1. St. John’s (Neutral – November 23rd)
Back in late July, it was announced that Oregon State would match-up with Big East dark-horse St. John’s in the Beavers opening game of the Advocare Invitational in Orlando, Florida, in what is expected to be an intriguing match-up between two surging teams. For the Red Storm, Chris Mullin’s guys are expected to “take the leap” in year three of the Hall of Famer’s tenure and become solid contenders in a fluid Big East. For Oregon State, it’s simply a case of any marked improvement will be better, after last year’s abysmal 5-27 outing.
St. John’s will be led by the fearsome back-court duo of rising sophomores Shamorie Ponds (17.4 PPG) and Marcus LoVett (15.9 PPG), who both can split time at the point guard spot running the show for the Johnnies. Overall, Mullin will bring an athletic squad down to Orlando, anchored by a front-court who needs to prove their worth and some wing scoring options who need to find more consistency. In general, consistency was the name of the game for St. John’s a season ago, as the Red Storm clipped the likes of Syracuse and Butler but dropped games to Delaware State and LIU-Brooklyn.
Why It’s Important: If the hype around this Beavers group proves true, Oregon State could have a few home wins under their belt before the Thanksgiving break tournament tips off. A win over a team like St. John’s would not only validate the team’s expected turnaround, but also secure them something they haven’t had in a while…a notable non-conference victory. It would also set up a second round match-up with either a much hyped Missouri squad (a projected Top 25 team) or Long Beach State, a group that Oregon State will play on November 18th in Corvallis, in their last game prior to the Advocare Invitational. At this stage in the game, all Beaver fans should be circling this contest against the Red Storm.
2. Wyoming (Home – November 13th)
The second “dark-horse” conference pick on this list so far, Wyoming is also becoming a trendy pick in the Mountain West heading into the 2017-2018 campaign after last year’s debut season under head coach Allen Edwards. Edwards, who was an assistant under legendary coach Larry Shyatt before Shyatt abruptly stepped down, led by the Cowboys program to a 23-15 mark in his first year, which ended with a CBI Championship over Coastal Carolina. In year two, Edwards will be hoping his team makes the leap into a potential NCAA Tournament squad.
The good news for Wyoming is that the team is expected to return 78% of their scoring from a season ago, headlined by the formidable trio of Justin James (16.0 PPG), Hayden Dalton (12.2 PPG) and Alan Herndon (11.1 PPG). The bad news is that the Cowboys will have to replace one of the most exciting players in their program’s history in all-time three-point record holder Jason McManamen (11.3 PPG). If Edwards can get some players like Alexander Aka Gorski (7.7 PPG) and Louis Adams (7.6 PPG) to fill bigger roles, Wyoming could be find their way to that coveted 20+ win plateau once again.
Why It’s Important: With all due respect to the likes of Division III Pacific University-Oregon and Southern Utah, Wyoming should be the Beavers first real test of the 2017-2018 season. Not only do the Cowboys return a veteran core of talent but they’ve also found a likeable and winning formula under Edwards that will likely spurn a yearly contender in the Mountain West. While Wyoming may not carry the name brand of a national spotlight program like St. John’s, the Cowboys will be one of the best mid-major squads in the West. Oregon State will have their work cut out for them in this match-up.
3. Long Beach State (Home – November 18th)
And so, they meet again. Long Beach State and Oregon State squared off last season in Portland, Oregon during the first game of the Dam City Classic, where the 49ers used a 46-point second half to knock off the Beavers. Overall, it was a tough, emotional loss for an Oregon State group trying to find their footing, which may have propelled the team to a 45-point overall output against Portland just a couple days later. If nothing else, the Beavers should be out for revenge this time around.
As for Long Beach State’s prospectus heading into this game, the 49ers will be anchored by the return of forward combo of Gabe Levin (12.2 PPG) and Temidayo Yussuf (9.4 PPG), both of whom have been All-Big West team selections. However, they’ll need to replace the strong guard presence of Evan Payne (14.2 PPG), Justin Bibbins (13.1 PPG) and Noah Blackwell (8.1 PPG) who have all departed the program. Simply put, even under a storied head coach like Dan Monson, the 49ers have some serious work to do heading into the season.
