Beaver nation on edge
Oregon State transformed into Gill Coliseum South this week. In one camera, Brent Barry was posing with friends. In another, Gary Payton and A.C. Green were high-fiving in the stands. In the pre-game show even former Oregon coach Ernie Kent was at a loss of words for it all.
The energy in the one-sixth filled Staples Center was awesome, until the Beavers (19-14) were finally too tired to stop the Boulder Buffalo stampede that eventually took the Pac-12 crown on Saturday night. Tears of joy were followed by tears of sadness, a potential microcosm of the off-season in Beaver Nation.
The team led the Pac-12 in scoring with Jared Cunningham at the helm and Craig Robinson was able to take an inconsistent team that appeared to be dead in the water and led them to four wins, two over quality opponents (Pac-12 tournament champion Colorado in the season finale and the other over top-seeded Washington in the conference tournament).
As a result, more chances to watch Cunningham and company in 2012 are on the horizon. The Beavers still have an outside chance at an NIT birth, and a CIT or CBI birth is certain if the NIT does not invite them into their field.
Beaver believers have reason to be cautiously giddy for what could transpire next season.
Their team showed that they are capable of beating the best that the Pac-12 has to offer on any given night. Guard Jared Cunningham proved time and again in the conference tournament in Los Angeles that he is one of the conference’s best players. The full ensemble of Beavers will return as the team has only one senior that will be lost to graduation, forward Kevin McShane.
All of that said, Beaver Nation must hold their breaths after the recent dismissal of Illinois head coach Bruce Weber. Even though Robinson is under contract through the 2015-16 season, he is not bound to it.
Besides the obvious Obama-Illinois state connection, there are a bunch of reasons that the Fighting Illni could come marching to Corvallis for Robinson and why he would listen:
Robinson can put back together a fractured program
After recording 11 wins in his first season as head coach at Brown in the 2006-07 season, he went 19-10 in his second. During his inaugural season in Corvallis, the coach quickly helped fans forget about the goose egg that Oregon State put up a few seasons ago during Pac-10 play, by leading the Beavers to the 2008-09 CBI championship. He is currently on the cusp of a 20-win season this year in his fourth year at the helm.
Robinson is from Chicago and Champaign is a lot closer to it than Corvallis
The geography of the decision makes since for the Robinson family. Sister Michelle Obama will not live in the nation’s capital forever, and will likely settle in Chicago when her husband is done serving in the oval office. It would be easier to spend time with his sister in Champaign.
Deep down Robinson would not likely embarrass the program by turning it down
Robinson needs Illinois more than Illinois needs Robinson. Illinois is crazy about hoops and will throw money at a candidate if they think he is good enough. The buyout of Weber’s contract will cost Illinois $3.9 million and the Chicago Tribune reported that the buyout will not stop them from throwing money at another coach.
Every basketball junkie knows that Illinois in the next tier of coaching gigs to have in the sport after Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke and Kansas. Need proof? It took Kansas to get Weber’s predecessor at Illinois, Bill Self to leave Campaign. Illinois knows that and thus could make Robinson an offer that would be nearly impossible to refuse.
Oregon State’s basketball team provided a glimpse of what the 2012-13 season could have in store in a wide-open Pac-12 conference. The two catalysts for the team are Cunningham and Robinson, one with a potential trail to professional basketball and the other with a potential trail to basketball notoriety.
If their trails diverge, there could be tears of sadness in Corvallis, yet if player and coach choose to stay the course in Corvallis, tears of joy could prevail at season’s end. Not a dry eye in Corvallis is to be had as Beaver Nation can only watch as the two walk the trails of tears.