College basketball season is almost upon us. Yes, we’re in the heart of the football season, but if any ounce of you is a basketball fan you cannot overlook the beginning of yet another exciting season!
The Oregon Ducks enter the 2015 season with high expectations, and they find themselves in an unfamiliar position. In seasons past, especially during the Dana Altman era, the Ducks have normally been the surprise team in the Pac-12, lingering in the top half of the standings and upsetting some highly-ranked teams down the stretch.
This season is different — Oregon basketball is already considered a contender. During Pac-12 media days the Ducks were picked to finish fourth in the conference, behind Arizona, Cal and Utah. The Ducks even received a lone first-place vote.
Here are three areas in which Oregon basketball will deliver on those high expectations, setting themselves up to potentially make a deep run in March.
Experience: Oregon comes into this season with three of its five top scorers from a season ago (Elgin Cook, Dillon Brooks and Dwayne Benjamin), plus Jordan Bell who was sixth. It’s a core group of guys who have experience playing together, and they can continue riding the momentum they picked up during the latter part of last season.
Arguably the biggest addition to the Oregon roster is senior transfer Dylan Ennis, who came from Villanova.
Last season Ennis averaged 9.9 points and 3.5 assists per game for the Wildcats. He started all 36 games and helped guide them to a 33-3 overall record.
The addition of this senior point guard alongside fellow seniors Cook and Benjamin will make for an experienced threesome that knows how to win and manage games, which will pay dividends for the Ducks.
Brooks is another player we shouldn’t overlook. He will work to build off of a solid end of the 2014 season and summer while playing for Team Canada.
Finally, the anchor in the middle is Bell. He suffered a broken foot this past spring and is still recovering from the injury. Bell is a nice mix of length and athleticism around the basket and once he regains his full strength, the Ducks could be dangerous.
Talented Youth: In addition to the experience the Ducks will return, the 2015 team will welcome one of its highest-ever recruiting classes.
The class is headlined by McDonald’s All-American Tyler Dorsey, who averaged 34 points per game as a high school senior.
Dorsey played internationally during the summer with the Greek U19 team and was named to the all-tournament team after averaging 15.9 points per game. A dynamic scorer regardless of level, Dorsey will be fun to watch when integrated into the lineup.
Trevor Manuel is another highly-touted incoming freshman for the Ducks. Manuel, a lengthy forward at 6’9, will be a factor to think about for opposing coaches. As a senior, Manuel averaged 21.9 points per game and was named to the Class A All-State team.
Another new Duck, Kendall Small, is one of the top true point guard recruits in the nation. Small averaged 22 points per game and 4.8 assists as a senior.
He will most likely be tabbed as the backup point guard, but he will have the chance to learn from someone who has experience in running a winning team in Ennis. Small will add depth the the backcourt and could play some very valuable minutes as a true freshman.
Expectations/Relevance: Oregon fans should be excited for the upcoming season. For a school that is perceived as football-first, the 2015 basketball team could rival the football team’s popularity during the next few months.
The Ducks have been a part of two of the last three conference championship games, and they have turned many heads. Oregon basketball is on the map and the attention doesn’t end with opposing coaches — it continues in recruiting.
Altman and his staff have done a great job developing talent over his tenure, and now we’re starting to see that pay off as bigger names and recruits commit to the Ducks.
Recruits see Oregon not just a football school, but a great opportunity to continue their basketball careers at the collegiate level.
The beginning of Oregon basketball is only a few days away, the future is bright for the program, and the expectations may have never been this high. The mix of experience and youth will be fun to watch!
Altman and staff have a plethora of talent at their disposal, and if they can find a way to maximize that talent, the 2015 Oregon basketball season will be one to remember.
Top Photo by Kevin Cline