Oregon State Basketball: Why They'll Get First NCAA Tournament Bid in 21 Years

Joye PruittSenior Analyst IJuly 7, 2011

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 10:  Jared Cunningham #1 of the Oregon State Beavers goes up for a shot between Kevin Parrom #3 and Lamont Jones #12 of the Arizona Wildcats in the first half in the quarterfinals of the 2011 Pacific Life Pac-10 Men's Basketball Tournament at Staples Center on March 10, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Did you know Gary Payton was an Oregon State basketball player before his trash-talking days in the NBA?

Probably not. You probably did not know that Oregon State would be making it to the NCAA tournament next season either. Even after standing in 176th place in the Sagarin rankings, the comeback that the world will witness will be of epic proportions. What makes me so sure?

Jared Cunningham is a start.

Basketball is and always will be primarily a team sport. Still, when watching the Oregon State Beavers you cannot help but to get a little excited when Cunningham goes up for a putback, jumping over four or five men in the process. His freshman year was a bit of a shaky start, as is with any other NCAA fresh-meat athlete.

However, the improvement in his sophomore year was not only a telltale sign of a more established role with the team; it was a product of tough offseason conditioning. His field-goal percentage may have decreased a bit from the year before, but when your team has a higher level of trust in you to complete plays, you hit some and you miss some.

The first player since Payton to make an All-Pac 10 Tournament team, Cunningham will carry an even larger fraction of the load in his next season. As a junior, expect to see the progression of a future professional league guard. The more experience he has racked up the more dependable he has become. Not to mention he gives a little bit of flash that you expect from a high quality guard in college, as well as at the next level.

Guard Roberto Nelson gives me a bit of optimism about the resurgence of Oregon State’s basketball program. He should not just be known as the kid who went up for a dunk, broke the backboard and walked away with about 20 stitches in his face. Nelson is pretty talented without injuring himself.

After an 18-month battle with the NCAA over eligibility, Nelson suited up in his first game against Texas Pan-American, where he only scored four points in 15 minutes on the floor. I must admit that I was not impressed at all.

Then, I wondered whether his mediocre ball skills that night had anything to do with the boulder that rested on his shoulders.

After going through the eligibility war for so long, people expected so much from Nelson. He was supposed to be the program-changing piece of the pie. Even though players may relay to the media that they are not concerned with all of the outside speculation, it shows more than they allow it to on the court.

Maybe it was an end-of-the-season shake-off. Maybe it was his potential shining through the cracks of the cement. Whatever it was that made Nelson score 34 points in an early March game against Arizona State, it must revisit his body in the season to come. Coach Craig Robinson will be able to solely focus on the men he recruited, and Nelson’s production will increase because of it.

These are not the only two players that give me hope. Newcomer Daniel Gomis will bring his high-energy defense and agility to the team as well. He fits in well with a team that needs to improve in their field-goal percentage defense (.479).

You do not have to believe me. Just sit back, tune in and take notes. These young men have struggled through enough seasons. Their time is now.

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