Following the 100-96 overtime thriller against the BYU Cougars Sunday night, Oregon is now off to their best start since the 2006-07 season, a season in which Aaron Brooks and company started 13-0 and reached the elite eight of the NCAA tournament.
As one of the remaining 10 unbeaten teams in the country, the nation has begun to take notice as the 11-0 Ducks continue move up in notable tournament indexes, as they look to begin the rigorous conference play, and make another run deep into March’s madness.
Oregon improves to 2-0 in overtime games this season, with wins over Ole Miss and BYU. This is a step up from where they were this early in the season just a year ago, where the Ducks lost an early season triple-overtime game versus UTEP.
Oh, how things have changed.
Dana Altman’s squad has an array of reliable weapons to use on offense, similar to the firepower of the ’06-’07 Elite Eight team. The Ducks currently have five players averaging in double digits, leading the nation in points scored per game at 90.3. The ’06-’07 team was remarkably similar as they, too, had five players average in the double-digit range, showing an immense amount of balance on the offensive end.
All the production has stemmed from three new transfer faces in Joseph Young, Mike Moser and Jason Calliste. The three have scored 52 percent of the team’s total points on the season, and are shooting a consistent 50 percent from the field.
Scoring points is definitely not an issue for the Ducks, but looking down the stretch, a lack of height and help on the boards could very well post some trouble.
Rebounding wise, Oregon ranks outside the top 100 on both the offensive and defensive boards, and the struggles are notable with the Cougars setting a Matt Knight Arena rebound record. This is not only a result from a lack of height down below but more so the efficient style of play of a four-man backcourt rotation that looks to get out in transition as much as possible.
The question is should they steer away from what has brought them so far this season?
I would say “yes” considering the talent the No. 1 Arizona Wildcats have down below, a team the Ducks will need to overcome in their journey to conquer the Pac-12 — and it all starts with their superstar freshman forward Aaron Gordon, who is taller than all but one player on the Oregon team, Waverly Austin. Austin, a 6’11 senior center, is the tallest player on Oregon’s roster but against major conference opponents, he has managed a total of only 28 minutes — scoring three points, grabbing three rebounds and committing 11 fouls (source: Bleacher Report’s Featured Columnist Kerry Miller).
Yes, they’ve received production from players such as Moser, who averages 7.5 boards per game, and Richard Amari, averaging just under five, but it simply will not hold up when they start to play taller and more competitive teams. So far, they have surrendered at least nine offensive boards in every game this season, and a stat like that becomes devastating when you give good players extra chances to score.
A solution? I think these wrinkles may just roll themselves out when Dominic Artis and Ben Carter return. Carter isn’t an absolute animal on the boards, but he is a force down below with his shot blocking and his length will be an advantage. More importantly, I think once Artis works his way back into the starting lineup, it will switch the team’s offense to a more set game in the half court than the reliance of getting out to run.
They will still have the ability to utilize their transition ability but Artis is a very good point guard who sets up shots for others very well, and if he and the others build some chemistry, they will only become more dynamic.
Although the season is young, Oregon has a mixed feel for the voters thus far. They are currently No. 12 in the AP top 25, but because they are still unbeaten, many around the country have begun to take notice of the numbers.
Lets look at some Bracketology.
In the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) on ESPN.com, the Ducks come in at No. 6 in the country. This index is based of an opponent’s win and loss record, while considering a team’s strength of schedule.
And even more astonishing is Oregon’s place in the Basketball Power Index (BPI). They come into this week’s ranking No. 4, which, in the analysis system of ESPN, currently projects the Ducks as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
It is very early but it shows that Oregon is the real deal. They will continue their endeavors Dec. 29th against the Morgan State Bears before heading off to start conference play at Utah, followed by a tough matchup in Boulder against No. 21 Colorado.
Photo By Craig Strobeck