Show Me My NCAA Tournament Opponent: Oregon State

Oregon State offense

Spiderman pointing meme

At first glance, this wouldn’t appear to be an offense that incites much terror in your heart. Oregon State ranks 65th nationally in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency rankings, a few spots ahead of Tennessee but also five spots ahead of a Vanderbilt team Tennessee held to 61 and 58 points. The Beavers shot worse than 50% on two-pointers in 18 of their 29 games this year, which is A Problem if you’re a team hoping to grab a couple surprise wins in March. Of the 68 teams in this year’s NCAA Tournament, Oregon State ranks 62nd in 2PT%, and two of the teams behind them are 16 seeds.

And yet I am here to tell you that this is the side of the ball you should be afraid of, if you’re going to pick one. The only thing the Beavers do truly poorly is two-point shooting; while that’s a big deal, they can make it up by way of limiting turnovers (82nd TO%), getting to the free throw line (110th FT Rate, 39th FT%), or, as they did in the Pac-12 Tournament, get really hot from deep (29-for-66 in three games). It doesn’t work every night, but it worked for three nights last week. (This is how you can win the Pac-12 title and lose to a 6-15 Portland team in the same season.)

Interestingly, you could characterize Oregon State’s offense as being fairly similar to Tennessee’s. The Beavers used ball screens less than any other team in the Pac-12; Tennessee used them less than anyone else in the SEC. Oregon State posts up more than the rest of their Pac-12 brethren; only Kentucky and Missouri bested Tennessee in number of post-ups this year. We’ve gone into great detail about Tennessee taking a lot of non-rim twos with shallow rewards, but Oregon State took nearly 33% of their shots as Other Twos and hit at a 37.3% rate.

Ethan Thompson drives the Beavermobile

Anyway, Oregon State’s main actions run through point guard Ethan Thompson, who uses 27% of the possessions when he’s on the floor. Thompson is a score-first guard whose first option is to get his shot, whether that’s a shorter mid-range jumper:

Or a three, where he’s hitting 31.5% of his attempts this season:

In Oregon State’s Pac-12 championship victory over Colorado, Thompson was of little-to-no shooting use (7 points on 9 shots), but still used the gravity he pulls on the court to get other players open. The Buffs stopped Thompson, but they weren’t quite able to stop the other shooters on the court:

The nice part of this for Tennessee, who just played a team where all five players on the court could and would take threes, is that Oregon State takes a below-average amount and none of them get a ton of time at the 5. The Beavers experimented with some lineups with Maurice Calloo at center down the stretch, but not for more than 3-4 minutes a night. It’s largely a 3.5-in, 1.5-out system where Thompson generates looks for himself and for everyone else. At 6’5”, his size can be a bother for some, and to compare him even further to Tennessee’s best guys, he looks to back similar-sized players down in the post:

Sharp-shooter Jarod Lucas doesn’t quit running

Thompson is one of two matchups I find fairly worrisome in this game; the other is sophomore Jarod Lucas, a guard who is no threat whatsoever in the paint but is a terrific shooter that never turns the ball over. Oregon State runs a lot of looks to get Lucas the ball on the perimeter, where he’s 65-for-165 (39.4%) on the season. Lucas is a tough one because he’s a fantastic catch-and-shoot guy (65.5% eFG%, per Synergy):

But he has almost the exact same number of attempts off the dribble, where he’s also a very good shooter. In the half-court, Lucas is above 40% on both threes and mid-range twos, which is…not quite what I was hoping to hear.

The good news on the Lucas front: he is essentially Just A Shooter, although a very talented one. Lucas went a hilarious 1-for-16 on attempts at the rim this year and posted one singular layup attempt (a miss) in Oregon State’s Pac-12 title run. These teams will be playing in unfamiliar arenas (although ones they’ll have practiced at a bit); as long as Tennessee forces Lucas to go off-the-dribble, where he’s a bit less efficient, they can limit his impact. It seemed quite notable to me that Lucas only had three sub-10 point games against Pac-12 competition and two came against Colorado, the Pac-12 team most similar to Tennessee.

