Sports Reporter Jerry Thompson for Mighty Oregon Magazine and FishDuck.com from Matt Knight Arena …
With wins at home over Baylor (74-67), Valparaiso (73-67) and Fresno State (78-73), one might be tempted to think the Oregon men’s basketball team is well on its way to another outstanding season. I think it is too early to make any predictions, because not all is good news, even though Oregon is 6-0 heading into Friday’s tough match at UNLV.
The good news is that Oregon has held double-digit leads going into the last 10 minutes of the game against the aforementioned quality opponents. The Ducks have accomplished that without two projected starters — Villanova transfer Dylan Ennis and power forward Jordan Bell.
The problem is the Ducks have had to hang on in those three wins, being unable to put teams away. Coach Dana Altman has lamented the team’s poor ball handling, failure many times to run the offense and poor shot selection.
The Ducks do need to treat the ball as “gold.” However, the team has shown a lot of fight and grit to win the close ones with newcomers Chris Boucher and freshman Tyler Dorsey. Both have been bright spots so far.
In the recent win against a talented Fresno State team, Oregon led 70-52 with just 6:10 to play. That 18-point lead included missing four straight point blank shots. Then the Bulldogs went on a 16-2 run, and things really got dicey with the score at 72-68 with 1:48 left to play.
Fortunately, sophomore Dillon Brooks, who has so far been the go-to guy when the Ducks needed a hoop, drove the lane for two points and then came up with a loose ball to help the Ducks close out the game.
That game just highlights how tenuous a lead can be in college basketball. In the last six minutes, Fresno State scored 21 points to Oregon’s 8. If one projects that spread over an entire game, the score would have been about 140 to 52 in favor of FSU.
Looking at it from the other side, Oregon played outstandingly for 85% of the game. The Ducks just need to finish in that last 15% before they can be taken seriously as a formidable team in the Pac-12, as well as an NCAA tournament contender.
Besides Boucher, Dorsey and Brooks, the remainder of the minutes usually go to Casey Benson, Elgin Cook and Dwayne Benjamin. Freshman Kendall Small is playing about 10 minutes per game and sophomore Roman Sorkin is in for about five minutes on average.
So, the Ducks sorely need the depth that Ennis and Bell were expected to provide. They should both be back by late December.
Brooks, Boucher, Benjamin, Cook and Dorsey are all averaging in double figures and Benson has been shooting better in recent games. There is a lot of potential, and the additional good news is at 6-0, Oregon hasn’t even begun to play at its top level.
The road game tonight at UNLV figures to be the Ducks’ biggest test yet. The main goal before the return of Bell and Ennis is to just keep improving during every game.
Mighty Oregon is an independent full color magazine dedicated to covering University of Oregon sports. It is available in the Eugene-Springfield area and at the 60 Bi-Mart stores statewide. We publish through December and then once per month through June. A Duck fan can subscribe for $45 (we have to ship first class which costs about $35). To order, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Jerry Thompson at 541-221-3154.
Top Photo by Gary Breedlove