Why’s It Important: If beating a mid-major squad who came into a showcase game in your home-state a season ago and beat you isn’t enough motivation for the Beavers, the game could also be a unique first leg of a duo of games against the 49ers, with a rematch potentially coming in the Advocare Invitational. And while a game against a group like Long Beach State won’t define Oregon State’s season it itself, it could go a long way to proving just how real this Beavers team is. If head coach Wayne Tinkle has fully turned this team around, a rebuilding squad like this 49ers one should be a solid win for Oregon State.
4. Saint Louis (Neutral – December 16th)
The Beavers’ lone return to Portland next season will come against Saint Louis at the Moda Center, where second-year Saint Louis head coach Travis Ford will hope to find a signature win over a power conference team away from home. It’s the job of Oregon State to now make sure their late 2017 trip to Portland goes much better than last year’s Dam City Classic debacle.
If nothing else, what Oregon State will have going for them is that the Billikens were one of the country’s worst offensive teams a season ago, averaging a mere 61.4 points per game, who only snagged 12 wins throughout the campaign. However, that doesn’t mean to count out Saint Louis by any stretch of the imagination. Ford has established strong connections on the recruiting front, where the haul of four-star prospects Jordan Goodwin and Hasahn French is expected to pay immediate dividends, alongside a cast of transfers in Adonys Henriquez (Central Florida), Javon Bess (Michigan State), D.J. Foreman (Rutgers) and Rashed Anthony (Seton Hall). Henriquez (10.5 PPG) has been rumored to be one of the team’s most impressive talents throughout the summer, as the 6’ 6” sharpshooter continues to develop. He will likely be at the center of the Beavers game-plan against Saint Louis.
Why It’s Important: As previously mentioned, Oregon State’s trip to Portland last season didn’t go so swimmingly, as the Beavers dropped games to the likes of Long Beach State and Portland. For Oregon State, it was almost more of their poor quality of play, first allowing the 49ers to steamroll back into a game and then falling to an offensively-poor Portland team, that irked fans more than anything else. The Beavers were simply falling apart at the seems. It may not seem like much but a victory in their return to Portland could be a solid indicator of the direction and focus of this group. With some veterans in the mix, it’s expected that Oregon State will take care of business this time around in the Rose City.
5. Kent State (Away – December 21st)
Oregon State will officially play twelve contests in the non-conference portion of the schedule, with only one true road game in the mix. Just four days before Christmas, the Beavers will head to Kent, Ohio to take on the Golden Flashes, in a return game of last season’s 69-50 Beavers win in Corvallis. Although, it’s possible that Kent State will look like remarkably different team than they were last season, especially without their 6’ 8”, 235-pound leader Jimmy Hall (19.0 PPG) in the paint. It’s time to find some new leaders on the Golden Flashes roster.
Kent State believes that they have found their next rising star in guard Jaylin Walker (15.8 PPG), who went for 30 points in the team’s surprise MAC Tournament title victory over Akron, before dropping 23 points in an NCAA Tournament game against UCLA. It seems as though their beliefs about Walker may be right. Although, sometimes considered a volume scorer, Walker was integral to the team’s late-season surge, which ended with a trip to the big dance. Kent State will be hoping to return to college basketball’s biggest stage in 2017-2018 as well, if they can continue to develop and improve throughout the campaign.
Why It’s Important: Before the grind of Pac-12 play begins, the importance of having one true road contest can’t be overstated. While it’s great that Oregon State will be playing a lot of winnable games in Corvallis to start the season, it’s also vitally important that the team is tested in a real road-type atmosphere. For Kent State, Oregon State will arguably be the biggest opponent that they bring into town all-season long, meaning that the Golden Flashes will be more than ready for this one. The Beavers will need to use this game as a tune-up for the daunting road trips in the Pac-12.