The Runnin' Utes are off to a terrible start in Pac-12 play after dropping one of the ugliest games in recent memory on Thurday against Oregon. Utah now sits with a 12-5 record overall and is just 1-3 in conference play, a stark difference from just three weeks ago when Utah was 9-2 and fresh off a win over Duke in Madison Garden. Despite the awful start, the Utes still have time to turn the season around, but it will need to start Sunday night against the Oregon State Beavers.
Oregon State is in it's second season under head coach Wayne Tinkle who came to Corvallis after eight seasons coaching at Montana. Tinkle has quickly turned the Oregon State basketball team around, turning them from a laughing stock into a solid Pac-12 team in just one full season. Despite struggling down the stretch in Pac-12 play last season, the Beavers returned most of their talent including senior point gaurd Gary Payton II, and are off to an 11-4 start this season.
Gary Payton II is the unquestioned leader for this team on floor. He leads the team in minutes played per game, points per game, rebounds per game, assists per game and steals per game. He is one of the top players in not just the Pac-12 but the country. He has put up big numbers in Pac-12 play so far, scoring in double figures in all four Pac-12 games and recording a double-double in the past two consecutive games against Cal and Colorado.
Complimenting Payton II in the post is freshman forward Tres Tinkle, who also happens to be the coach's son. Tinkle has good size at 6-8, 220 lbs. allowing him to play in the post, but the freshman has the range to shoot from beyond the three point line as well making him a dangerous inside-out threat. As with most talented freshman, Tinkle has gone off for some big games early in his career but has also disappeared at times, failing to find consistency. Stephen Thompson Jr., Drew Eubanks and Olaf Schaftenaar are other players to be aware of. Schaftenaar leads the team in three point percentage at 39.6% despite being one of the biggest guys on the team standing 6-10 and weighing 235 lbs.
Utah will be looking to rebound after their first home loss of the season and first home loss against a team not ranked in the top 10 since 2013. Oregon State on the flip side is searching for their first road win in Pac-12 play after Colorado had their way in a 71-54 Beaver loss this week. Gary Payton II has been virtually a one man show at times this season, being one of the only consistent performers for a reasonably young Oregon State team. Against common opponents this season the Beavers are 2-2 while Utah is 1-3. Oregon State has wins over Oregon and Cal and losses against Stanford and Colorado. Three of their four losses this season have been by more than ten points including this week's Colorado game, at no. 2 Kansas and against a good Valparaiso team. In comparison all five of Utah's losses have been by more than ten points, and their only Pac-12 win was only by two, squeaking past Colorado.
Heading into Sunday night, if Utah has an advantage, it would lie in their home court advantage and veteran big men. Oregon State has not performed particularily well on the road this season, but then again neither had Oregon until Thursday night. The Beavers struggle with rebounding ranking 205th in the nation averaging only 36.3 as a team. Utah will need to get Poeltl involved and take advantage of that matchup in the post. Against the Ducks, Poeltl only shot the ball from the field four times, which is not conducive to winning many Pac-12 games. That will need to change on Sunday if the Utes are to have a chance. When the Beavers control the ball, Utah needs to figure out a way to guard the perimeter and keep Gary Payton II from going wild. Payton has the ability to take over the game, and if he is given that opportunity, Utah doesn't have a similar player to counter with.
The game will be televised on ESPU and ESP3 at 6:30 on Sunday. You can listen to the game on ESPN700 with Bill Riley and Jimmy Soto.