With a much-needed sweep of the Washington schools last weekend, the Beavers remain in the hunt for their first NCAA tournament berth since 1990. My previous post took a look at what they likely needed to do to get back to the dance — and by splitting the Stanford/Cal series and knocking off UW and WSU, everything is going according to plan.
If the Beavers at least split this week’s series (UCLA/USC), they ensure themselves of a .500 record in conference play. Of course, if they sweep, they should be in with 19 wins and a 10-8 Pac-12 record. Even if it’s just a split, I don’t think they have to get a win in the Pac-12 tournament to get an NCAA berth. An 18-11 record and 9-9 conference mark should be strong enough.
First off, the Pac-12 has been pretty tough top to bottom this season, sans WSU. The Beavers have one of the strongest schedules in the conference, too! Secondly, the Payton storyline is pure gold. Come on, son leads Beavers to first tourney since his father did 26 years ago. And thirdly, I think the selection committee would be amiss to ignore the fact that Beaver Nation is starving for a return to a tournament that they used to be regulars in.
That said, the Beavers could make it a really easy by sweeping this week and winning a game in the Pac-12 tourney. But realistically, I think a split and at least a win in the conference tournament is more likely to happen. Sorry, the road has not been kind to the Beavs, and UCLA is a tough matchup for them.
A few random thoughts about Senior Day against the Cougs:
- Loved seeing Gill at capacity again. Really makes you appreciate the charm of the ‘ol barn even when you’re sweltering in the upper bowl. What a great showing by Beaver Nation for a crucial game, and just as importantly, to send the seniors off with a bang.
- Speaking of the seniors, many of them shined during their final regular season home game. Gary Payton II almost had another triple double (13 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists), Olaf Schaftenaar had 11 points and 5 assists, and Langston Morris-Walker recorded 8 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists off the bench. But the biggest basket of the day was by Daniel Gomis. The oft-injured senior has stayed positive despite his trying season and it was heartwarming to see him score, off a nice pass from another senior who hung in there despite a new role: Morris-Walker. Just wish Jarmal Reid could’ve scored.
- Coach Tinkle continued to epitomize class by subbing in the five seniors near the end of the game so they could walk off the court one last time to a loud ovation. Then he put the walk-on players in to reward them their hard work. It’s little things like this that endear Tinkle to his players, and helps strengthen team chemistry in future seasons.
- Since becoming a Beaver fan, I’ve watched some pretty awesome players such as Corey Benjamin, Phillip Ricci, David Lucas, Jared Cunningham, etc., but Gary “The Thief” Payton II has been my favorite because of his athleticism, violent dunks, and ability to do all the little things. His latest? The perfect entry passes to Drew Eubanks. He’s a special player who will go down as one of the greats in OSU history like his father.
- It will be weird not seeing Gary Payton as well next season. It’s been nice having the greatest player in program history on the sidelines the past two years, because I never got to see him play at Gill. He’s been so gracious with the fans and just having him there was so energizing. I hope he and his son stay involved with the program going forward. Huge kudos to Tinkle and his staff for keeping Payton II in the fold after Craig Robinson was fired and embracing his father. Question, though, where’s AC Green?
Regardless of what happens this week, it’s been a fun season and I look forward to the postseason, regardless of where the Beavers end up. The future is bright for the Orange Express. Go Beavs! (RW)