Show Me My NCAA Tournament Opponent: Oregon State

Oregon State defense

A matchup zone that only works if you can’t shoot, which…

If the other side of the ball offers backcourt excitement that’s largely a direct copy of what Tennessee does, this is pretty much the opposite. Oregon State’s defense sits at 117th, 53rd-best in a field of 68 and the third-worst among 12 seeds or higher. (This is so we can filter out the Drexels and Oral Roberts of the field.) Not a single team in the field offers a kinder 2PT% to their opponents than the Beavers do, sitting at 52.5%. (For reference, South Carolina finished up at 52% and Vanderbilt at 52.9%.)

The most exciting thing offered by Wayne Tinkle and staff defensively is a decent zone defense that wasn’t used much by the Beavers in their Pac-12 Tournament run after the UCLA game. It undeniably worked there. Synergy counts offensive rebounds as separate possessions, but the point here will still stand:

  • Half-court man vs. UCLA: 41 points allowed on 39 possessions (1.051 PPP)
  • Half-court zone vs. UCLA: 30 points allowed on 41 possessions (0.732 PPP)

More importantly, the matchup/2-3 zone hybrid forced UCLA to become a jump-shooting team. The Bruins attempted 29 shots against the zone, per Synergy; 22 of them were jump shots. (Against man-to-man in half-court, this ratio was 17 of 34.) The Bruins got off 13 three-point attempts against the zone, and to be fair to them, probably two-thirds of these were open:

They just didn’t fall. Notable to Tennessee in particular is that, in that game, UCLA attempted 29 non-rim twos, a number which includes overtime but also represents an insane 46% of all Bruin shots. The zone alone forced 11 of these attempts, with a particular emphasis on making the Bruins hit shots from 10-14 feet away from the rim. Which the Bruins actually did, for the record.

All of this goes to say that I both really do like this matchup for Tennessee and can pretty easily see the ways it could go south. You don’t need me to remind you just how many Other Twos Tennessee takes in an average game, and if Tennessee feeds into Oregon State’s desire for the Vols to take a lot of jumpers, it leaves the door open for the upset. If Tennessee ends up taking 29 non-rim twos in this fixture, it is going to be a much less comfortable affair than everyone desires.

The good news is that it’s mostly man-to-man and very bad at rim protection

Now that I’ve fed into your zone defense fear, it is worth reminding you of two things: 1. Oregon State runs man-to-man 73% of the time, per Synergy; 2. Their man-to-man defense ranks in the 32nd-percentile nationally and has been very bad at slowing down anyone consistently in the paint. The Beavers allow opponents to convert 61.9% of attempts at the rim, a rate which ranks fifth-worst among NCAA Tournament defenses. This is true both against the Beavers’ man defenses:

And also against their zone, where Synergy rates their rim protection in the 38th-percentile:

It’s not a combination that exactly leads to success most nights. Oregon State only held opponents below 50% on twos in seven of their 29 games, which is music to Rick Barnes’ ears for a team that barely touched 50% on an average night this season. Despite the use of the zone, the Beavers don’t force a ton of non-rim twos when they’re playing teams other than UCLA; just 26.2% of opponent shots come up as Other Twos, per Torvik. Warith Alatishe is a wonderful athlete at the 4 with a Block Percentage of 6.2%:

But even he can’t cover for what’s otherwise a moribund rim protection scheme. Oregon State rotates between a pair of centers (6’8” Rodrigue Andela, 7’1” Roman Silva), neither of him are terribly effective at anything but fouling. Andela averages 5.5 fouls per 40 and Silva 7.4, meaning that the number of games where at least one of them is in foul trouble is quite large. Neither Andela nor Silva are truly bad defenders, but they also have weird quirks that combine to make up a very underwhelming 82%-of-available-minutes concoction. Silva is an oddly bad rebounder for a 7’1” guy; Andela is a great rebounder who blocks shots less often than Olivier Nkamhoua. Combine some poor decisions in the foul department and you’ve got a sieve-like center Voltron:

Silva and Andela are the primary foulers on the Oregon State side, but outside of Lucas, Reichle, and Hunt, everyone Oregon State plays averages at least 3.2 fouls per 40, with Alatishe nearly touching 4 and Maurice Calloo (the other other center) at 4.3. The Beavers sit 304th nationally in opponent Free Throw Rate, fifth-worst in the field and second-worst among 1-12 seeds behind Houston. Unlike the Cougars, though, the Beavers don’t combine their foul parade with a ton of forced turnovers and the #1 eFG%.

Speed up, gas pedal

It’s also worth noting that, as the cherry on top of sorts, Oregon State’s transition defense ranks in the 9th-percentile per Synergy. Their eFG% allowed – 55.6% – is 254th per Hoop-Math, and as we’ve explored, it’s not as if they do a ton in half-court to make up for it (Virginia, for example). Giving up easy buckets off of turnovers is one thing, but sometimes, Oregon State just…doesn’t get back. Like, they’ll have just scored, and then an easy two comes on the other end because someone was caught napping:

Among the 21 different defenses Tennessee has drawn on their schedule in 2020-21, Oregon State’s ranks 15th and is one of eleven sub-100 defenses played by the Vols. If we narrow it down to a specific subset of defenses – those ranked 100th-150th – Tennessee averaged 1.11 PPP in a seven-game grouping and only went sub-1 PPP once. Their four best efforts in SEC play are all represented in this group. Zone or no zone, Tennessee is primed to take advantage of a lacking squad of Beavers.

NEXT PAGE: Tennessee has never lost in the first round as a 5 seed. This is a sample size of 1, but, well, 1-0

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