With a giant national yawn, the most recent AP poll ranks Oregon men’s basketball 12th in the nation. However, this recent success is a welcome Christmas present for fans across the entire spectrum of Oregon sports. Now we can continue watching nationally-ranked Duck teams into the new year. The basketball squad has claimed their undefeated record by using speed, effective outside shooting and a bench that is both skilled and deep. Even with such a hot start, and please excuse my echo of a current and somewhat pessimistic theme, the team is lacking in one critical area: Big men.
Against Illinois, specifically, there was a lack of rim protectors that could hold down the paint. Neither Mike Moser nor Waverly Austin have established themselves as a strong defensive presence. This is one area the team can and should improve upon with Pac-12 conference play just around the corner. Other than this “shortcoming,” the team is well balanced. But great balance will not stop strong conference opponents from attempting to exploit our perceived weakness. Their goal will be to win the Battle of the Bigs, and by extension, the game.
Down the road, teams such as Arizona will look to exploit the inside match-up, so the Ducks better be ready for the likes of players such as Aaron Gordon, who dominate around the basket. Our guard play has defended the perimeter well, but that was to be expected. Oregon compensates on defense by using speed, switching on man-to-man coverage and lanky frames to disrupt passing lanes. The team has done well but there is still much room for improvement.
The lack of Bigs may also result in reduced offensive efficiency during conference play. Currently, the team scores more than any other in the country. Players such as Dotson, Loyd and Young have stretched the floor, which opens up the middle for post-up opportunities and cutters to the basket. What I would like to see more of is Moser posting-up down low. Austin doesn’t really posses that skill set, so it’s on Moser to expand his game. He has played some post, but making a point of feeding him the ball will pay dividends, especially against other top-ranked teams that can match our level of athleticism. Moser actually has a sweet turnaround jumper that doesn’t get utilized in this offense. There will likely be a need for more and better post play as the season progresses.
That’s not to say that head coach Dana Altman hasn’t made the right calls. He is truly an excellent coach and much deserving of his Pac-12 Coach of the Year title. He has tailored their offense in a manner that makes it easy for the team to get up court quickly and keep turnovers down. Expect, though, to see more of an emphasis on Moser as the season moves on. He IS the key to contending with bigger teams. Speed may not always beat size, so the winning streak will only continue if Moser and the other Bigs keep improving. It’s hard to knock the team’s results to this point, but this has largely been against teams lacking the size (UC Irvine excluded) and skill of upcoming conference opponents. History has shown that winning without effective big men is quite a challenge. Altman’s formula to handle this challenge is what we, and the conference hopefuls, await.
Top Photo by Craig Strobeck