Oregon State, the basketball sleeper
Oregon State (20-2) has become the kind of basketball blind date so far this season that has provide most opposing teams with the perfect test for their shockproof of watches.
Even though the Beavers finished 18-10 last year and have all five starters back this season, they were not expected to play the kind of basketball that for several weeks would get them rated No. 2 in the nation.
But despite a recent upset loss to UCLA that dropped it to No. 4, Oregon State is for real -- an expertly coached group of role players who may be the best passing team in the country and one of the most unselfish as well.
The man who deserves most of the credit for this is Ralph Miller, who has seen it all during his 29 years as a head coach and is closing in on 500 career victories.
Among active coaches, only DePaul's Ray Meyer, South Carolina's Frank McGuire , and Washington's Marv Harshman have won more often.
Before coming to Oregon State in time for the 1970-71 season, Miller had won conference championships at Iowa and Wichita, always with his team paying extra attention to whichever opponent most often controlled the ball.
Basically, the Beavers' coach is opposed to multiple substitutions. Ralph likes to go with the same seven or eight players, on the theory that familiarity makes a team exempt from mistakes -- or at least helps cut down on them.
"I've found that when you substitute five people at once, the only thing they have on their minds is who is going to put the ball in the air first," Miler told reporters. "If you want players to function as a unit, you've got to keep them together as much as possible. Otherwise, you have a lot of breakdowns, particularly on defense.
"One reasons we've scored so well this year is because we've learned to move and hit the open man for the good percentage shot," he continued. "We don't win because of any one great player, but because we have a lot of good people who are willing to work hard and who understand the importance of defense.
The seven players Miller relies on are centers Steve Johnson and Tony Martin; forwards Dwayne Allen, Rob Holbrook, and Jeff Stoutt (a terror off the bench); and guards Ray blume and Mark Radford. The only two seniors are Martin and Allen.
Although Johnson (6 ft. 10 in.) is tough inside offensively and a very effective rebounder, he sometimes has a tendency to waste fouls when they aren't necessary.
But Steve scored 33 against UCLA the first time the Beavers played and beat them, and 29 points the night the Bruins upset them. For most of the season Johnson has averaged around 19 points a game.
While Martin is a lot less active offensively, he is better defensively and rebounds well. Allen is another who plays mostly because of his tough defense and quick head.
Holbrook's offense seems to develop in direct relationship to the flow of the game. Usually he scores without forcing things. Stoutt is the kind of sixth man the pros might like to look at the -- someone who can get a team a lot of quick points in a hurry.
Blume and Radford, the junior guards, were both 58-percent shooters from the field earlier in the season and Ray, the team's floor leader, has the ability to build a play and then finishing it off.
Although they don't see that much action, the Beavers also have three talented freshmen in forward Jamie Stangel and guards William Brew and Vince Hinchen.
Since coming to Oregon State, Miller has had only one losing season (his first) and has twice been runner-up to UCLA in the Pacific 10 conference.
While most national publications have ignored the Beavers over the years, it is a fact that their basketball teams (in 78 seasons) have won more games than any other school except Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, and St. John's!