College Basketball Nation: Ahmad Starks

3-point shot: Will Doug Wojcik recruit?

July, 7, 2014
Jul 7
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Andy Katz discusses College of Charleston coach Doug Wojcik's status in recruiting, what UCLA coach Steve Alford needs from son Bryce, and Illinois' offseason training.

3-point shot: Rutgers' plan for Okoro

September, 17, 2013
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1. Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan said Iowa State transfer Kerwin Okoro will be the Scarlet Knights' fourth guard. Okoro, who received his waiver to play immediately due to his personal hardship, can also play small forward. "Our three guards are all under six-feet tall,'' said Jordan. "We need Kerwin to defend bigger guards.'' Rutgers is still waiting on Pitt transfer J.J. Moore's waiver appeal to play immediately. Jordan said the Scarlet Knights are hoping to hear something this week. Rutgers got good news last week to help clean up a depth issue when Junior Etou was deemed a qualifier. Meanwhile, Illinois coach John Groce said Oregon State transfer Ahmad Starks is still waiting to hear on his waiver to play immediately. The same is true at Oregon where the Ducks are awaiting news on whether Houston's Joseph Young will be allowed to play immediately without sitting out a year.

2. Ole Miss got two injured players back but lost another. Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said sophomore Terry Brutus is done for the season with a torn ACL, suffered last week in practice. But the Rebels do have forward Aaron Jones back from his ACL injury, which occurred against Kentucky on Jan. 29. Forward Demarco Cox is also back after missing all but seven games last season with a stress fracture in his foot. The depth can still be there for the Rebels up front, despite the loss of Brutus. But the Rebels will go as far as Marshall Henderson can carry them. He is currently suspended but the SEC's top scorer is expected to be back in the good graces by the heart of the season, giving Ole Miss a potent offensive option.

3. The NIT Season Tip-Off is supposed to release its long-awaited bracket Tuesday. This is what we know for sure: the four hosts are Arizona, Duke, Rutgers and Alabama. And you can lock in Arizona and Duke will be on opposite sides of the bracket so they can meet in a potential final at Madison Square Garden the day after Thanksgiving on Nov. 29. If that occurs then you'll get a treat of seeing two of the top freshmen in the country in Arizona's Aaron Gordon and Duke's Jabari Parker. Both of these teams should be considered Final Four contenders. The NIT bracket has been "the best secret in college sports,'' according to Arizona coach Sean Miller. That's called sarcasm and he's right. The bracket has taken way too long to be revealed.
1. St. John's coach Steve Lavin is looking forward to the instructive piece of the Red Storm trip to Italy (Aug. 19-Sept 1). He is viewing this trip as a summer report card on the Red Storm. Orlando Sanchez, Max Hooper and God'sgift Achiuwa need competitive games in Europe, according to Lavin, to shake off some of the "rust as a result of sitting out this past season.'' Lavin said highly-touted freshman point guard Rysheed Jordan will get his "baptism as a college athlete in Europe while playing in competitive games and gaining a better sense for his new teammates." Lavin added this trip comes at the ideal time to get new assistant Jimmy Whitesell acclimated with the St. John's team. The Red Storm are in that middle group in the new Big East with Xavier, Butler, Villanova and Providence, with any one of them capable of jumping up and challenging frontrunners Marquette, Creighton and Georgetown.

2. Vanderbilt is practicing in advance of the Commodores foreign trip to Greece and Italy Aug. 10-20 and with a number of defections (Sheldon Jeter, A.J. Astroth, Kevin Bright) and a year-long suspension (Kedren Johnson), this trip is critical for Vandy to find out who it will be this season. Vandy coach Kevin Stallings said the trip will be beneficial to Tulsa transfer guard Eric McClellan and forwards Damian Jones and Josh Henderson probably the most. The reason is the responsibilities have shifted. All three will be counted on heavily. But Stallings may be most anticipating to see what Jones, an incoming freshman, can do, adding he "is going to be very good.'' This is a rebuilding season for the Commodores and any added advantage helps.

3. Illinois is still waiting to find out if Oregon State transfer Ahmad Starks can get an immediate waiver to play immediately this season rather than sitting out. Starks returned home with the intent on being closer to an ill relative in Chicago. But the University of Illinois is 135 miles from Chicago (depending on what part of Chicago). The waiver is meant to be granted to a within 100 miles of his home. Illinois coach John Groce took Starks knowing he may have to sit to play one. Illinois has Tracy Abrams, Joseph Bertrand, Drake transfer Rayvonte Rice and recruited Kendrick Nunn, Malcolm Hill and Jaylon Tate. So, it's not like the Illini don't have anyone to play the position. But Starks would bring immediate experience and depth. It could also mean someone redshirts. Having Starks to balance out classes wouldn't be the worst thing, either.

