It all comes down to this for the Oregon State men’s basketball team: Beat Arizona State tonight in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament and advance to the NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday. If the Beavers lose to the Sun Devils, it’s very possible they won’t get the school’s first invite to March Madness since 1990.
Tonight in Las Vegas, the moment of truth arrives for senior Gary Payton II and his talented group of freshmen teammates. It’s what they’ve been working toward all season. Forget Payton’s selection as the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. Ignore Tres Tinkle being named to the conference’s All-Freshman team as an honorable mention. It’s win-or-go-home time for the Oregon State men, even though unfortunately Tinkle is questionable for the game with a foot injury suffered last week in practice.
The Beavers are the consensus pick to win the game tonight, based on overall season statistical metrics. However, we all remember how Oregon State lost to ASU in the regular-season matchup between the two teams in Tempe, AZ. That was a ridiculous moment in the season for the Beavers, perhaps even the low point. We’ve seen OSU fight back since then to get to where the team is now.
It’s going to be a tough fight tonight, as the Sun Devils (15-16) want to get any postseason invite they can. The 18-11 Beavers are favored by 2.5 points and have the edge on the money line (-149) as well for those that seek such information. In the end, these are the five things the OSU men need to do to win tonight:
- Win the shooting percentage battle by five points: For the season, the Beavers have shot 44.2 percent from the floor and the Sun Devils have made 41.7 percent of their shots. That gap needs to double in this game, as generally, the team that shoots better from the floor wins the game. OSU has an edge there already, but they need to widen the margin to ensure victory under higher expectations now and the pressure of the moment.
- Make 75 percent of free-throw attempts: Forget the Curtain of Distraction nonsense. OSU has struggled with this for most of the season. Ranked 297th out of 346 teams with just a 66.3-percent conversion rate here, the Beavers are just terrible. Even Payton struggles at the line, hitting a mere 63.2 percent. They don’t call these “free throws” for nothing. If you can’t make these shots, you deserve to lose. Oregon State must nail their FTAs in this game, period.
- Out-rebound ASU: The Sun Devils average 2.2 more rebounds per game than the Beavers do, and this will have to change tonight. Payton—the point guard—leads the team in rebounding (7.6 per game), which is just silly. If 6’10” forwards Olaf Schaftenaar and Drew Eubanks can’t flex some muscle inside, OSU is going nowhere fast. Eubanks is a freshman that should be following Payton’s example when it comes to hustling, and Schaftenaar is a senior that should know better by now how to grab a board when it matters.
- Limit turnovers: The Beavers are 44th in the country when it comes to turnover margin, and the Sun Devils are 122nd. That’s not a huge gap, in truth, so OSU needs to take care of the ball and not make any stupid mistakes (at least more than necessary). Look for the Beavers to keep the ball in Payton’s hands as much as possible in both transition and the half-court sets in order to limit turnovers.
- Play 40 minutes: This should go without saying, but we’ve seen too many lapses during games this season to trust the team now. We’ve discussed the inexplicable slow starts at Oregon and at USC here recently. We also saw what happened at UCLA, where the Beavers almost kicked away a huge lead late in the game. The lapses must not happen if OSU wants to beat ASU tonight. For 40 minutes, every player on the floor has to be focused and at his best, period.
If most of these factors go the Beavers’ way, then there will be much happiness in Corvallis tonight. If the game goes south for Oregon State, it’s going to be a long offseason for the freshmen—and a hole in Payton’s soul he will never be able to fill.