At the beginning of the season in November, who would have thought that a team returning only four starters would head into the post season seeded eight in the NCAA tournament? Yet that is exactly what the Oregon Ducks accomplished, shocking teams, fans and analysts all over.
For the Ducks, the off season was filled with one hit after another. The first hit was one that all teams are familiar with but one that hit the Oregon basketball team hard this year: graduation. The Ducks lost Jason Calliste, Mike Moser, Jonathan Loyd, Richard Amardi and Waverly Austin. Shortly afterward Oregon dismissed Damyean Dotson, Dominic Artis, and Brandon Austin after they were accused of rape.
Unsurprisingly, the Ducks off-season issues led to low expectations for the season from fans and experts alike. Most experts picked the Ducks to finish eighth or lower in the Pac-12 and possibly aspire to a spot in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) for their post season chances.
Starting the season, the lone star hope for the Ducks was senior Joseph Young, who’d transferred from Houston before the start of the 2013 season and had quickly become one of the star players for the Ducks. For head coach Dana Altman, who’d survived an off-season that called into question his leadership, Young landed front and center in his plans.
From the first game of the season, Young put the team on his back, scoring 20.2 points per game and giving coach Altman time to coach up other players. Freshmen Dillon Brooks (11.5 pts, 4.9 reb, 1.8 ast) and Jordan Bell (4.9 pts, 6.1 reb, 2.6 blk) became great contributing players thanks to Altman’s guidance.
The Ducks did well in the nonconference games, going 13-3 to start the season. Oregon won its first Pac-12 game of the season, beating Oregon State 71-59 only to lose to #7 Arizona the following week, 80-62. The Ducks won their next game against Arizona State, 59-56, only to lose the next two, Washington State and Washington, 108-99 in OT and 85-77 respectively.
After the two game lossing streak, the Ducks won their next two games, USC (75-67) and UCLA (82-64) before losing to #6 Arizona 90-56. The loss to Arizona was succeeded by a four game win streak — Arizona State (68-67 OT), Washington (78-74), Washington State (95-72) and USC (80-75) — which ended with a loss to UCLA, 72-63. The last five games of the regular season were all wins for the Ducks as they cruised into the post season.
Alongside his 20.2 points per game, Young is also averaging 4.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists. Elgin Cook (10.3 pts, 5.2 reb, .529 FG%) F Dwayne Benjamin (8.5 pts, 5.8 reb), G Jalil Abdul-Bassit (8.2 pts, .419 3pt%) helped Young lead the Ducks to to strong finale to the regular season and into the Pac-12 tournament.
Oregon was seeded second heading into the Pac-12 tournament, a far cry from the eighth place finish most people had predicted for the Ducks, then made a strong run toward the Pac-12 championship before losing to Arizona in the championship game. Arizona, which is seeded second in the NCAA tournament and was ranked fifth in the country, is the only team to beat the Ducks in all of its matchups this season.
The Ducks take on the Oklahoma State Cowboys in Omaha, Nebraska in the first round of the tournament. No one could have believed the Ducks would make it the dance this year, but they did. Tonight’s matchup pits the speed and explosiveness of Oregon against the tough defense of Oklahoma State, a matchup that Oregon is getting used to seeing in the post season.
We don’t know what is going to happen in the tournament or how far the Ducks will get. No one can take away what they’ve accomplished this year when not many people gave them a shot.
Top photo by Kevin Cline