When Dana Altman told reporters that, “Trouble is eight days from today. We have to go down to Baylor and play a game.” After a 35-point victory in the team’s final exhibition, it was as if he could see into the future.
Sure enough, when his 4th-ranked Ducks traveled to Texas to take on an unranked and unheralded Baylor squad, the Ducks looked outmatched. Oregon struggled mightily for 40 unimpressive minutes, and after the 66-49 loss, fans, everywhere were clued in to what coach Altman was seeing. He is well aware of his team’s current shortcomings, saying, “We’re not the team everyone thinks we are right now. That’s pretty obvious.”
This came on the heels of Oregon’s opener, a mediocre performance in front of a sellout crowd at Matthew Knight Arena. While that game resulted in a 91-77 victory over Army, the play was not at the level expected of a potential Final Four team. Oregon committed 17 turnovers, 4 by senior guard Dylan Ennis, who also failed to score.
Two games into the season, there are some obvious issues with the Ducks basketball team. The good news is that Dillon Brooks is one of the best players in college basketball, and his presence on the court will lift the team immediately. He is, however, presently sitting on the bench recovering from his foot injury. And of course, every team has areas that need improvement when a season is just getting started.
Oregon’s struggles are with basketball fundamentals, and those can be a hard thing to overcome. There are three areas of concern that need to be addressed immediately, or they could be in for a long losing streak.
1. Rebounding: In almost every press conference since official practices started, Altman has mentioned rebounding as a priority concern. In the game against Army, a team with a significant lack of size, the Ducks had no double-digit rebounders. One of Ennis’s strengths is his rebounding, however against Army he had no offensive rebounds. Tyler Dorsey led the Ducks in points scored and minutes played but contributed only one offensive rebound and one defensive rebound.
Last year when the Ducks beat Baylor in an upset, they were even with the Bears in the rebound category. It was a different story during Tuesday’s game, as Baylor thoroughly dominated the glass and had 11 more rebounds than the higher-ranked Ducks.
Significant was Chris Boucher‘s lack of defensive rebounds. Often playing the center position at 6’10, the Ducks are counting on Boucher to contribute a high amount of rebounds to prevent second-chance opportunities for their opponents.
2. Defense: Baylor was able to move to ball inside with ease against the Ducks. They shot 45% from the field and 50% from the 3-point line. Also, an early problem for this Oregon team is getting a big lead on an opponent and then letting them back into the game. Altman implied that it happened during the secret scrimmage with Oklahoma.
In the exhibition game with Northwest Christian, the Ducks went into half time holding the Beacons to 16 points; in the second half they allowed them to score 35. In the season opener, Army went from shooting 29% in the first half to 50% in the second.
3. Scoring: Of the many facets of the game that Oregon could struggle in, the most surprising is scoring. Even without Brooks, the Ducks returned a lot of the production from last season. With the new players added to the team, it was expected that scoring would not be an issue. It has been.
In each game so far, one starter has gone scoreless. Through the first two games, the guard trio of Payton Pritchard, Casey Benson and Ennis is shooting 24% (10 for 41). The entire team made only three 3-pointers against Baylor, missing 18, including six in a row early in the first half.
Through two games, the Ducks have attempted 46 shots from the 3-point line. While a high number of 3-point attempts does not always indicate a problem, it is often a symptom of poor ball distribution and a lack of patience. Specifically, in the game against Baylor, the Ducks seemed too comfortable attempting long 3-pointers against the zone, rather than working the ball around the court and trying to get someone free on the inside. Another sign of poor ball distribution is their assist-to-turnover ratio. The rule of thumb is to post a 2-1 ratio – through two games Oregon has 26 assists and 27 turnovers.
The Baylor loss is not too surprising, nor is the fact that the Ducks are not playing all that well to start the season. There is no reason to panic.
First, they are missing one of the best players in college basketball. Second, the new additions to the team are still finding their way, especially at the guard position. Ennis appears to be forcing things and trying to make plays that are not there. Pritchard, despite a very strong performance in his first collegiate game against Army (15 points), was reckless with the ball against Baylor.
Oregon fans should have no doubt that Altman will coach his team through these issues, and the result will be a better disciplined and sharper team once the Pac-12 games start.
Top Photo: Gary Breedlove
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