Pac-12 hoops preview: Oregon State’s biggest question remains depth

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Ahead of the 2018-19 men’s college basketball season, Justice delos Santos will break down Cal’s Pac-12 opponents. 

As currently constituted, Oregon State is one of the more interesting teams in the Pac-12 — a top-heavy group that could turn some heads as much as it could finish in the bottom three.

Basketball is a family affair in Corvallis. Senior Stephen Thompson Jr. and sophomore Ethan Thompson are sons of assistant coach and former NBA player Stephen Thompson, while redshirt junior Tres Tinkle is the son of head coach Wayne Tinkle.

Based on the younger generation’s performance thus far, that basketball pedigree was passed down from the elders.

The younger Tinkle has done nothing but shine since stepping onto the hardwood of the Gill Coliseum. A 6’8”, 225-pound forward with a 7-foot wingspan and the ability to score, pass and defend, Tinkle has emerged as one of the Pac-12’s premiere Swiss Army knives.

A broken wrist sidelined Tinkle six games into the 2016-17 season, but he returned last season with a vengeance, earning an All-Pac-12 First Team nomination.

In his second full campaign, Tinkle evolved from a scorer into a point forward, almost quadrupling his assists total from 30 as a freshman to 117 as a redshirt sophomore.

That isn’t to say Tinkle sacrificed his ability to put the ball in the basket. Last season, Tinkle took on more of the scoring load without sacrificing efficiency, averaging 17.6 points per game on a 47.2 field goal percentage, both of which were career highs.

Co-starring alongside Tinkle are the Thompson brothers, a pair of combo guards who can do a little bit of everything.

Stephen Thompson Jr., the elder of the two, benefitted from the return of Tinkle last season, upping his shooting percentage and cutting down turnovers en route to turning in arguably his best season yet.

More impressive is that even with fewer shot attempts, Thompson Jr. nearly maintained the same point per game average — 16.3 per game as a sophomore, 15.8 per game as a junior.

The younger of the two brothers was impressive in his own right. As a freshman, Ethan Thompson was one of only seven players in the Pac-12 to average at least 9 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists per game.

Thompson fell ill with a case of the freshman blues, shooting under the 40 percent threshold for the season. But if the end of the season is any indicator of the future, good things are in store for the rising sophomore.

Over the final 10 games of the season, Thompson put up 10.6 points per game, upping his figures to 43.8 percent from the field and 43.2 percent from deep.

Between Tinkle and the Thompson brothers, Oregon State has an established trio that can make some noise, but the program will only go as far as its big three can take it.

Aside from those three, Oregon State is stretched thin. Heading into next season, the Beavers will have to rely on incoming freshmen and returners who played minimal roles last season.

The biggest blow is the loss of big man Drew Eubanks, creating a hole down low. After a junior year in which he averaged 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, Eubanks declared for the draft and forewent his senior season, a move that many saw as a head-scratcher.

Regardless of whether or not it was the right decision on Eubanks’ part, the Beavers will have to find some way to replace his production, a burden that will likely fall on the shoulders of Tinkle and the Thompson brothers.

Senior Gligorije Rakocevic and freshman Jack Wilson will likely eat up most of the minutes at center. Rakocevic, otherwise known as “Big G,” has become a fan favorite at Oregon State, but his game leaves a lot to be desired. In three seasons with the Beavers, Rakocevic has averaged 3.0 points and 2.5 rebounds per game while shooting a porous 47.1 percent from the field.

The big man hailing from Montenegro showed some semblance of a 3-point shot as a sophomore, knocking down 8 of his 19 attempts, yet he all but stopped shooting from deep altogether last season, only attempting one shot from distance.

Aside from the center position, the Beavers’ overall depth remains a big question mark.

Sophomore Alfred Hollins will likely assume the role of starting small forward. He had a solid first season, averaging 5.8 points in 13.8 minutes per game and even dropping a 24-piece on UCLA.

Hollins performed well when given the occasional chance to show out, but the task at hand will be sustaining that excellence over 30-plus games.

Freshmen Jordan Campbell and Warren Washington, both of whom are three-star prospects coming out of high school, will have to grow up fast and provide production off the bench.

It’s tricky to project where Oregon State will finish. Tinkle and the Thompsons could all have career years and drag an otherwise pedestrian group to a middle-tier finish. On the other hand, the lack of depth could thwart the trio’s best efforts.

Justice delos Santos covers men’s basketball. Contact Justice delos Santos at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @justdelossantos.