Conference Power Rankings: Pac-12

December, 21, 2012
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Is there any league in the country where the drop-off from No. 1 to No. 2 is so significant? At least the Big 12 has a ranked team (Oklahoma State) chasing Kansas. In the Pac-12 it's Arizona and then, well ... no one. Here are this week's power rankings.

1. Arizona. The Wildcats open play against East Tennessee State in the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu on Saturday and could face a tough test against an underrated Miami squad in the second round. If the bracket holds form, Arizona would play San Diego State in the title game on Christmas Day.

2. Colorado. UCLA, Oregon and Cal have all been in the No. 2 slot at some point this season -- and so has Colorado, which is making its return despite a 36-point loss to Kansas on Dec. 8. Spencer Dinwiddie is a finalist for the Cousy Award. Andre Roberson averages 12.3 rebounds, which ranks third nationally.

3. Oregon. The Ducks lost at UTEP on Wednesday in three overtimes, but Dana Altman still has to be encouraged with the direction of this team -- and this program. Arsalan Kazemi has three double-doubles in his past five games.

4. UCLA. There is too much talent in Westwood to write off the Bruins this early. UCLA has won four of its past five games, with the only setback coming against San Diego State. A victory over Fresno State on Saturday seems likely. Shabazz Muhammad (17.8 points) and Jordan Adams (17.5) are both putting up impressive offensive numbers.

5. Oregon State. What has happened to Ahmad Starks? The point guard who had 25 points in a single-digit loss to Kansas on Nov. 30 is averaging just 7.5 points in his past four contests. Oregon State should beat its next three opponents (San Diego, Towson and Texas-Pan American) before opening Pac-12 play at home against Oregon on Jan. 6.

6. Cal. Last weekend's loss to Creighton marked the third loss in a three-game skid (since snapped with a win over UC Santa Barbara) for Mike Montgomery's Golden Bears, whose best victory is against Georgia Tech at the DIRECTV Classic.

7. Stanford. The Cardinal have played four upper-level teams (Missouri, Minnesota, Belmont and North Carolina State) and lost each time. In other words, unless you count Northern Iowa, Johnny Dawkins' squad has yet to win a game that will impress the NCAA tournament committee.

8. Washington. The Huskies have won five of their past six games thanks, in large part, to C.J. Wilcox. Washington's leading scorer averages 19.2 points. Even more impressive are his figures from the Huskies' last two games: 21 points, 4.5 assists, 2.5 blocks and 2 steals.

9. Arizona State. I still can't shake the image of the Sun Devils getting destroyed at home by DePaul. But hey, everyone has a bad night, right? There is still plenty to like about this team -- mainly point guard Jahii Carson (17.9 points, 5.3 assists), forward Jordan Bachynski (4.8 blocks) and small forward Carrick Felix (15.1 points, 7.5 rebounds).

10. Utah. The Utes avenged an early-season loss to SMU by defeating the Mustangs 62-53 Tuesday in Salt Lake City. Jarred DuBois averages team-highs in points (13.8) and assists (3.2). Jordan Loveridge averages 11.7 points and 7.2 rebounds.

11. Washington State. The Cougars have won five of their past six games. Brock Motum (20.4 points) and DaVonte Lacy (10.1) form a nice 1-2 punch. Going .500 in Pac-12 play might be enough to save Ken Bone's job.

12. USC. The Trojans have way too much talent to be playing as poorly as they did in Thursday's home loss to UC Irvine. Wake Forest transfer J.T. Terrell, who was supposed to be USC's savior, has been benched for his poor defensive effort.

Kansas squeaks by Oregon State

December, 1, 2012
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Late in the first half of Friday’s 84-78 loss to No. 10 Kansas, Oregon State’s Ahmad Starks noticed something strange about the guards who were attempting to defend him at the Sprint Center.

“They were bringing guys in,” Starks said, “that we’d barley even scouted.”

Indeed, walk-on Evan Manning, seldom-used freshman Rio Adams and backup point guard Naadir Tharpe all took their turns replacing starter Elijah Johnson in Kansas’ bumbling backcourt.

All of them failed as Oregon State uncorked a 13-0 run that forced a 37-37 tie.

“I was just trying to find anybody that could go out there and give us some positive contributions,” KU coach Bill Self said. “To be honest with you, we didn’t find anyone.”

Kansas (6-1) might have won the game, but Self was far from giddy as the team bus left Kansas City and headed back to Lawrence. Three weeks into the 2012-13 season, the Jayhawks are clearly lacking chemistry and cohesion on the perimeter following the departure of four-year starting point guard Tyshawn Taylor, who’s now with the New Jersey Nets.

