18 November 2010
Last season, the Beavers lost to Seattle University in Corvallis by an astonishing margin, 99-48. The Beavers had a chance for redemption on Wednesday in Seattle, but once again gave up too many points to a speedy Redhawks team, falling 83-80 after leading by a dozen midway through the second half.
Perhaps this is improvement against a team that has the Beavers' number. But the Beavers are a bigger, more talented team than the Redhawks, and, in a way, we saw this one coming. OSU senior guard Calvin Haynes had the ball knocked away from him in the final seconds of the game; he finished with 18 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assist, but he couldn't get up the final shot that may have sent the game to overtime.
But that last play was merely the last chance to catch up. The Beavers' problem is defense. Coach Craig Robinson's 1-3-1 pressure zone allowed 29 three-point attempts in an exhibition game against Western Oregon on Nov. 9 (WOU only hit 6) and the University of Texas Arlington was 7-16 from downtown against the Beavers Nov. 14. OSU won both games easily after giving up points early.
Against Seattle, the Beavers immediately allowed two threes to freshman gunner Sterling Carter, who finished the game 5-8 from downtown with 20 points. To Robinson's credit, the Beavers moved away from using the 1-3-1 exclusively and moved to a 2-3 half court zone. The result? The Beavers were out-rebounded in this game, 45-40, and on several occasions four defenders were moving toward the Seattle shooter, leaving only one man to attempt to grab the defensive rebound. Simply stated, the Beavers alternated between press 1-3-1 and a sit-back 2-3 zone and got blitzed all night by the Redhawks.
There are several reasons why the 1-3-1 is leaving the Beavers exposed right now. First, Seth Tarver is gone. The athletic wing man was the point man in the 1-3-1. He was big, long, fast, quick, strong -- a perfect defender in this system. Guard Jared Cunningham said last month that several Beavers were in competition for the 1-3-1 point position -- the lead man who pressures the ball and sets up traps -- and practices were competitive in that regard. At that point, Cunningham didn't know if he or another player would be that point man to replace Tarver. Robinson chose length over speed. Omari Johnson, the lanky 6-9 senior forward, serves as a primary point man in the 1-3-1 right now. The Beavers also have run 6-9 junior forward Kevin McShane at that defensive spot. Neither McShane or Johnson are among the fastest, quickest Beavers, but they have long frames and, to date, they've hustled and caused some problems for opposing guards at times. They alter angles and shrink passing lanes with their size. It remains to be seen if Johnson and McShane are the best players to lead the 1-3-1, though.
Additionally, as is the case for any team's zone defense, good skip passes and quick guards are causing problems for the Beavers. If a point guard gets beyond the initial trap just inside half court, shooters may be open for corner threes, or a 2-on-1 situation often exists in the lane. Seattle, Texas-Arlington, and Western Oregon came out understanding how to break the 1-3-1 and put points on the board early against the Beavers. It's not rocket science. It's not even complicated basketball.
Why not move to man-to-man defense? The Beavers are bigger and faster than a team like Seattle, so matchups shouldn't be a problem. I'd like to see Robinson call man-to-man defense from time to time, but there are reasons why he might be stubborn about his zones at this point in the season. If the Beavers want to get better at the 1-3-1, they'll need to use it against smaller teams in non-conference play, hopefully honing defensive positions and addressing holes in the zone. When Pac-10 play begins Dec. 30 against Arizona State, the Beavers will need effective zones, and they'll also likely need to go man-to-man periodically. The 1-3-1 must and can create turnovers. It needs to improve, and moving away from it to slow down Seattle or some small Texas school could be called shortsighted.
Furthermore, the Beavers are deeper in the backcourt than they are up front this year. A zone protects the basket, protects post players from drawing fouls. The Beavers have a problem if bigs Joe Burton and Angus Brandt find themselves in foul trouble regularly, whereas if guards and forwards are tired or get into foul trouble from all the trapping and sprinting around in the 1-3-1, there are options on the bench this season. Burton and Brandt are absolutely critical to the success of this team because of their ability to rebound, pass, and score from many spots on the floor. (It was good to see young 6-10 Eric Moreland looking aggressive in limited time against Seattle, by the way.)
All of this is to say, yeah, we suspected Seattle might put up 83 on the Beavers if Robinson chose to stay committed to his zone defenses. He did, and the Beavers suffered their first loss of the season for it. Live by the zone, die by the zone. For now.
• Jared Cunningham was electric against Seattle, leading the Beavers with 19 points and 5 steals. He hit two early threes but struggled from the free throw line, finishing 3-8 at the stripe.
• After setting several career highs against Texas-Arlington, Angus Brandt played only 14 minutes in Seattle. He scored 4 points and grabbed just 1 rebound.
• Omari Johnson scored 15 points and grabbed a team-high 13 rebounds, most of which came in the first half.
• OSU faces Texas Southern on Sunday, Nov. 21 in Corvallis, when they'll feature a unique look to honor Native American culture.
photo: Seattle Times
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