In a scrambled Pac-12 men’s basketball race, a hopeful narrative has been advanced around Oregon State: We’re better than we’ve been in a long time.
That’s true. But it’s the wrong narrative.
The team the Washington schools visit this week has three, perhaps four, players who next year will be earning checks in somebody’s pro league somewhere, and you wonder why it is that Oregon State isn’t in anybody’s bracketology, except for tournaments that don’t matter.
Maybe, after all these years, it’s simply become a way of life.
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As somebody who was around the glory days of Oregon State basketball in the 1980s, when the players threw 40-foot chest passes to teammates in stride for layups and the band played “Fat Bottomed Girls” and old Gill Coliseum seemed about to explode from the decibels, it’s stupefying to think that the Beavers haven’t been a part of an NCAA tournament since 1990.
Except for Northwestern, which seems to have stipulated in its charter that it will never see the NCAA tournament (never been), the Beavers are the only school in a major conference that hasn’t been to the NCAAs since ’90.
That includes basketball backwaters like TCU, Nebraska, and every member of the jerry-built American Athletic Conference, including Houston, Rutgers and SMU.
“It’s been so long,” conceded OSU coach Craig Robinson when I asked him about it on Tuesday’s Pac-12 teleconference. “But my frustration isn’t at a level that’s intolerable yet … I just know being close and heading in the right direction, it feels like we’ll get there.”
When I asked Robinson what’s been more challenging than he expected when he took the job in 2008, he went back to the depth of his research.
“I looked back and got about as far as when the last regime got to the NIT,” he said, referring to Jay John’s 2005 team. “I didn’t look further back and try to assess why they had been so bad for so long. That was a little more surprising, once I’d gotten here and figured that out.”
Why, yes, it’s been bad. Perhaps we didn’t realize in the ’80s, when Ralph Miller’s teams were winning Pac-10 titles with state-of-Oregon kids, that it was all so fragile. Soon enough, there was the spiral of bad coaching hires, and a gym that’s now far older than any in the Pac-12, and before you knew it, a generation of recruits that didn’t even know of Oregon State’s history.
Now Oregon has been to two Elite Eights since 2000, and Washington and Gonzaga drop down to Portland and snag good prospects. Robinson has upgraded recruiting, but his teams don’t guard, a primary reason why the 2013-14 edition is in ninth place and 13-11 overall.
If the drought doesn’t end pretty soon, I’d submit that it might begin to rival OSU’s 28-year streak of losing seasons in football (1971-98) for scourges on the fabric of the orange and black.
Robinson, President Obama’s brother-in-law, has been a well-spoken face of the program. He’s pulled prominent alums like Gary Payton and A.C. Green back into the program and helped get a $15 million practice facility built.
Now the athletic director job is open at his alma mater, Princeton, and the time could be right for Robinson. If he stays, he has something of a rebuilding job next season.
Around Corvallis, they know that drill.
And what’s more …
• Andy Katz of ESPN says Arizona will push for some type of league action in the offseason to curb court-storming. Greg Byrne, the Arizona AD, didn’t respond to my request to comment, but his coach Sean Miller notes wryly, and accurately, “We’ve lost two games, and I think the court was rushed four times.”
• Four games mark the heaviest Wednesday schedule of the season, highlighted by visits by Arizona and Arizona State to Utah and Colorado, respectively, and UCLA’s trip to California.
• His next win is No. 500 for Dana Altman, the Oregon coach, who began as a grad assistant at NCAA Division II Western State in Colorado while working toward an MBA degree. “I can’t say I always grew up wanting to be a coach,” Altman says, “but I never could get out of the gym at 3 o’clock. I’ve always said you’re really fortunate when your hobby’s your job.”
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org