To be fair, Johnson -- Taylor’s replacement -- was the Jayhawks’ starting shooting guard last season, so he’s playing a bit out of position. Still, Self expects more out of the senior. On Friday, Starks torched Johnson for 25 points. He was 7-of-13 from 3-point range.

“He got whipped,” Self said of Johnson. “I hate to say that, but the point guard on their team gets 25 and ours gets 6. It’s not all on him, but that’s the thing that’s a little frustrating, because I don’t know where we go from here -- yet.

“I”m trying to figure out a way to put us in a situation where maybe the other team doesn’t feel so comfortable.”

What happened Friday wasn’t an isolated incident. Opposing guards have been having monster games against Kansas all season.

Michigan State’s Keith Appling had his way with Johnson and KU’s backcourt in a 19-point effort back on Nov. 13. Chattanooga threw a scare into Self’s squad and even led at halftime two days later thanks to Farad Cobb, who went 7-of-9 from 3-point land.

San Jose State’s James Kinney went off for 30 points against Kansas on Monday at Allen Fieldhouse, and Starks was darn near unstoppable Friday.

“(Oregon State) didn’t run any offense,” Self said. “All they did was set a high ball screen for 18 minutes in the second half, and we couldn’t guard it.

“We could not stop No. 3 (Starks). Period. That’s something that’s got to improve or we’ll have to change how we play. We’ll have to play some zone or whatnot.”

[+] EnlargeElijah Johnson
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesElijah Johnson, moved from shooting guard to the point, has been a defensive liability for KU.
That’s not to say that Kansas didn’t do some positive things against Oregon State (4-2) on Friday. Ben McLemore scored 21 points and Travis Releford added 20 for a Jayhawks squad that shot 60 percent from the field. KU scored 54 points in the paint, where it benefitted from a slew of easy layups after blowing past Beavers defenders.

Kansas only attempted nine 3-pointers Friday. There was simply little need to shoot from the outside.

“We got the ball where we wanted it to go,” Self said. “We did some good things.”

Perhaps, but squeaking past mid-tier Pac-12 teams isn’t commonplace in Lawrence, where the Jayhawks have averaged 33.3 wins the past three seasons. To be a truly elite team, Self knows Kansas needs to coax more inspired play out of Johnson, who was one of KU’s top players at the end of last season.

Self said Johnson “nicked up” his knee in practice last week and hasn’t been 100 percent. He had 6 points, 9 assists and 4 turnovers Friday and has failed to score in double digits in three of his last four games.

On the season, Johnson is averaging 10.7 points, 4.2 assists and 2.7 turnovers. Defensively, he’s been a liability.

“He’s getting assists and doing some nice things,” Self said, “but he’s not making plays on either end. That’s what’s frustrating, because we’re used to having guys back there who can make some plays.”

Kansas’ string of point guards under Self -- Aaron Miles, Russell Robinson, Sherron Collins and Taylor -- has indeed been impressive. The Jayhawks are confident Johnson will be remembered the same way.

And the last thing they’re going to do is panic just because they’ve been pushed by teams they’d have usually blown out in the past.

“It’s early,” Releford said. “We’re only seven games in. It’s a lot of work. We’ve got a break coming up soon. Hopefully we come together a lot better than what we have recently.

“You’re always happy to get a win, but we know as a team that we should be playing a lot better than we are right now.”

Conference Power Rankings: Pac-12

November, 30, 2012
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Ranking the Pac-12 is far from the unenviable task it was last season, when the league was filled with mediocre teams that drew minimal interest both locally and nationally. It might be too early to label the current Pac-12 as "strong," but almost every team has made marked improvements, which should make for an entertaining season -- and definitely one worth following. Here's how the conference looks after three weeks.

1. Arizona. Even without an attention-grabbing victory, putting the Wildcats in the top slot was an easy decision -- mainly because UCLA is floundering. Mark Lyons and Solomon Hill each average 14 points, and freshmen forwards Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley are grabbing a collective 13.8 rebounds.

2. Cal. The Golden Bears are 6-0, but we'll find out a lot more about Mike Montgomery's squad in the coming weeks. Cal plays at Wisconsin on Sunday before hosting UNLV (Dec. 9) and Creighton (Dec. 15). Allen Crabbe (22 ppg) and Justin Cobbs (20) have been huge on the offensive end.

3. Colorado. The undefeated Buffaloes may have been a notch higher if they didn't need double overtime to defeat Texas Southern on Tuesday. Forwards Andre Roberson and Josh Scott generate the most headlines, but guards Askia Booker (16.8 ppg) and Spencer Dinwiddie (14.8) lead the team in scoring.

