When Oregon State has the ball
As was the case when I previewed Oregon State from a Tennessee-centered lens, the Beavers still rarely run true ball-screen sets; Synergy credits them with a total of 18 ball-screen possessions across their first two NCAA Tournament games. That’s actually a lower rate than what they displayed in the regular season, even, and I can’t really picture that changing against a Loyola defense that ranks #2 on KenPom and almost flawlessly handled Illinois’ array of ball screens on Sunday. If Illinois couldn’t crack this defense with on-ball screens, I can’t really picture Oregon State being the team to do it, you know?
What’s more likely is that Oregon State is going to at least attempt to feed the ball to their unexpected March Madness star, Roman Silva. Silva is 7’1” and 265 pounds, which is a way of saying that few teams can really match that size in March. Of course, it helps that Silva has played out of his mind so far after displaying inconsistent play during the season. Silva has 23 points, 16 rebounds, and 7 blocks through two games, and he’s been a bear to deal with in the post:
Loyola’s post defense ranks in the 83rd-percentile, per Synergy, but they also don’t have a player taller than 6’9” Cameron Krutwig and they’ve only blocked 6.8% of two-point attempts this year (267th of 347 nationally). I’m really fascinated to watch Loyola combat this, though. Per Synergy, Illinois ran 11 true post-ups against the Ramblers on Sunday, nine of which were Kofi Cockburn’s. Six were in single-coverage, where Cockburn posted eight points; as good as Krutwig is, he’s not always going to win a one-on-one battle with a literal giant. So the Ramblers adapted and displayed a double team five times, which greatly decreased Cockburn’s efficiency:
This was part of an excellent scout by Porter Moser and staff. Cockburn only had five assists this season, a shockingly low number even for a post player. To Silva’s credit, he’s not nearly as dire a passer as Cockburn, but he’s only posted two assists in the Tournament across 55 minutes of play and four total over his last five games. Passing isn’t his forte, and his turnover rate is nearly four times that of his assist rate. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Loyola go for the hard double a few times on Saturday.
Beyond the post-ups, of course, is Oregon State’s unexpectedly hot shooting. Five of Oregon State’s six best shooting performances this season have come in their last seven games, and after shooting 34% across the first three months of the season, they’re 40.4% from deep in the month of March. Really, you could just narrow this down to “games Oregon State has played on neutral courts,” because in the Pac-12 Tournament and the NCAA Tournament, they’re shooting 42.1% from deep.
That level of deep shooting is hard to sustain for anyone, much less a team who was pretty average from downtown over the first three months of the season. Still, if you’re the Beavers, you have to ride this while it’s hot, and they’ve done so excellently. Quality ball movement has led to 65 catch-and-shoot three-point attempts, of which 28 (43.1%) have been deemed “unguarded” by Synergy. If you leave these Beavers open, they’re burning you to the tune of a 17-for-28 (60.7%) hit rate on open threes.
They’ve gotten looks like the one above from generally good movement that doesn’t require a ball screen, which has been a good thing, because during this open threes hot streak, they’ve shot 11-for-37 (29.7%) on more well-guarded looks. Wayne Tinkle’s offense has used some quality off-ball screens to get off open shots as well, with Colorado being a particular victim of them in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
All of this might be more helpful if they were playing a more vulnerable defense. Loyola Chicago’s forced opponents to shoot 30% on catch-and-shoot attempts this year, with a 60/40 Guarded/Unguarded split in the half-court. More notable, however, is the pace with which they rush closeouts and force opponents to take a dribble or two instead. Of the teams remaining in the field, no one has forced more off-the-dribble jumpers in half-court defense this year than the Ramblers:
While there’s some variance to be had in single-season numbers, it’s absolutely worth noting that the Ramblers ranked in the 96th-percentile in defending spot-ups and in the 99th-percentile in defending off-ball screens, per Synergy. If Oregon State can’t find points in the post, it’s going to be hard to get off the open shots they desperately need against Loyola.
More troubling for Oregon State, though, is the fact that the Ramblers are one of the best defenses in the nation at forcing mid-range twos. The Beavers get a significant chunk of their offense from Other Twos, with 31.9% of all shots this season coming there, well above the national average. They have players who hit these shots, which is nice, but the problem here is how desperate Loyola is to force these shots. A key piece of Loyola’s puzzle is how much they drain the clock defensively; only one team in America had a lower Average Possession Length on defense than the Ramblers.
Considering Oregon State’s most frequent and best play type in March has actually been transition play, this isn’t ideal. If Loyola is able to control the pace as they did against Illinois, it could be a long day for the Oregon State offense. Only seven teams forced more mid-range twos than Loyola this year, and very few of them looked any good to begin with:
Oregon State’s best shot here lies in a Loyola defense overpursuing the Beavers’ athletic guards and opening basket cuts for guys like Warith Alatishe. Oklahoma State got burned on this at times on Sunday, and the only area Loyola’s struggled at defensively this year is defending cuts to the basket, simply because they don’t have a seven-footer to block shots. This is all easier said than done, and if Oregon State can’t open up holes in Loyola’s defense in the first 15 seconds of the shot clock, it’s hard to see a ton of success here.
NEXT PAGE: When Loyola Chicago has the ball