In the midst of a week almost totally devoid of must-see highlights or intriguing matchups, Oregon State did its best to rescue college basketball fans from the doldrums.
Facing token full-court pressure a few minutes into the first half of Thursday's 93-72 win over Howard, Oregon State point guard Ahmad Starks easily beat it by floating a pass to an open center Joe Burton at mid-court. Burton then spearheads a slow-developing fast break on his own, taking two dribbles before tossing a feathery lob pass from the top of the key to teammate Jared Cunningham for a soaring reverse alley-oop slam.
"I've never seen anybody who can catch the ball and then decide how to dunk it," Oregon State coach Craig Robinson told the Corvallis Gazette-Times after the game. "That's a lot of athleticism."
Cunningham's reverse alley-oop already has earned early praise as a dunk of the year contender, but there's a good chance it's not even the 6-foot-4 junior's best dunk of his college career. A tip-dunk last season against Arizona known as the "Kiss the Sky slam" in Corvallis served as Cunningham's breakthrough moment nationally.
What Cunningham has successfully accomplished this year is to make sure he's known for more than just dunks. The Oakland, Calif., native is averaging an Oregon State-best 18 points and has led the Beavers to an 8-2 start that includes an overtime win over Texas and a two-point loss to Vanderbilt.
Not bad for a team that has made a habit of disastrous starts in recent years.
Previous Dunk of the Year nominees: