Tonight the most anticipated Oregon Ducks basketball season in recent memory will begin, and the 5th-ranked Oregon Ducks will charge onto the hardwood at Matthew Knight Arena. Their goal in simple terms will be to start the season 1-0, but by winning tonight the Ducks will also extend their home game win streak to 25. It has been more than 500 days since Oregon lost a basketball game in Eugene.
The season unofficially tipped off in front of 7,000 fans in an exhibition game on Monday against Northwest Christian. The result was a foregone conclusion, with the Ducks taking a 50-18 lead at halftime on their way to an 86-51 victory over the NAIA school. While the exhibition on Monday against Northwest Christian does not count for standings, there is a fair amount of insight to be gained from it.
1. Need for speed: The Ducks showed they want to play at a fast pace. That 25-2 run to start the game was no fluke. They pushed the ball after defensive rebounds, making quick outlet passes and trying to get fast break opportunities. When they got into a half-court set on offense, they consistently made early and aggressive moves toward the basket. Of course, all of this won’t happen as often when they start playing Division I talent but the mindset is clear.
2. Chris Boucher: Dillon Brooks was named a preseason all-American. And Boucher may even be a better player than Brooks is. A Sports Illustrated cover boy and potential Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award winner, Boucher demonstrated his ability to dominate a game Monday. Coming out of junior college, his 2015-2016 season was defined by his 110 blocked shots and team-leading 7.4 rebounds per game. This season it looks like his scoring will be his greatest asset: against the Beacons on Monday, Boucher scored 25 points and missed only three shots in 20 minutes. His scoring also showed the unique range he has as a 6’10 center. In the first half he had a dunk and a 3-pointer on consecutive possessions.
3. High level guard play: Past articles have discussed the importance of having certain guards in the lineup and the needs they meet. Those concerns are beginning to look unfounded. There are three guards (Dylan Ennis, Casey Benson, Payton Pritchard) who can legitimately run this offense.
Ennis looks like he can be just as effective off the ball as he does playing the point. In the first half these three players had the lion’s share of the Ducks’ 10 assists. Pritchard looks extremely confident shooting from the 3-point line. Benson demonstrated last season that no one (anywhere) takes care of the ball better than he does, and Tyler Dorsey scored 11 points in the game Monday.
4. Oregon is deep: Everyone has complimented the Ducks on their depth, but the proof of it was on full display during the exhibition on Monday. Nine players scored points and the bench contributed 29 points. This was without Brooks. For a team to have almost an entire additional lineup of players is a rarity.
Many teams that have only a 6- or 7-player rotation are going to be at a major disadvantage matching up with Oregon when it comes to stamina. While having 9-plus players is a strong point for the Ducks, finding out who plays well together and developing team chemistry will be keys going forward. In the second half of this game, the chemistry was less evident and the offense was less effective, resulting in 10-31 shooting.
5. Get well soon, Dillon: It may be an exhibition against a lower-tier opponent, but it was obvious that the Ducks miss Brooks. His versatility and ability to score, whether penetrating or shooting the three, is not getting replicated by anyone else. The Ducks made only five 3-pointers during the game, shooting a pedestrian 27.8 percent.
After tonight and through next week, we will find out more about this team and what lineup adjustments they will make to adjust for Brooks’s absence. If nothing else, the exhibition showed that the Ducks are talented and prepared for the task at hand.
Top Photo by Gary Breedlove
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