4. Oregon. The Ducks' win over then-No. 18 UNLV was one of the top two victories for the Pac-12 this season, with Colorado’s upset of Baylor being the other. Rice transfer Arsalan Kazemi got on track in Thursday’s win over Texas-San Antonio. His line: 20 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks, 5 steals.

5. Stanford. Last season’s NIT champion went 1-2 at the Battle 4 Atlantis, but there were still plenty of reasons to be encouraged. Setbacks against Missouri and Minnesota -- both of whom are ranked -- came by single digits. Guard Chasson Randle averages a team-high 15.4 points but shoots just 35.6 percent from the field.

6. UCLA. Two Bruins players (Tyler Lamb and Josh Smith) left the team during the past week. The departures may actually help the chemistry on a squad that lost to Cal Poly on Sunday before bouncing back with a convincing win over Cal State Northridge on Wednesday. Freshmen Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson combined for 29 points.

7. Arizona State. Sun Devils coach Herb Sendek is known for his slow-paced, low-scoring offenses. But this season Arizona State is pushing the ball thanks to the addition of freshman point guard Jahii Carson, who leads the team in scoring (19 ppg) and assists (5.5). As a team, the Sun Devils are averaging 77.2 points and own a nice win over Arkansas.

8. Oregon State. Could this be the year the Beavers make the NCAA tournament? Craig Robinson’s squad boasts quality wins over Purdue and New Mexico State, and it came within three points of Alabama. Ahmad Starks is averaging 14.6 points -- but only 7.3 in his past three games. Oregon State has a huge opportunity to prove itself Friday, when it plays Kansas in Kansas City.

9. USC. The Trojans’ roster is filled with transfers, so it's understandable that the cohesion just isn't there yet. Still, USC's two most recent losses (to Marquette and San Diego State) came by an average of seven points, so it's not as if Kevin O'Neill's squad isn't competitive. This could look like a completely different team in a month.

10. Washington. Last season’s regular-season champion was decimated when two players (Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross) left school early for the NBA draft and showed it in a home loss to Albany. Forward Aziz N'Diaye is averaging a double-double with 11.3 points and 10.5 rebounds. The fact Washington, coming off a quality win over Saint Louis, is No. 10 in these rankings speaks to the competitiveness of the Pac-12.

11. Washington State. The Cougars' season was basically over the day Ken Bone kicked point guard Reggie Moore off the team. Washington State didn't have a replacement. Kansas transfer Royce Woolridge is trying his hardest, but he's averaging just 6.9 points while shooting 35 percent from the field. He should be a role player, not a starter. Bone, though, doesn't have any choice.

12. Utah. The Utes are better than last season, but they're still considered the worst team in the league along with Washington State. Utah lost to Larry Brown's SMU squad 62-55 in Dallas on Wednesday. Dallin Bachynski, a 7-footer from Calgary, averages 11.5 points (second on the team) and 9.0 rebounds (first).

Rapid Reaction: Alabama 65, Oregon St. 62

November, 15, 2012
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NEW YORK -- Alabama football fans are still smarting from Saturday's loss to Texas A&M. But their basketball team is off to a 3-0 start.

The Crimson Tide defeated Oregon State on Thursday at Madison Square Garden, 65-62, in the semifinals of the 2K Sports Classic. The Beavers fall to 2-1 on the season. It's a good early-season win for Alabama, on a big stage.

The skinny: The first half was very tight -- neither team led by more than five points, and there were seven ties and 11 lead changes. Alabama took a 35-32 lead into the locker room, scoring the final four points of the half.

Alabama opened the second half on a 12-2 run, taking a 47-34 lead. The Crimson Tide led by as many as 15, and appeared in control of the game -- until the Beavers came roaring back late. A 17-3 run by Oregon State was capped off by two free throws by junior forward Devon Collier that tied the game with 43 seconds remaining.

The biggest shot of the game? That belonged to Alabama sophomore guard Rodney Cooper, who drained a 3-pointer with 12.2 seconds left to put the Crimson Tide up 65-62. Oregon State had two more cracks to re-tie it. With 5.2 seconds left, junior guard Ahmad Starks turned the ball over after receiving an inbounds pass along the sideline. Then, after a missed Alabama free throw and a timeout, with 2.2 seconds left, junior guard Roberto Nelson got the ball, but his half-court heave was off the mark at the buzzer.

Star watch: Alabama's got some talented guards, and they were the key to this victory. Sophomore Trevor Lacey, averaging 19 points per game coming in, scored a team-high 20, and made 4 of his 7 3-point attempts. Junior Trevor Releford and Cooper added 12 points apiece.