Warith Alatishe is the Yves Pons of Oregon State (if you squint)

Warith Alatishe isn’t quite as scary in either efficiency or outside production, but he’s the third-leading scorer and the only other major offensive contributor. Alatishe is the team’s power forward who’s made one three this year and has done much more damage inside the perimeter. Alatishe gets a lot of work in the post, where he’s moderately efficient and has done most of his damage on the left block:

However, a much greater chunk of Alatishe’s contributions come via flash/basket cuts and on the offensive glass. Alatishe’s OREB% of 14.2% for a 6’7” power forward is genuinely remarkable, and in all four games watched for the purpose of this preview, he posted at least three offensive rebounds in each fixture. He’s legitimately talented at knowing where to be when a shot misses.

The rest of the Beaver offense is an array of role players and somewhat-interesting side pieces we’ll cover in the rotation guide. What’s funny is that of all the offenses Tennessee could’ve drawn in the first round, you could make the case that you’re looking at Tennessee if Tennessee were less attuned to transition play. Oregon State takes a below-average amount of threes, struggles to score consistently inside the line, has a high assist rate, appears to have a freak athlete at power forward, and runs ball screens less than anyone in their conference. It all feels very Tennessee, up to and including a somewhat-uncomfortable amount of missed 14-footers.

If only they had the right shade of orange to go with it. Or perhaps more turnovers.

Here’s a quick scout of Oregon State’s rotation. The positions listed in parentheses are from Bart Torvik’s algorithm. Only players who played 10 or more minutes on average in Pac-12 play are mentioned. The first five players are the starters.

  • #5 Ethan Thompson (scoring PG). Thompson is the main option offensively and the best passer. A true three-level scorer, Thompson has 40+ made baskets at the rim, on Other Twos, and from three (31.5%). Takes a lot of shots, some good, some bad. The more mid-range twos you force, the happier you’ll generally be.
  • #2 Jarod Lucas (scoring PG). Just A Shooter but a very spicy one. 39.4% from three on 165 attempts, 39.6% on 91 mid-range looks, 89.3% at the free throw line. Unfortunately, a solid 1-for-16 at the rim, which is unbelievably bad. Also an openly bad defender that Tennessee needs to isolate.
  • #11 Zach Reichle (combo G). Good passer for a combo, but frustratingly inconsistent from three (33% on 91 attempts). Put it all together in the Pac-12 Tournament to go 5-for-9 from three, which probably overvalues his shooting ability.
  • #10 Warith Alatishe (PF/C). Freak-like athlete that blocks a lot of shots and has more than double the dunks of the next-highest dunker. Unfortunately, not a shooter (1-for-14 threes, 26-for-49 FTs). Fantastic rebounder. Must be stopped at all costs; if you can’t stop him, foul him.
  • #12 Roman Silva (center). 7’1″ and a bizarrely bad rebounder. If you’re 7-feet or taller, having a DREB% of 11.5% is honestly pretty terrible; of the 39 7-footers that got at least 12 minutes per game this year, no one was a worse rebounder than Silva. Luckily for him, he’s still 7-feet, which means he is pretty hard to stop at the rim if he gets there. 7.4 fouls per 40 is a huge problem – that’s a foul every 5.4 minutes.
  • #0 Gianni Hunt (scoring PG). Closest thing to a microwave scorer the Beaver bench has, but he has insane 2PT/3PT splits. 38.5% on 65 attempts from downtown but an unreal 33.8% on 80 two-point attempts, including a gross 41.2% hit rate at the rim. An okay defender.
  • #1 Maurice Calloo (wing F). Rates out as the worst defender in Oregon State’s rotation; combined Block%/Steal% of 1.9% is the second-worst on the roster behind Lucas. Provides a lot of shooting value, though: 38.2% on 68 attempts from deep. 27% on 74 twos, though, including 8-for-30 at the rim???
  • #34 Rodrigue Andela (center). Another minus defender, but a fantastic rebounder. Andela was one of just five players 6’10” or shorter who posted a 15%+ OREB% and a 24%+ DREB%; it’s what I imagine Rick Barnes thought E.J. Anosike would be. Doesn’t really do much otherwise, though, and averages a foul for every seven minutes he’s on the court.

NEXT PAGE: “large, semiaquatic rodents,” per Wikipedia

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