You don’t need to be a math major to know that a six-team tournament in which everyone is guaranteed three games doesn’t really work. We’ve covered Xavier’s first matchup with Florida, the top dogs of Gonzaga and Duke, and the packed midfield that features West Virginia and Purdue. All that’s left is to cover the teams that are in the event primarily because the cube root of 8 is a whole number and the cube root of 6 is not. That dubious honor belongs to Oregon State and Portland State.
The Bracket Fillers
I’m going to start with Portland State for one reason, and that reason is head coach Jase Coburn. A lot of bad teams have the tendency to slow the game down and try to grind out low-possession results, but Coburn tells his dudes to go out and be brave. They play like maniacs, ranking 20th last year in offensive possession length (where quicker possessions lead to a higher ranking), taking good care of the ball, and relentlessly attacking instead of hucking threes. It wasn’t very effective - they were 304th in the nation in AdjO - but it was at least entertaining. They sell out for turnovers on defense and force a ton of them, but if you don’t cough the ball up, scoring is almost a foregone conclusion.
In addition to sounding like a character from Shoresy, James Jean-Marie led the team in PPG and RPG last year, putting up a 12.9/8.9/0.4 game line before departing for the Canadian professional ranks. Forward Khalid Thomas’s pinned tweet says, “I’m determined to make it,” and if making it is defined as getting paid to play, he has done. He averaged 12.8/6.3/1.1 last season. Guard Ezekiel Alley averaged 11.2; he graduated and is getting paid. Guard Damion Squire averaged 10.4; he’s out the door to UC Davis. Michael Carter III and his 10.3? Graduated. Marlon Ruffin and his 9.8? Gone to Nebraska-Omaha. Ian Burke’s 6.4? Out of eligibility. Paris Dawson, who scored 5.4 per game? Seattle U now.
If you lost count, that’s the team’s top eight scorers from last year not coming back. I’ve been writing for this website for a while now and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team that wasn’t grabbing one-and-dones lose that much production in a single offseason. Good news though! Mikal Starks and his 3.4/1.7/1.3 line and Hayden Curtiss (3.2/1.4/0.0) are back!
So... yeah. A lotta minutes up for grabs. They’ll probably be hoping for big things from Cameron Parker, a 6’2” PG who averaged 9.1/3.0/4.5 at Montana last year. He’s a good three-point shooter on low volume and has excellent ball distribution and security numbers. Guard Jorell Saterfield averaged 5.7 points in 21 minutes per game at UTEP last year; he’s a legit sniper who was 49-113 (43.4%) from deep there after shooting well over 40% on threes in two years at Ranger College. G/F Hunter Woods is a 6’6” junior who averaged 8 and 6 in three years at Elon; he has shot 323 threes on his career despite connecting at just a 31% clip.
Portland State also adds 6’5” wing Keshaun Saunders, who was up and down in three years at Toledo. He was all-freshman in his first season, but his numbers have steadily fallen since. One thing that hasn’t wavered is his three-point shooting; he has a career 38.4% mark from beyond the arc. Guard Bobby Harvey averaged 5.0 and 2.5 in a couple of years at IUPUI; he’ll likely be a depth option. Speaking of which, forward Kendall Munson is a big body who came in from Pepperdine and will fill space in the middle. Jacob Eyman is a 6’10”, 240-pound forward who averaged 2.9 and 2.7 at Fullerton College last year. I’m not certain he’ll be a factor at any point this season, but I know who he is and now you have to too.
That kind of devolved into a disorganized info dump of outgoing and incoming names, which honestly isn’t a bad representation of where this team is right now. This is a team that wasn’t all that good last year, and pretty much every meaningful player from that team is gone. They bring back just 19.7% of their minutes from last year, easily in the bottom 25 of the entire nation. Weighted for possessions used, they’re in the bottom 10 in returning usage. This is a monstrous hill to climb for Portland State. They’re here to fill out a bracket.
Seven of the eight teams in the 2021 Elite Eight are ranked 36 or better in the preseason KenPom rankings. Five of them (Gonzaga, UCLA, Baylor, Houston, Arkansas) are inside the top 15. The final piece of the puzzle is Oregon State; they’re 228th.
It’s not that they haven’t earned it, either. After ending the 2021 season at 93 in the KenPom, they ripped off six straight neutral site wins against teams ranked 33rd or better in those rankings. Their season ended in a valiant six-point loss to Houston in a game in which they used a 17-3 run to tie it with just under 4 to play. They went 3-28 last year, including losing their final 18 games of the year. Head coach Wayne Tinkle generally has his teams playing slow, methodical offense that protects the ball and keeps it moving to work inside the arc. They shoot a lot of FTs and not a lot of threes. His defenses have generally been a weak link, allowing teams to crush the offensive glass and not being particularly stingy against any shot type on a consistent basis.
What bright spots Oregon State did have last year were often generated by Jarod Lucas. He averaged 13.5/2.3/1.2 last year and is a career 38% three-point shooter on huge volume; he’ll suit up for Nevada this season. Guard Dashawn Davis was Lucas’s backcourt running mate. He averaged 10.9/3.1/5.5 and had excellent distribution stats, but he somewhat let himself down by shooting poorly and way too much. He’s going to be suiting up for Mississippi State this season. Maurice Calloo and Warith Alatishe combined to average 17.6/8.6/2.0 as frequent starters in the forward spots; both left the team to pursue pro careers this offseason. Big man Roman Silva averaged 7.2/4.6/0.4 as a super senior last year, but he has moved on due to lack of eligibility.
Glenn Taylor, Jr. is the most important returning guy. He’s a 6’6” wing who averaged 6.9/2.8/1.3 as a freshman last year and should step up into the vacuum left by the departing talent. Guard Dexter Akanno is a 6’5” guard who transferred in from Marquette for the 2022 season, during which he averaged 5 PPG in a fairly inefficient fashion. No player who got even 300 minutes across the course of the season returns for this year, though forward Rodrigue Andela is one to keep an eye on. He has struggled with injuries, but if he’s healthy, he might be a beast in the paint in his super senior season.
Some interesting talents are coming in, not least of which is Christian Wright, a 6’3” guard who started 11 games for Georgia last year. He’s a savvy player at both ends and a sniper from the free throw line. Another is Chol Marial. He’s a 7’2” big man who spent two years doing basically nothing at Maryland despite being a four-star guy coming out of high school. He was at Oregon State but not playing last year due to “progress towards degree requirements,” which I’m pretty sure is just code for being academically ineligible. If he’s fit and right, he’s a literally and figuratively big piece for this team.
Oregon State’s freshman class is ranked 82nd in the nation, which isn’t great. Guard Jordan Pope is a point who has some scoring ability; in an ideal world, he’s not called on to do too much beyond deputize for Wright at the point and work his way into the college game. Tyler Bilodeau is a 6’9” PF who had offers from Montana State, Boise State, and Washington State that he turned down to go to Oregon State. He has good shooting range but needs to develop his body to be able to hold his own closer to the rim at the D1 level.
I know this probably isn’t what any Oregon State fans who stumble across this might want to hear, but this is probably going to be another tough season for the Beavers. They were running in wet cement for most of last season and have lost their most important players from that team. After the program had been making slow but steady progress for a handful of years under Tinkle, they took a huge step back last year and aren’t poised for an immediate bounce-back this season. Maybe they have the foundation of something that will come to fruition sometime down the road, but the odds of that blooming early seem to be fairly slim. They’re not Portland State, but they’re not in this event to win it.