Collier, a local product, had a game-high 21 points off the bench for Oregon State. Starks, who scored 51 points in the Beavers' first two games of the season, had just three points against the Crimson Tide.

Number crunch: One thing stands out on the stat sheet above all -- turnovers. Oregon State had 19 of 'em; Alabama had just seven. That's the difference in the game.

What's next: Alabama will play the winner of the second semifinal between Villanova or Purdue in the championship game, Friday at 7:30 p.m. Oregon State will play the loser of that game at 5 p.m.

2K Sports Classic primer

November, 15, 2012
11/15/12
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The four-team field of the 2K Sports Classic isn’t populated with superstars. Alabama, Oregon State, Villanova and Purdue aren’t expected to compete for the championships of their respective conferences -- if they reach their ceilings, they might find themselves on the bubble on Selection Sunday. Although there’s limited star power in this tournament, the parity could add to the competition. With so many potential bubble teams in the field, a 2K Sports Classic title could be a separating factor for the selection committee in four months.

The basics: Nov. 15-16 at Madison Square Garden in New York

The set matchups: Alabama vs. Oregon State, 7 p.m. ET; Villanova vs. Purdue, 9:30 p.m. (Both games on ESPN2)

[+] EnlargeTrevor Lacey
Kelly Lambert/US PresswireGuard Trevor Lacey has averaged 19 points in two games for the 2K Sports Classic favorite.
The favorite: Last season, Alabama reached the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006. But JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell, who averaged more than 27 points combined, are gone. Still, Anthony Grant has a team that can compete for a slot in the NCAA tournament. Trevor Lacey, Rodney Cooper, Andrew Steele and Trevor Releford comprise the field’s most talented core. They also have experience that some of the other participants lack. Those features should propel Alabama to a pair of victories and the tournament title.

FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH

Trevor Lacey, Alabama -- The 6-foot-3 guard scored 15 points in Bama’s season-opening victory over South Dakota State. He dropped 23 on West Alabama. Grant needed a new playmaker following the departures of Green and Mitchell. And Lacey looks like the player who will fill that role for the Tide in 2012-13.

Ronnie Johnson, Purdue -- Matt Painter uses three Johnsons (Terone, Ronnie and Anthony) in his rotation. And they’re all significant. Freshman Ronnie Johnson (the younger brother of junior Terone; Anthony Johnson is no relation) is the new starting point guard for this young Boilermakers squad. And he has been impressive in his debut. After two games, he’s averaging 10.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists.

Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova -- The freshman guard has averaged 18.0 points and 5.0 assists through two games, both wins, for Villanova. Arcidiacono, ranked 46th on ESPN Recruiting Nation’s list of the top 100 prospects in the 2012 class, steps into a key role in the backcourt just months after talented guards Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek left the program to turn pro. It’s early, but Arcidiacono’s start has been a promising one.

Ahmad Starks, Oregon State -- Craig Robinson’s program lost its best player when Jared Cunningham left school early. But Starks could be the catalyst Robinson needs to produce one of the Pac-12’s best offensive units again. Starks scored 33 points in a win over New Mexico State, and he recorded 18 points in a season-opening victory over Niagara.

Devonta Pollard, Alabama -- Pollard was the gem of Grant’s 2012 recruiting class (28th in Recruiting Nation’s top 100). The 6-7 forward has had his moments early. This tournament -- and the venue -- could bring out the best in Pollard. He received a flurry of high praise during the recruitment process. Expectations are high, even though he has struggled early.

FIVE BIG QUESTIONS

Can Alabama get back to the NCAA tournament?

This tournament will be a good barometer for Grant’s program. Alabama has the talent to win it -- and really, it should. If it doesn’t secure the tournament championship, then any doubts about the Crimson Tide's potential to return to the NCAA tourney will be validated.

How will Oregon State survive without Jared Cunningham?

Cunningham was the 24th pick in the 2012 NBA draft. Losing a first-round pick would hurt any program. But even with Cunningham, Oregon State finished 7-11 in the Pac-12. The Beavers have regrouped and rebuilt. So any early success would give the program a confidence boost.

Which team took the biggest offseason hit?

Every team in this field shares a similar burden: They all lost a significant player(s) from last season’s squad. Villanova (Wayns and Cheek), Alabama (Mitchell and Green), Purdue (Robbie Hummel) and Oregon State (Cunningham) enter 2012-13 without their stars from a year ago. Within that group, the Boilermakers will have the most difficult time replacing the production and leadership of Hummel. But they’ve all been forced to overcome personnel hits.

Is Villanova underrated?

