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January 12, 2010, 04:41 AM ET
The Inconsistent Beavers

by Kevin Pelton

Normally, John Gasaway and I are almost always on the same page. However, I must disagree with my esteemed colleague from the state of Illinois on the matter of the Oregon State Beavers. In this same space this morning, John wrote about the Beavers’ upset win last night over the rival Oregon Ducks.

Last night while I was watching Oregon State lead Oregon the whole way in Eugene, I opined that this was pretty remarkable. (The Beavers ended up winning 64-57.) Craig Robinson’s team had, after all, just lost to Seattle by 51 points. Nevertheless my opining resulted in responses from knowledgeable and savvy Pac-10 types assuring me that this wasn’t so remarkable after all. OSU is inconsistent and so, apparently, are the Ducks. “I refuse to listen to such radical talk!

One of those aforementioned responses came from yours truly. To try to back up my contention that the Beavers are unusually up and down, I went to the numbers on KenPom.com. Actually, inconsistency probably isn’t right to explain what is unusual about the way Robinson’s charges play. The real issue is that Oregon State seems to be unusual in its lack of sensitivity to opponent quality. The following graph plots the ranking of each OSU opponent in the Pomeroy Rankings against the margin of the game for the Beavers.

The points in black are 2009-10 games, while orange includes games from last season. While the Seattle U game–the 51-point loss at the bottom near the middle–is an obvious outlier, there isn’t a real strong relationship between rankings and outcomes outside of that. The correlation between the two is 0.325 this season and was 0.464 last year; by contrast, the 2008-09 Washington Huskies had a 0.687 correlation between Pomeroy Rankings and outcomes.

Last year’s Beavers did in fact tend to struggle against the elite of the elite, going 0-6 with an average differential of -22.5 points per game against teams in the Pomeroy top 25. However, against teams ranked between 26 and 100, Oregon State was 12-6. Move outside the top 100 and OSU went just 4-6, including a loss at No. 330 Howard. (This does not count wins over Seattle U and Seattle Pacific University, neither of whom was ranked because they did not play full D-I schedules.)

This year’s results, Seattle U aside, aren’t quite as dramatic. Still, the Beavers are 4-4 against opponents ranked 110 or better, with all four losses coming by single-digits. In other games, Oregon State is just 3-4, including a 25-point loss to No. 155 Texas A&M Corpus Christi and a home loss to No. 292 Sacramento State.

Now, one theory is that this really is an issue of the Beavers starting slowly, since most of their games against lowly teams have been played in November and December while the schedule has picked up after entering conference play. That certainly seemed to be the case last year, when Robinson was making drastic changes to Oregon State’s schemes at both ends of the floor. This year, it’s less convincing given the Beavers’ entire starting five and sixth man Omari Johnson are all returning. It also doesn’t explain the loss to the Redhawks, which was sandwiched in between two solid road efforts at the Washington schools (losses by a combined 11 points) and the win at Oregon.

Is there something about Robinson’s Princeton-style offense and 1-3-1 zone defense that creates more problems for quality teams than poor ones? I don’t know about that, but I will say that whenever the Beavers take the floor, neither side should consider the game a guaranteed win regardless of the disparity between them.

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