Worden: Examining Expectations

Josh Worden, Senior Beat Reporter

The Oregon State men’s basketball program has entered a different echelon under head coach Wayne Tinkle’s staff. That’s safe to say.

So it’s natural for hopes to rise this year for OSU to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 26 seasons.

It’s possible, definitely. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The six freshmen are ultra-talented but are still getting acclimated to college basketball, this team hasn’t proved it can play on the road and the program, as a whole, is still getting its legs established.

For a holistic perspective on the program, look no further than Dylan Livesay — a walk-on player last year who experienced Wayne Tinkle’s first season in Corvallis. Livesay still attends practices occasionally this year and knows the program inside and out.

Livesay noticed the same thing most Beaver fans took hope in for this year: with basically the same players from last year’s over-performing team, plus the highest rated recruiting class in OSU history this season, what ceiling can you really put on the Beavers?

But, Livesay is optimistic yet hesitant to jump to conclusions about this year.

“I can’t really expect this team to make the NCAA Tournament. I think it’s a good goal to have, with the amount of talent they have and the coaching staff,” he said.

Livesay then backtracked momentarily, pointing out a determining factor in OSU’s success. If OSU can win games on the road and in the Pac-12 Tournament, Livesay said he “could easily see them making the NCAA Tournament.”

The other thing he noticed lacking early in the season was cohesiveness between the players, though he’s seen change in that area.

“The chemistry at the beginning was a little iffy. The bench guys weren’t really getting up, standing and cheering,” he said. “Over winter break I think they really improved that.”

This team will continue to find its identity as the season goes along, but there has been plenty of encouragement already.

Sunday’s Civil War victory is momentous for OSU’s postseason hopes.

Still, coach Tinkle acknowledges his team has a long way to go. Including his own son Tres, the freshmen’s introduction to more demanding coaches has brought “challenges.” The veterans have provided necessary leadership but Tinkle also wants “more from some of those guys.”

Pretty much every player on the team has had high-caliber games, but Tinkle is searching for consistency. The team has shown remarkable resolve in search of it. Gary Payton II didn’t score in the first half against Oregon, but OSU went into halftime with a 15-point lead in an eventual 13-point win. There are so many weapons on this team that have stepped up in different times this year.

Maybe my skepticism about OSU making the NCAA Tournament is unfounded. It’s possible I’m too conditioned by the pre-Tinkle era that I’m not used to good basketball teams in OSU uniforms.

But it still seems like this team is going to take a while to be powerful. I believe it will happen, and coach Tinkle has the program headed in the right direction, but it was only a year ago he took over a roster with little depth and winning experience. The fact that it’s even a possibility for OSU will make the tournament this year is exceptional.

The storyline then, in short: OSU is a solid, precocious team that is good now and will be better soon.

“I joke around and say I feel like we’re building a dynasty here,” said freshman forward Drew Eubanks. “I feel like we’re going to be good in the next couple years when our freshman class gets older and more experienced… we’re great this year and we’re going to be even better next year.”

OSU will have its moment. Maybe it will be this year — I predict OSU won’t make the tournament but will go far in the NIT — maybe next season. But watch out, Tinkle’s team surprised everybody last year. Maybe they’ll repeat history.