Nova is coming off a 5-13 finish in the Big East. And they lost their two best players in the offseason. But the early production from Arcidiacono suggests that the Wildcats could outperform preseason projections that placed them at the bottom of the league.

Can Purdue compete in the Big Ten?

The Boilermakers are in that second tier of teams in the Big Ten. It’s a mixed bag -- Northwestern, Illinois, Purdue, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa -- that features a multitude of possibilities. With so much depth, a young Boilers squad will have its hands full in league play. And that’s why its nonconference slate is so important. Painter’s youngsters need to prove to themselves that they can compete against high-level opponents.

THE PICKS

Semifinals: Alabama over Oregon State; Villanova over Purdue
Championship game: Alabama over Villanova

As Washington waits, Beavers believe

March, 8, 2012
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Oregon State had one of the Pac-12's best nonconference wins.

And it was over a middling, young Texas team in overtime in New Jersey.

But that sort of summed up the Pac-12. The league was light on nonconference wins and when its teams got into league play, beating each other up only enhanced the perception that the conference wasn’t worthy of elite status.

Well, heading into Friday night’s semifinals, Oregon State has the best win of the Pac-12 tournament too, knocking off top-seeded regular-season champ Washington 86-84 on Thursday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

[+] EnlargeJared Cunningham, Devon Collier
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireJared Cunningham and Devon Collier, right, have the chops to take Oregon State to the Pac-12 final.
“It’s my best win ever, as a coach or as a player when I was at Princeton,’’ Oregon State coach Craig Robinson said late Thursday night by phone. “This team is starting to believe that they’re as good as we thought they were. It’s really nice to see. This is a watershed moment for these guys. Those guys on Washington are really good.’’

The Beavers (19-13) move into the Pac-12 semifinals against Arizona. Oregon State isn’t on the bubble. Arizona is probably a reach, or at least third in line for a possible bid among Washington and Cal on the at-large candidacy list.

Washington, even with the Pac-12 regular-season title, must now sweat out Selection Sunday.

The Huskies’ nonconference resume has nothing to shout about. The worst home loss -- a blowout to South Dakota State -- might look better now that the Jackrabbits won the Summit League title. But that’s still a team from the Summit going into Seattle and cleaning house.

“I’m not in there in the committee,’’ UW coach Lorenzo Romar said during the postgame news conference. “I know we haven’t won as many games as we should have in nonconference as a league. I would think the Pac-12 champion would be able to find a place in the NCAA tournament. We certainly didn’t help ourselves, but I would think we’d be able to find ourselves in there.

“But I am not on the committee. The committee, they’re meeting, and we’re kind of at the mercy of their decision.’’

As for the Beavers, their defense has tightened up in the two Pac-12 tourney games so far, coming back to beat Washington State and Washington on consecutive nights.

The offense is more than capable of beating Arizona and advancing to the title game if Jared Cunningham, Devon Collier and Ahmad Starks make sound decisions.

“These guys are starting to trust each other,’’ Robinson said. “We were hoping that we could play well in the first game. The way we started to come out I thought we could win.’’

In their one meeting this season, Arizona beat Oregon State in overtime in Tucson. There was a minor scuffle at the end of the game. But there is too much on the line in this one to expect any carryover to Friday.

“I like the fact that we lost to them in overtime,’’ Robinson said. “That bodes well for us psychologically. I like our offense. We haven’t had trouble scoring in either game. But it will come down to whether or not we defend well.’’

Oregon State looked like it had floundered a few weeks ago, losing five in a row. But the Beavers then rallied to sweep a homestand with Utah and Colorado heading into the 8-9 game against the Cougars.

“That gave us some momentum,’’ Robinson said. “You sometimes see with veteran teams they’ll play well in a tournament, but we’re doing it with a bunch of freshmen and sophomores and it took them a little while to figure it all out.’’

Oregon State capitalizes on opportunity

November, 20, 2011
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- November matters. It is relevant for teams and for players that have one or maybe two shots to make a difference before conference play.

Oregon State is in the Pac-12, but limited itself to two games against major-conference teams outside of league play. Lose to Texas on Saturday night and the Beavers would have to spend the rest of the nonconference plodding along in obscurity.

Take out Texas and do it behind another 30-plus point performance from wing Jared Cunningham and it provides enough fodder to pay attention to Oregon State for the time being.

And that's exactly what happened. OSU was down five points with 2:39 left in regulation in the semifinals of the Legends Classic at the IZOD Center on Saturday night.

“Last year, we wouldn’t have come together,’’ Oregon State’s Roberto Nelson said.

Added teammate Joe Burton: “We didn’t have the mental toughness to win. That’s the difference. I love this team. I love the fight that we have for each other.’’

