Defensive deficiencies have been costly for the Oregon State men’s basketball team this season.
The problem was all too evident during the Beavers’ four-game losing skid.
The Beavers were swept by Washington State (83-73) and Washington (75-72) at home and lost two in the Bay Area to Stanford (87-82) and California (77-63).
Coach Craig Robinson said the mechanics are there but the consistency is lacking.
The Beavers struggle to play good ‘D’ for 40 minutes.
“It’s different things at different times,” Robinson said. “It could be losing your man, it could be not blocking out, it could be not communicating, it could be bad close out, it could be bad footwork.
“It could be a number of things but it can’t happen constantly.”
That’s been the problem for the Beavers. It’s been a season-long struggle.
They give up a Pacific-12 Conference-worst 79.8 points per game.
To put it in perspective, the No. 11 team, Washington State, gives up 71.3.
Pac-12 opponents have scored 80 or more points in nine games when playing OSU.
The obvious reason is opponents make a lot of shots against the Beavers.
Pac-12 teams are shooting .486 from the field (421 of 867) and .407 from 3-point range (107 of 263) when facing the OSU defenders.
The Beavers rank last in both categories.
“We’ve taken a step back,” guard Ahmad Starks said. “Because we’ve been able to lead the league in scoring, we’ve taken a step back on defense maybe because subconsciously we’re able to score we can take plays off defensively. But you can’t do that. You still have to stop them from scoring. Just because you can score it doesn’t mean anything.”
Specific causes seem to switch from game to game.
Washington State rolled up a 40-20 advantage in the paint.
Colorado? The Buffaloes broke out on the fast break and outscored the Beavers 22-8.
In the Bay Area losses, it was second-chance points.
The Beavers were outscored by California 24-13 and Stanford 19-8.
“I think we’ve got to limit people’s second-chance opportunities and try to crash the boards and box out,” guard Roberto Nelson said.
“We do a great job of bothering other teams and we’ve just got to keep doing it. When we have a chance to get a hustle play, then we’re out getting it and not the other team.”
Second-half play too often falters. The Beavers gave up 44 to Washington, 47 to Stanford and 45 to Cal.
The Beavers show flashes of good defense.
They play well in man-to-man for stretches and can wreak havoc with the 1-3-1 zone.
“We know how to get stops. That’s the great thing about changing defenses,” Robinson said. “Our 1-3-1 has still been very effective. You just can’t play it the whole game.”
Before this season, Robinson’s teams have focused on the 1-3-1 and played with a deliberate pace on offense.
Low scores were often the result, but Robinson wanted his team to break out on offense this season.
The Beavers put in a lot of work to amp up the offense and it shows. They lead the conference in scoring offense with 77 points a game.
The work on the offense had a negative side effect, which Robinson has addressed a few times during the season.
“Part of our problem is we spent so much time in the preseason on our offense that I think our defense has struggled because of that, and I take the blame for that. Because in the seasons past we had stretches where we couldn’t score. We were barely getting into the 60s and we didn’t want that to happen.
“So I might have overcompensated by working on that a lot early and the defense is still coming along.”
Improvement has been gradual.
Robinson sees it in practice even though it might not be obvious to the fans in the stands.
“We’re definitely getting better at communicating,” he said. “We’re getting better at staying in front of our guys.”
There are some areas to build on.
The Beavers lead the conference in steals with 8.87 a game, are second in blocked shots with 3.87 a game and third in turnover margin at plus-2.13.
The team has good length with Eric Moreland and Devon Collier, and some tenacious perimeter defense led by Jared Cunningham.
“For us, we think with our length we can guard just about any kind of matchup,” Robinson said. “It’s just being consistent.”