After two exhibition games, the Oregon men’s basketball team’s regular season tips off Friday night against Jackson State. The Ducks achieved what most teams set out to do in exhibition games, which is first and foremost to win, but secondly to see how the team responds to playing someone other than itself in practice.
Although exhibition games usually come against lesser opponents, the Ducks set the tone early and played consistently throughout both games, never allowing opponents to get much going.
Now is when the real season begins, and the work players put in during the offseason begins to show. On paper and with everyone healthy, the Ducks look like a team that could potentially make a run at both a Pac-12 title and also a deep run in March.
We all know it rarely works like that, because it’s difficult to make it through an entire season with no injuries. Injuries have already raised some questions early in the season.
Jordan Bell has been sidelined since the spring due to an injury, and now senior transfer point guard Dylan Ennis has been sidelined for the foreseeable future with a foot injury.
With Bell and Ennis out, the starting lineup Friday night will be much different than the one coach Dana Altman and staff envisioned. Here are three guys who will need to step up and could potentially have a big impact on the 2015 season.
Casey Benson: Benson is a player who is sometimes overlooked when going down the roster. He logged time in all 36 games a season ago and started in nine of them.
The returning sophomore brings back the second-highest three-point shooting percentage among returning players (34%).
With Ennis out, Benson may be called upon to play more often early in the season. Logging a lot of minutes early could benefit this team down the road.
Once Bell and Ennis come back, everyone’s minutes will diminish a little bit, but getting Benson playing experience until then could change the outcome of some games.
Whether Benson starts or comes off of the bench, his ability to shoot threes is something Altman will look to utilize whenever he can.
Chris Boucher: Boucher is a senior transfer who may get overlooked due to the true freshmen class that Altman and staff brought in.
Boucher was the NJCAA Player of the Year last season at Northwest College in Wyoming. He averaged 22 points and 11 rebounds per game.
Boucher, along with Roman Sorkin, are the two tallest guys on the team (6’10”). That size could help Belcher become the plug-in player for Bell while he is gone. Boucher has a knack for finding the ball on the defensive end.
Like Benson, Boucher could benefit from the injuries of others. The Ducks need a big guy down low and Boucher could step in and be that guy.
Kendall Small: Small could be the most intriguing guy on the roster.
He obviously has talent, but he could be called upon to play a much bigger role this season than he anticipated.
With Ennis out for a while, Small is another player who has the chance to gain very valuable minutes early in the season.
Small comes in as one of the best point guards in his recruiting class. He averaged 22 points a game as a senior in high school, with 9 rebounds per game — which is somewhat unheard of as a point guard.
Although Small won’t be the go-to scorer that he was called upon to be in high school, his role could still be very important.
I imagine Small’s role being somewhat like Johnathan Loyd’s a few years ago — someone who can score but is more of a facilitator, or a game manager who can run an offense.
Small’s future at the University of Oregon is very bright, but fans may not have to wait very long to see the future of the Duck backcourt.
Coming into this season, the expectations of this team are greater than in years past. Talent-wise, this may be coach Altman’s best team, but that is on paper. It is, however, much different when an opponent lines up across from you.
It’ll be interesting to see how this team responds to the injuries that have already hit them. Luckily, a majority of the non-conference games are at home, where guys who are called upon to step up can grow into their expanded roles.
If these three players can step up and deliver while Bell and Ennis are out, it will only make this team deeper and more dangerous when they’re all full-go. Expectations are high in Eugene and we are all eager to see how this team responds.
Top Photo by Kevin Cline