[+] EnlargeJared Cunningham
Jim O'Connor/US PresswireOregon State's Jared Cunningham scored 37 points in an overtime victory over Texas.
Oregon State found a way to win, creating plays in the final few minutes. The defense made stops, Cunningham got to the free-throw line and the Beavers were in position to tie the game down 81-79 with 17 seconds left. That’s when Cunningham drew a foul and made two free throws. Oregon State’s Eric Moreland then blocked Myck Kabongo’s layup attempt at the buzzer.

The Beavers dominated the overtime and escaped with a 100-95 victory over the Longhorns to move into Monday night’s title game against Vanderbilt, which knocked off NC State earlier in the evening.

Cunningham finished with a career-high 37 points, a game after he scored 35 in a home win over Hofstra.

“We all have confidence now,’’ Cunningham said. “We believe in each other.’’

Cunningham’s teammates were quick to praise him in the postgame locker room. He has quietly emerged as one of the top scorers in the country. Cunningham was a highlight reel a year ago with his ability to flush a jam with authority. Now he’s scoring in a variety of ways and he’s leading the Beavers, too.

“He can definitely keep it up,’’ point guard Ahmad Starks said. “He can keep up his defense and he can slash to the basket. He can score like that.’’

“Jared is amazing,’’ Nelson said. “He can do everything for us. He’s the leader on this team. He is showing us. He’s carrying us on his back and it’s great to have a player like that on our team. That’s the difference.’’

This is the same program that piled up some truly horrible nonconference losses the last few years. Oregon State was able to remain somewhat competitive in the Pac-10, but too often put itself in a nonconference hole under head coach Craig Robinson.

But the 4-0 Beavers seem to have shed their bad karma and genuinely look like a team that can be competitive in every game they play. Oregon State is actually beating the teams it should at home and now has taken down a team that it wasn’t expected to knock off on a neutral court.

“They are absolutely right,’’ Robinson said. “A year ago, we couldn’t win a game like that. These guys believe in each other as a group. They think they can win these games. This was a character win. Our guys stuck together.’’

Now if Oregon State could actually beat Vandy, the Beavers would have not just one but two quality wins for its book shelf heading into a wide-open conference.

“This is why you play in tournaments like this,’’ Robinson said. “You get your team prepared to play and you never know. You could play a ranked team that could change your season. I’m so happy these guys are getting a taste of the big time. Vandy is going to be tougher than this. They have three pros [John Jenkins, Jeffery Taylor and Festus Ezeli] on their roster. ... But I’m excited about our chances.’’

Jared Cunningham receives high praise

September, 14, 2011
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Oregon State guard Jared Cunningham might have come down to earth after kissing the sky with the dunk of the year last season, but expectations for the junior remain high.

Just ask Beavers coach Craig Robinson, as MSG.com did recently.
"He has the experience, ability, and drive to be the best player in the Pac-12," Robinson said of junior guard. "He's focused on us winning as a team and he knows the gun is pointed at his head as the leader."

Never before has Robinson coached a player with the athleticism of Cunningham and that is why he offers the highest of praise when describing his game -- especially for a Chicago native.

"He really reminds me of a skinnier, smaller version of Scottie Pippen," Robinson said of Cunningham. "His athleticism and his instincts are off the charts."

Given that Cunningham is drawing comparisons to a Hall of Famer from his coach, it's safe to say that he is in the running for becoming Pac-12 player of the year with a big season.

The 6-foot-4 Cunningham not only led the Beavers averaging 14.2 points per game, but he also was fifth in the nation in steals (2.83 per game). His 85 steals shattered a sophomore steals record set by none other than Gary Payton.

Cunningham will be joined in the backcourt by two other rising guards in sophomore Ahmad Starks and Roberto Nelson, who also has a notable dunk on his résumé and is set to play his first full collegiate season.

So the talent appears to be in place for Robinson, who in his fourth season at Oregon State is still in search of a winning record.

"I'm really comfortable with these guys and their talent level," he told MSG.com. "We feel we needed to catch up with the rest of the league talent wise and now we feel we've done that."

Craig Robinson makes talk-show rounds

May, 18, 2011
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Oregon State coach Craig Robinson was on late-night television again Tuesday, appearing on BET on The Mo'Nique Show alongside Bow Wow and Ruben Studdard. That's one of the perks of being the brother-in-law to President Obama while having a memoir to promote.

The BET appearance had sophomore guard Jared Cunningham amused and snapping a photo of his television screen. It also provided this bit of unintentional comedy: On The Mo'Nique Show's Facebook page, it was accidentally promoted that actor Craig Robinson of Hot Tub Time Machine, Pineapple Express, Knocked Up, and Zack and Miri fame would be appearing on the show.

