The Oregon Ducks have moved into the top 10 of the AP poll and have emerged from nonconference play undefeated for the first time since the ’06-’07 season. With quality wins against other top conference opponents in that span, the Ducks are now conditioned and ready to start the rigorous conference play of the Pac-12.
First things first, Oregon begins with five of their first seven intraconference match-ups on the road. It begins with tough trips to Utah and No. 20 Colorado, and also includes games with Oregon State and Washington.
Luckily for the Ducks, this year they do not travel to play Stanford or California. Mid season last year, Oregon traveled down to the Bay Area with hopes of continuing a 9-game win streak but came up short after losing consecutive games.
This will be a real test for a streaking Duck team that has begun the season 12-0, but with just one of those games being away from Matt Knight Arena, in which they beat Ole Miss 115-105 in an overtime thriller in early December.
Utah is first on the list, set for Jan. 2. The Ducks played well against the Utes last year, winning the season series 2-1, but with the loss coming on the road in the Ute’s Jon M. Huntsman Center, 72-62.
This year, Utah is continuing their home dominance, but with more efficiency. The Utes have begun the season 11-1, with their only loss coming on the road in a two-point heartbreaker to Boise State.
What makes them dangerous is they are first overall in the nation for the best field goal percentage with .542, and second in assists per game at 19.0. This combination has been a successful recipe for the Utes because they are able to score, also ranking in the top 10 for points per game.
Another notable comparison, Utah beat the BYU Cougars by a comfortable 15 points earlier this month; the same Cougars that pushed Oregon to their limits in an overtime shootout, in which the Ducks emerged victorious, 100-96.
I suspect the game between Oregon and Utah to be very similar, with both teams having high-powered offensive attacks.
The Ducks are still No. 1 in the country in points scored per game with just over 90, and on any given night can have a new star flourish and drop 20 points. To keep up with the Utes on their home court, Oregon must play stellar defense and crash the boards.
The Ducks will then make their way to Boulder to play the 20th-ranked Buffaloes three days later. Colorado is 11-2 to start the year, with losses against two ranked opponents in Baylor and Oklahoma State, but they also have a big win against Big 12 powerhouse Kansas.
What does this say about the Buffs? Well, they are very inconsistent and do not take high quality shots, which could benefit a Ducks team that has had notable struggles on the defensive end. As long as they pressure the ball and force low percentage shots, Oregon’s firepower should be more than enough to pull out a victory.
Then, it’s back home to play Cal (9-4) and Stanford (9-3), before a Civil War matchup in Corvallis against the Oregon State Beavers.
The Bears and Cardinal do one thing that seems to trouble the Ducks whenever they play, and that is match up well with size and toughness. The struggles seem synonymous with football when dealing with toughness, as in both losses last year, Oregon lost the rebound battle.
They must counter this with toughness of their own on the defensive end, while keeping their offensive efficiency up to par. Joseph Young has been exceptional in being an example for this, as he has yet to have a game this season in which he has more shot attempts than points. Young has been the epitome of efficiency, posting a .548 field goal percentage from the field and .467 from behind the arc.
On the contrary, these tough games will be good for Oregon if they want to better themselves on the journey toward the Pac-12 title and NCAA tournament.
They also have other formidable Pac-12 opponents to face, such as UCLA, as well as No. 1 Arizona, who have been atop the standings for four consecutive weeks.
Top Photo by Don Olson