There is little doubt that Seattle University's 51 point win at Oregon State University last season with star forward Charles Garcia in foul trouble was the defining victory of the year.
For the team, it proved that they weren't totally reliant on Charles Garcia, who only played 15 minutes in the game. For Seattle U coach Cameron Dollar, it reinforced the feeling that Seattle U had snagged a potential coaching star from cross-town at Montlake.
However, with OSU coming to KeyArena today, Seattle University suddenly finds itself struggling just to find a way to win and at a loss for answers. Whereas looking at last year's result in isolation might lead one to wonder if this is the game that helps Seattle U get back on track.
But it's a new season and as of Sunday night, Dollar hadn't even had the time to think ahead to Oregon State given their grueling travel schedule to open the season before coming up against a Pac-10 opponent tonight.
"I ain't even watched 'em or looked at 'em or anything," commented Dollar after their 76-60 loss to Cal Poly on Sunday. "I've just been plugging away at Cal Poly."
And even beyond the specific challenges Cal Poly presented, Seattle U has bigger problems on their hands.
At 0-3, Seattle U has neither been able to thrive with the uptempo attack that became their staple last season nor found a way to score in the half-court. The result is games like the one against Cal Poly on Sunday night at KeyArena - they can scrap enough to get close, but can't sustain production enough to pull off a win yet.
The biggest culprit is simple: Seattle U has been badly outshot by opponents, shooting 35.4 percent to opponents' 49.5 percent. Worst of all against teams that try to slow the tempo by zoning up, the Redhawks are shooting only 28.1 percent from the 3-point line and, really, freshman Sterling Carter is largely responsible for that having made 10 of the team's 18 3-point attempts this year although transfer Mark McLaughlin has also shown comfort shooting from deep.
But it doesn't stand to get any better with Oregon State in town.
Keys to the Game: Shooting against the 1-3-1 defense
Oregon State is known for playing a 1-3-1 defense that gives opponents plenty of three pointers while clogging the middle. As Kevin Pelton of College Basketball prospectus describes, while other programs have struggled to implement the 1-3-1 well, Oregon State has made it work. From the 2010-11 College Basketball Prospectus:
In year two under Robinson, the Beavers' defense made enormous progress, improving from 136th in the nation on a per-possession basis to 72nd. In conference play, Oregon State's was the second best D in the league, behind only USC.
The biggest difference was the Beavers' ability to cut out the long-ball from opposing offenses. By nature, the 1-3-1 is going to produce a lot of three-point attempts. Opponents made them at an average 34 percent clip in 2008-09. Last season, that dropped to 31 percent, which translated into a difference of 1.9 points per game in Oregon State's favor.
Pelton goes on to note that although the Beavers lost Seth Tarver who was crucial to forcing turnovers out of the 1-3-1 they were already cultivating replacements. And SBN's Oregon State site Building the Dam has already identified that replacement in 6-foot-7 Rhys Murphy who sat out last season due to injury.
In other words, this seems like exactly the matchup the Redhawks don't need as they're still learning how to win. Of course, you never know when a team might just get hot but given the evidence currently available to us the circumstances are not favorable.
Key Players for Oregon State:
- Perhaps one reason for relief is that freshman guard Roberto Nelson remains ineligible until December 12th, barring a surprise ruling from the NCAA, according to Diamond Leung of ESPN.com.
- Calvin Haynes (6-foot-2, 185, Sr): Nobody for Oregon State had a good game against Seattle last season, but Haynes was the high scorer with nine points. This season, Haynes will be looked upon as a leader for OSU and as the lead ball handler will be critical against Seattle U's pressure defense.
- Jared Cunningham (6-foot-4, 190, So): While there is a strong argument that the Redhawks should limit possessions this year given their shooting difficulties, one way that Seattle U might be able to win tonight is by forcing turnovers and avoiding the 1-3-1 zone. Pelton describes why he might play something of a factor in this game, both good and bad in College Basketball Prospectus: he had the highest turnover percentage in the Pac-10 last season at 35 percent, but also an elite 4.4 percent steal rate, which is comparable to what Tarver posted last season (4.5 percent).
It's probably safe to say that people who follow Seattle basketball closely are rooting for Seattle U to build on last season and succeed in their transition to Division I. It's hard to read too much into the significance of this game relative to last year's result because both teams have made changes. But in the interest of moving forward as a young team, the Redhawks need to get a win sometime and the unfortunate reality is that this matchup doesn't look quite as favorable as last season.