebounds.
Junior guard Stevie Thompson said it was the result of a combination of lacking effort and energy, knowing the other team’s personnel and not paying better attention to details.
“We’ve been progressing in that these past few days and hopefully we can use it in the game tomorrow,” Thompson said before Thursday’s practice.
The Beavers will likely be without junior Gligorije Rakocevic for Friday’s game. Rakocevic broke his nose in practice Sunday, Tinkle said, and is doubtful to play.
Oregon State is already thin up front.
Sophomore power forward Ben Kone is possibly out until early December as he recovers from a knee injury.
Left to play the center and power forward positions are juniors Drew Eubanks, redshirt sophomore Tres Tinkle, Berger and freshman Alfred Hollins. Tinkle and Hollins are more natural small forwards but are likely to see time in the next month at power forward. Freshman forward Isaac Barnes could redshirt.
A talented freshman class plus six returners give the team 10 players who could fill either of the two guard spots or small forward, including Tinkle and Hollins.
Freshman guard Ethan Thompson, Stevie's brother and a highly regarded recruit, started the exhibition alongside his brother, Tinkle, Eubanks and sophomore guard Kendal Manuel. Sophomore guard JaQuori McLaughlin is also a potential starter.
Four games in Spain in August, as well as 10 practices at home leading up to the trip, allowed the Beavers to build chemistry with so many new pieces.
“I feel like it helped us a lot just because we’ve been going a lot longer,” Eubanks said. “The younger guys, they didn’t have to rush to understand a lot of things as quickly because we had more time together.”
Coach Tinkle said he likes the chemistry but is still looking for more leadership among the players when it comes to making sure everyone is giving the effort that’s expected.
Offensively, Tinkle said he’s comfortable with what the team has and was pleased to see his team score 91 points in the exhibition despite shooting 47.8 percent from the floor and 26.3 percent (5 of 19) on 3-pointers.
“I like where our shots are coming from,” the coach said. “I like our attention to the balance of inside and out, not just settling for jumpers, but we’ve got to be able to make shots. We know we’ve got shooters. It’s just a matter of getting them going a little bit.”
A manageable nonconference slate has the Beavers set up to reach the postseason if they’re able to at least finish in the middle of what will be a competitive Pac-12 Conference.
Of the 10 known opponents, none finished last season among the top 100 of the NCAA’s ratings percentage index, or RPI.
OSU opens the eight-team AdvoCare Invitational against St. John’s (148 RPI last year) and will then face Missouri (253) or Long Beach State (213). The Beavers and Long Beach meet in Gill on Nov. 18.
Oregon State will end the tournament against a team on the other side of the bracket. Two of those four teams — West Virginia and Central Florida — were in last year’s RPI top 100.
The Beavers then open conference play with home games against Colorado and Utah, two reloading teams, and Oregon, fielding a mostly new roster following a Final Four run.