Replacing Flight won’t be easy
The morning of April 9th, 2012 was one Beaver Nation would like to forget, as one of it’s brightest star athletes announced he’d be making the jump to the professional level.
That athlete was Jared Cunningham, and his lasting legacy on the Oregon State basketball program will not soon be forgotten. Those rafters in Gill should soon house a #1 banner, with the likeness of Cunningham printed on it, sealing his place in OSU lore.
Cunningham still had one year left of eligibility, and the OSU basketball team was coming off one of its greatest seasons in recent memory; all signs were pointing to a magical 2012 on the basketball court in Corvallis.
However, the ending wasn’t as picturesque as fans had hoped for, and Jared’s absence left some very big shoes to fill.
Question is, who fills that void?
Roberto Nelson – Redshirt Junior, Guard
Roberto Nelson was the cream of the recruiting crop a few seasons back, and his decision to join the Oregon State basketball
team confused many. During the recruiting process of 2008, Nelson was fielding offers from schools like UCLA, Florida, and Ohio State, to name a few, yet grew very fond of new OSU head coach Craig Robinson, and ultimately chose to don the orange and black.
Since putting on that Beavers jersey, and calling Gill Coliseum home, Nelson has seen his fair share of ups and downs.
Playing second fiddle to Jared Cunningham during his first two seasons, Nelson will assuredly be tasked with more responsibility in the post-Jared era; there’s no doubt he has the ability to overachieve on that responsibility, too.
Last season, Nelson was the first player off the bench (or 6th man, if you will) for most of the year, and his season averages displayed his streakiness as a shooter. He averaged 9.3 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists a game, and often displayed his 3 point shooting ability.
With another year under his belt at the college level, Roberto Nelson could be primed to step up in the absence of Jared Cunningham.
Eric Moreland – Sophomore, Forward
Last season, the 6’10” Moreland burst on to the OSU basketball scene with his incredible rebounding and blocking ability.
Starting in 17 games as a freshman, Moreland broke the OSU single season blocks record set by Scott Haskin in the 1991-92 season (68) with 69 blocks. He shattered the freshman record, held by teammate Devon Collier (23), by 46 blocks. The 69 blocks was also best, in the newly formed PAC-12, on the season.
It was apparent from the beginning of the season that Moreland possessed game changing ability on the defensive end, and his minutes began to rise as a result.
So while defense is no stranger to Moreland, it’s his offensive production that holds him back from being the most complete player on the roster.
In the 2011-12 season Moreland averaged just 5.2 points a game, while grabbing 6.8 rebounds and posting 1.9 blocks a game. Not many people will average more rebounds than points, but Oregon State hardly utilized him for his offense, and for good reason too.
That’s not to say he’s a liability on the offensive end, but Oregon State won’t typically look his way with other scorers on the court.
Ahmad Starks – Junior, Guard
The part of Starks’ game that he excels in the most is his ability to shoot from long range, specifically from beyond the three point line.
In the 2011-12 season, Ahmad Starks, who started 35 of the team’s games, made an astounding 79 three point field goals. That total was good for best on the team, and the second most in a season behind Gary Payton’s 82 made 3’s in the 1988-89 season. His deadly accuracy from long range makes him an ideal candidate to fill the scoring void left by Cunningham.
Along with the consistent three point shooting, Starks’ season averages fared quite well when stacked up against the rest of the PAC-12. His 12.1 points per game were good for 21st in the conference and his 1.7 steals per game was good for 7th best.
The absence of Jared may thrust more of a distributor role on Starks, who is now the clear cut point guard for this year’s squad. Even if it’s assists that coach Craig Robinson will want more out of Starks, there’s no denying his long range efficiency and he’ll still be good for 3-4 three pointers a game.
Devon Collier – Junior, Forward
Devon Collier is another one of Craig Robinson’s blue-chip prospects, hailing from the high school powerhouse St. Anthony’s High School in Jersey City, New Jersey.
After a productive freshman season, that showed Collier was a bit of a raw talent both offensively and defensively, the Bronx native progressed quite nicely in his second full year as a Beaver. While shooting 63% from the field, and averaging just over 13 points a game, Collier also added 5 rebounds a game and blocked 46 shots on the year, doubling his freshman output of 23.
Aside from his season statistics, it was what Collier did in the PAC-12 tournament that has many believing he could be a dominant force this season. The forward averaged 17.7 points, and 7 rebounds, in three tournament games and showed that he could be the go-to guy for the Beavers. Even though he didn’t put it all together, consistently, until the PAC-12 tournament, it was promising to see that kind of production out of Collier.
So Who Fills the Void?
The Beavers have opened this season to the tune of a 3-1 record, with a key win over Purdue, and a close loss to Alabama. In those three wins we’ve seen several of these players step up, in various roles, and fuel Oregon State to victory; so who will ultimately get it done the whole season?
On paper, this selection should probably go to Roberto Nelson. A pure scorer who just may be putting it all together this year, and without the presence of another alpha male, like Jared Cunningham, could take the keys to the offense and run with it.
However, I’m going to go with a guy who has shown to be much more valuable to this year’s roster, and that’s Devon Collier.
With the ACL injury to Angus Brandt that will force him to miss the entire 2012-13 season, Collier figures to be more of an integral part of the OSU offense.
Coming off the bench in the year’s first four games, Collier’s done more than enough to justify putting him in the starting lineup, even if Brandt was healthy.
In the consolation game of the 2K Sports Classic, against Purdue, Collier registered 27 points, on 9-15 from the floor and 9-11 from the free throw line, while adding 14 rebounds and one block. Against Alabama, Collier scored 21 points, and recorded 6 rebounds.
Seeing Collier produce these kind of numbers, against tough out of conference opponents, is a promising sign for the forward’s progression as a player. The production is there, and if Collier can be this consistent throughout the year, he figures to pick up much of the slack left behind by Jared Cunningham.
Oregon State is back in action this Sunday as they take on Montana State, at legendary Gill Coliseum, in the annual Nike N7 game. Tip off is scheduled for 3 PM and will air on the PAC-12 Networks.