Oregon State head coach Wayne Tinkle said the Beavers are going into the Pac-12 Tournament with "a clean slate."
That may be true, but the other slate was pretty dirty. OSU, the 12th and bottom seed, opens the tournament Wednesday afternoon against Cal, and the Bears have to like their chances.
Oregon State (5-26, 1-17 Pac-12) was two points away from being the first team in nine years to go winless in conference (Pac-10, Pac-12) play. They pulled a 68-67 upset over Utah on Feb. 19.
The Beavers, who already have lost to Cal twice this year, have not won a game this season outside their home court and are last in the league in scoring (68.2 ppg) and scoring margin (-9.5ppg). Their odds of winning this tournament are set at 250-1 by the Las Vegas betting site Bovada. That makes the Beavers the longest shot of any Division I team in its respective tournament.
"I've seen some nutty stuff happen in the postseason," Tinkle said, hopefully.
Oregon State, coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance last year, lost considerable talent from that team including stellar guard Gary Payton, Jr. They soon lost even more as senior Malcolm Duvivier left the program for personal reasons, and Tres Tinkle, the coach's son who was averaging 20 points a game, went down with a wrist injury six games in and hasn't been on the court since.
"They have talent," said Cal coach Cuonzo Martin, whose team has won four straight against OSU. "They still have a lot to play for and they have a great future ahead of them as a program. When your best player is out all season that's tough on a team. What it does is gives the young guys more game reps under their belt. More opportunities."
One of those young guys is guard Stephen Thompson, who averages 16.0 points per game and was the hero of that lone conference victory, hitting two free throws in the final seconds.
"He's probably the craftiest guy in our league as far as being sneaky with his floaters around the rim. He can go left or right," Martin said of Thompson, who stands 6-4. "He shoots the three-ball. He scores in a variety of ways. He's really improved his game coming off the ball screen, and that's another dimension you have to defend. He can catch and shoot threes, he scores in transition. He's a guy that can make shots when the game is on the line. He puts pressure on your defense from start to finish."
Senior Jabari Bird, who is now in the final games of his Cal career, will probably draw the defensive assignment on Thompson.
"Whoever defends him has to do a great job," Martin said. "I think Jabari has done a good job defending him with some help from other guys."
Thompson scored 19 in the first meeting between the two teams, a 69-58 decision in Corvallis. But he was held to 12 points, 4-for-12 from the field, 0-for-6 from beyond the three point line, when the Bears routed the Beavers, 76-46, in Berkeley.
Down low the Beavers start two big men, who play a more conventional back-to-the basket style than many of the tall men in the conference do. Unlike for example Colorado's Kyle Kuzma and Arizona's Lauri Markkanen, the Beavers' Drew Eubanks and Gligorij Rakocevic seldom venture too far from the basket on offense. In fact the next three-point shot Eubanks takes will be his first of the year.
The 6-10 Eubanks has become OSU's best player in Tinkle's absence, he averages 14.7 points and 8.45 rebounds a game and is the only Beaver to appear in all 31 games.
Radocevic, 6-11, 255, is improving and gives other teams someone else to think about on the block. After coming off the bench early in the year, he has started the last 13 games. In that stretch he is 6.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and 26.7 minutes. He averaged 2.7 points, 2.5 rebounds and 11.9 minutes in the first 18 games as a reserve.
"What he's doing now is being more aggressive," Martin said of Radocevic. I don't know too many guys stronger than he is in this league. He can score around the rim."
Having to deal with more traditional front-court players is a help to the Bears, who have two of their own in Kameron Rooks and Kingsley Okoroh. Martin said the two, who usually alternate with one another, might see the floor at the same time against OSU.
"We did it against them the second time we played," Martin said.
Knowing his team has to win this game and probably two more on consecutive days to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament, Martin might get his starters as much rest as he can >Wednesday. For the Bears to actually win the Pac-12 tourney championship would require four wins in four days.
"In order to be successful, four games in four nights you've got to have bench production, you've got to have fresh legs," Martin said. That probably means increased playing time for the likes of Don Coleman, Stephen Domingo, Roger Moute a Bidas and Roman Davis.
Martin's name has surfaced in connection with coaching vacancies at Missouri and Illinois. He was dismissive of the rumors during a conference call, but short of an outright denial.
"I work for Cal, that's the thing for me," he said. "My job is to do my job, and that's the most important thing for me."
- Cal leads the overall series 82-66.
- When the teams last played on Feb. 24 Tinkle was looking for his 200th coaching victory. He still is.
- This is Oregon State's second time as a No, 12 seed in the Pac-12 tournament. In 2013 the No. 12 Beavers lost to Colorado.
- Twelve seeds are 1-5 overall. In 2015 USC upset Arizona State as a 12th seed.
- When Cal and Oregon State last met on March 24, it was OSU's fourth game in eight days.
- OSU guards Thompson, JaQuori Mclaughin and Kendal Manuel are shooting just a combined 30.8 percent from the field over the last three games.