Back to basketball, Robinson is approaching what is shaping up to be a very important year. After three seasons, he hasn't yet led the Beavers to a winning record. His best finish was winning the CBI in his first year to finish .500, and this season was a disappointment for the Beavers.

They managed to knock off eventual Pac-10 champion Arizona in the opening weekend, with Cunningham coming through with one of college basketball's best dunks of the season. Still, the team slumped to a ninth-place finish in the league and finished with an 11-20 record.

Cunningham had a breakout season, yet a youthful roster struggled to jell because as he told the Arizona Republic, "Last year, some of it was just chemistry. We had a lot of different rotations, and we just weren't used to each other. Now we're a close group."

This coming season, the team will consist of all players that Robinson has recruited himself, including Ahmad Starks, Roberto Nelson and Devon Collier -- rotation members who earned significant minutes in their first year of action.

According to Inc. Magazine, Robinson is optimistic.
I'm pretty honest in evaluating myself. As long as I can point to where the issues are and they are correctible, I don't get too down on the team or myself. When you're rebuilding a program, it’s not something that's going to happen in one or two years.

When I reevaluate at the end of the year, I ask if we’re headed in the right direction. If I'm comfortable with that and we keep doing the fundamental things correctly, we'll get there.

Not a graceful finish for Oregon State

March, 10, 2011
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Oregon State capped off its 11-20 season with a 78-69 loss to top-seeded Arizona that saw sophomore big man Joe Burton ejected in the Pac-10 tournament quarterfinal.

From The Associated Press:
Burton was assessed a flagrant foul and got ejected for elbowing [Kevin] Parrom in the face near the baseline with 10:25 remaining. Burton walked back to his bench claiming he got hit. Arizona fans chanted "Throw him out!" as the referees reviewed the play.

The Beavers trailed by nine when Burton left the court. Parrom scored six of the Wildcats' next nine points, with Williams adding his fifth 3-pointer to extend the lead to 70-56.

The play was the latest in a string of incidents that highlights how much coach Craig Robinson's team needs to mature before it can compete for the top of the Pac-10.

During the Beavers' loss in their regular-season finale to Arizona State, Robinson left himself with only six players after he suspended numerous members of his regular rotation for curfew violations, according to The Oregonian.
Freshman guard Roberto Nelson, one of the few who did make bed check Thursday, exploded for a career-high 34 points, evoking memories of his days with his Compton Magic AAU team.

Among the players who were disciplined were usual starting guards Jared Cunningham and Ahmad Starks, starting forward Devon Collier, and key reserves Calvin Haynes and Lathen Wallace.

Nelson quipped, "I'm a boring guy" when a reporter asked him why he wasn't out with everyone else.

According to The Oregonian, Burton was also suspended for the team's loss at UCLA last month for breaking a team rule. Burton couldn't play on a day when hundreds of Native American children were invited to see him play and hear him speak afterward.

Robinson has spoken extensively about changing the losing culture of the program. He has brought in talent that has surprised with some wins, but those same players have also racked up bad losses. That talent is still learning, and Robinson has asked fans for patience.

They continue to be reminded how long of a road this team will have to travel.

Craig Robinson has a message of hope

September, 24, 2010
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Oregon State coach Craig Robinson will participate in the National Book Festival on the National Mall tomorrow, speaking about and signing copies of his memoir, "A Game of Character."

That's just one of the many perks of being brother to the first lady, who along with President Obama are honorary chairs for the event.

But it's away from the Washington scene where Robinson is spreading his own message of hope, as far as the traditionally non-threatening Beavers are concerned.

During a speaking engagement last week near Salem, Ore., The Statesman Journal quoted him as saying, "I'm hoping in two, three years that we're competing at the top of the league on a regular basis."

The road map for Pac-10 respectability seems to have been laid out after Robinson got an early look in workouts at his recruiting class -- one that for the second consecutive year looks very impressive.

Ahmad Starks could make an immediate impact as a true point guard after being recruited out of Robinson's hometown of Chicago. The Beavers got even more athletic by bringing in 6-foot-8 power forward Devon Collier from the Bronx and 6-9 UTEP transfer Eric Moreland, who is eligible to play immediately.

The addition of 6-11 post player Chris Brown not only gave Robinson more height to work with, but also a way for the member of the First Family to stay on message at that United Way event last week.
"Now it looks like we're a real team when we walk around the airport," Robinson joked. "Before I was always asked if I coached the soccer team."

Hope abounds, as a young Beavers squad coming off a 14-18 season is at least a lot more imposing that it once was.

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