Last season, the Oregon State Beavers were a sexy sleeper pick to make some noise in the Pac-10. Instead of living up to that billing, Craig Robinson's team struggled more than his brother-in-law, Barack Obama did trying to settle the national debt crisis. Expect another rough season for Robinson and the Beavers.
Let's take a glass half-full approach to last season. Oregon State's young backcourt gained some valuable experience and showed promise for the future. Leading that charge was the Beavers' top scorer, Jared Cunningham, who is as athletic as can be and also finished fifth in the nation averaging 2.83 steals per game.
He will be flanked on the wing by Roberto Nelson who showed flashes last season highlighted by his 34-point outburst against Arizona State. Consistency will be the key for him in 2011-12. Speedy point guard Ahmad Starks must take on more of a distributor role after nearly four three-pointers per game last year but only connecting on 32.3 of his triple tries.
Rhys Murphy will try to shake off the injury bug and provide some depth on the wing. Murphy suffered a foot injury on the first day of practice during his first season with the Beavers, and then played in just four games last year before breaking his wrist and missing the remainder of the season. Barton is a combo guard and native of Sweden who will likely be asked to contribute right away since Oregon State lacks depth in their backcourt.
The bigs play a key role in the Oregon State offense with versatility being the key. Joe Burton will return to the starting lineup and actually led the team with a blistering 2.4 assists per game. He figures to be joined by Devon Collier to form an undersized front line considering both guys stand just 6-7.
There is some size on the bench though with 6-10 Angus Brandt returning to his role as a key reserve. Former UTEP transfer Eric Moreland returns after taking a medical redshirt last season stemming from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for all but four games a year ago. Kevin McShane and Chris "Breezy" Brown provide even more size off the bench. Freshman Daniel Gomis recently broke his leg while playing in his native Senegal and could use a medical redshirt this season which won't be a huge blow.
Despite only having one senior on the roster, the Beavers return a fair amount of experience. Unfortunately for Oregon State fans, the talent level is not there to compete in the new Pac-12.
Player to Watch: Jared Cunningham, G
I will admit I did not watch a ton of Oregon State basketball last season (outside of Corvailis, who did though?), but the one game that stands out is their upset win of Arizona in which Cunningham had an absolutely electrifying putback dunk. He can be a game-changer on both ends of the floor due to his athleticism. If Cunningham can continue to make strides during his junior season the way he did as a sophomore, I would not be surprised if he was in the Pac-12 Player of the Year conversations come March.