Preview: Oregon State Beavers

Oregon State Beavers

2012-13: 14-18 (4-14 Pac-12) Lost to Colorado 74-68, Pac-12 Tournament first round
In-conference offense: 1.01 points per possession (4th)
In-conference defense: 1.07 points per possession (11th)

Craig Robinson enters his sixth season at the helm of the Oregon State basketball program, and history says it's a crucial one. Since legendary coach Ralph Miller retired in 1989, none of his successors has made it more than six seasons. Eddie Payne was fired after five seasons, Jay John was replaced midway through his sixth and Jim Anderson retired under pressure after his sixth.

Discounting Anderson's first season, when he inherited Gary Payton from Miller, Robinson has a better record than his predecessors. With a contract that extends through the 2016-17 season, he's in good shape to avoid the curse of year six. Yet the direction of the program is still in question. After a 21-15 finish in 2011-12, Oregon State expected continued improvement last season. Instead, the Beavers crashed to 4-14 in conference play, finishing tied with Washington State at the bottom of the Pac-12.

Projected starting lineup

* Suspended first 14 games

Robinson has upgraded the Beavers' recruiting, and for the first time in decades, Oregon State has had to worry about players leaving early for the NBA draft (Jared Cunningham left a year early in 2012, but Eric Moreland opted last spring to return for his junior season). The construction of a new basketball facility, opened over the summer, will help Robinson's pitch.

To translate that talent into greater results, however, Robinson will have to build a stronger defensive unit and overcome a suspension to Moreland (for an undisclosed violation of team rules) that will weaken his team for almost half a season.

Just once in his five seasons has OSU ranked in the top 100 nationally in adjusted defensive rating, and last season's group ranked 162nd -- the worst defense in Corvallis since John's 2005-06 team. Only Washington State was more permissive defensively in Pac-12 play, which undid the Beavers' solid work on offense.

After staying faithful to the Princeton 1-3-1 defense early in his tenure with mixed results, Robinson largely went away from it last season, mixing in heavy doses of man-to-man defense and a more traditional 2-3 zone. Without a dynamic guard at the top of the defense to create steals, Oregon State stopped forcing turnovers, ranking 11th in the conference in steal rate after four seasons of finishing either first or second. The Beavers improved in terms of defending the shot, a weakness of the 1-3-1, but not enough to justify the trade-off.

Making matters worse, Oregon State's best defender -- Moreland, a premier shot-blocker who ranked third in the Pac-12 by blocking more than eight percent of opponents' 2-point attempts -- will miss the entire non-conference schedule after being suspended for 14 games over the summer. When Moreland returns, the Beavers can put size next to Moreland when he returns with 6-foot-8 forward Devon Collier (who was also suspended, but will only miss the season opener) and 6-foot-10 center Angus Brandt, both seniors. And they have potential up front in 6-foot-10 sophomore Daniel Gomis and raw 7-foot freshman Cheikh N'Diaye.

If Robinson can get the defense figured out, there should be enough weapons on offense to keep Oregon State safely out of the bottom of the conference. While the Beavers graduated versatile center Joe Burton and saw guard Ahmad Starks transfer to Illinois, senior guard Roberto Nelson returns after leading the Pac-12 in scoring in conference play at 19.1 PPG. Brandt, Collier and Moreland are all excellent finishers, so if junior point guard Challe Barton shows growth as a playmaker, he'll have plenty of options in the paint.

It's hard to envision OSU bouncing back far enough to contend for a .500 record in conference play -- something the Beavers haven't accomplished in 20 years -- but a solid step forward from last season's disappointment would buy Robinson's rebuilding project additional time.

Here is a position by position look at the Beavers:

Barton moved into the starting lineup midway through conference play, and Oregon State got three of its four Pac-12 wins after the change. His pass-first style will be more valuable now that the Beavers will no longer run the offense through Burton in the post. Barton must cut his turnover rate and be a bit more aggressive offensively to make defenses respect him as a scorer. OSU replaced Starks on the roster with Malcolm Duvivier, a three-star Canadian recruit who reclassified late and could push Barton for minutes.

After two inconsistent seasons, Nelson grew into a key role as a junior, marrying improved shooting -- and shot selection -- to his ability to create his own shot. Nelson boosted his efficiency by knocking down 40 percent of his 3-point attempts and getting to the free throw line better than six times a game. He's the odds-on favorite to lead the Pac-12 in scoring again. The Beavers could use more shooting behind him, possibly from freshman Hallice Cooke.

OSU used four freshmen on the wing last season, none of whom effective offensively. Jarmal Reid got 17 starts as the best defender of the group, but 6-foot-10 Olaf Schaftenaar (younger brother of former Beaver Roeland) may move ahead of him because his shooting ability better complements the lineup. Despite his size, don't expect to see Schaftenaar in the paint. He took 97 3-pointers and just 19 2s last season. Langston Morris-Walker and Victor Robbins are also in the wing mix.

Moreland could be headed to the NBA after the season, his fourth on campus because of a medical redshirt. Though the suspension will hurt his stock, statistical projections are enamored of Moreland's block and rebound rates, which tend to translate to the next level. Offensively, Moreland knows his limitations and made 60 percent of his 2-point attempts, almost all taken around the basket. Collier is another high-percentage finisher. He saw his 2-point shooting drop from 62 percent as a sophomore to 51 percent last season because he created more of his own offense. An excellent offensive rebounder, Collier is only adequate on the defensive glass.

Brandt suffered a torn ACL in OSU's fourth game, a win over Purdue, and the Beavers missed his presence. He was cleared over the summer, and Oregon State would take a copy of his 2011-12 campaign. While Brandt is a poor rebounder, he's an efficient scorer with occasional 3-point range, and his size is useful at the defensive end. Moreland will play some center, surely, and Gomis could potentially start in his absence after coming back from surgery to repair a broken leg that he suffered in 2011.

Projected conference finish: 9th