Coming into this season, Oregon had so many questions about its basketball team that not even the Riddler could have solved them. The only thing that we could do was wait it out and analyze each game as its own entity. Oregon has started this season off with a promising record of 4-2 with surprisingly a lot of good things to talk about. Coach Dana Altman is working with basically a brand new team, and it wouldn’t have been surprising if the Ducks started the season off 0-6 with so many factors going against them. They have a lack of size, a lack of experience, and compared to other big programs in the nation, a lack of talent. But, after watching their past 6 games, one thing we can say is that they don’t have a lack of heart.
It’s clear Altman is using every single piece he has in the most effective way he possibly can. Keeping things realistic, the Ducks have defeated Toledo, Detroit, and Portland State. Those teams aren’t necessarily good examples of what Oregon will see in league play. But they’ve also battled against ranked teams such as No. 19 Michigan and No.14 VCU and shown a lot of potential playing against those top programs.
Keeping a level head here is crucial, because the Ducks will most likely not make the NCAA tournament this year just due to their lack of bench depth and lack of height. But, I bet you they will battle it out every game to make sure they’re always in it until the last second of each match.
A huge part of Oregon’s team is getting leadership and top quality play out of their veterans in Joseph Young and Elgin Cook. Let’s face it, although his last game was monstrous, Young hasn’t been his sharp-shooting self much throughout the still-new season, but his his responsibilities have changed between last season and this one. Last year, Young wasn’t responsible for necessarily getting his other teammates involved, because he had a great distributor in Johnathan Loyd. Now that J-Loyd is on to bigger and better things, Young has had to take over the responsibility of not only getting buckets, but making sure everyone is getting theirs, a position he’s not necessarily familiar with. Over time, hopefully the Duck point guards such as Casey Benson and Ahmaad Rorie will become much more familiar with the offense, and will take some strain off of Joe Young, allowing him to do what he does best in scoring that ball.
Cook has a totally different issue to overcome. He is one of those athletic players and though he’s got N.B.A. athleticism, he doesn’t utilize his abilities to the fullest. Cook should easily be a 20 point and 8 rebound guy with his level of talent; however, for some reason he’s hesitant to truly unleash his abilities. I don’t know if the offense restricts him or if he has a mental block, but as a player with experience on this team who’s getting the amount of minutes that he is getting, it’s time for Cook to wake up and assert himself as a dominant player in the PAC-12.
You have to love the play from the new guys though! Casey Benson, Dillon Brooks, and Dwayne Benjamin have really shown some great stuff. Benson stays composed, and runs the offense to the best of his knowledge at this point, without committing turnovers, while Brooks is an absolute beast racking in rebounds and getting better at finishing at the basket every game. I absolutely love the play from these young guys, and the best part is that they get better every game. Benjamin has been the biggest surprise with his ability to handle the ball so well at his height and get to the basket. I didn’t think he would be so effective, but he’s proving me wrong and I love it!
If there were a little more height to go along with this program the Ducks could be in a much better position. Jordan Bell does a great job swatting balls into the stands, but the Ducks still need someone who can consistently clog the paint and make it difficult for their opponents to come inside. We need a guy in there who can confidently say, “THIS IS MY HOUSE,” and at this point we don’t have that. Hopefully Michael Chandler will be that guy when he comes back.
The Ducks are off to a nice start, but how long will they be able to keep up the energy before they run on empty? Tune in to find out.
Top photo by Craig Strobeck