Ducks Have a Magic Formula for the Final Four

Amanda Brenner Analysis

2016 has played out like an episode of The Twighlight Zone. The Chicago Cubs just won the World Series for the first time in more than 100 years, the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA finals for the first time ever, and now the country is calling Donald Trump its president-elect. The year for Duck fans has been even more topsy turvy now that our football and basketball teams seemed to have switched places – in terms of national stature – from a couple years ago.

The Oregon men’s basketball team is currently ranked 4th in the AP Poll, which is the highest ranking the program has ever received. Even with the recent loss to Baylor, the Ducks still should maintain a Top-10 ranking.

There is a good reason why the team is garnering so much hype. Actually, make that six reasons.

In a world full of “one-and-done” college basketball players, Oregon has six key players that decided to return for another year. With the number of talented players returning, plus the skilled new recruits, Oregon has a good chance to win a national championship … in basketball!

First, let’s take a quick look at the returning veterans:

Returning players Benson, Dorsey, and Brooks

Returning players Benson, Dorsey, and Brooks.

Dillon Brooks: Although he has yet to play in a game this season due to an injured foot, there is no doubt that Brooks is one of Oregon’s best players. After foregoing the NBA draft, he brings back a .470 field goal percentage (FG%), a .338 3- point percentage (3PT%), and an average of 16.7 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game from last season.

Tyler Dorsey: I can’t tell you how many Arizona fans that I’ve come across are still bitter that Oregon “stole” this player away. It is true, Dorsey had originally committed to Arizona. But after visiting the campus, he decided Oregon would be a better fit, and he definitely found his niche last season. Dorsey had a team-high .406 3PT%, a .441 FG%, and an average of 13.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 2 assists per game.

Casey Benson: He may not be the highest scorer on the team, but Benson is one of the biggest playmakers. The returning point guard averaged 3.1 assists per game, along with 2.3 rebounds and 6 points. Benson also finished with a .424 FG% and a .362 3PT%.

Dylan Ennis: Unfortunately, Ennis was injured for basically the entire season last year and played in only 2 games. However, his numbers from 2014-15 with Villanova were impressive enough to earn him a starting spot on the team while Brooks recovers. Ennis had a .417 FG% and a .363 3PT%. He also averaged 3.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 9.9 points per game.

Chris Boucher and Jordan Bell

Chris Boucher: Lucky for Duck fans, Boucher was granted another year of eligibility. Boucher is a force down low and beyond the arc. He had a .539 FG%, a .339 3PT% and 110 blocks for the season, along with an average of 12.1 points, and 7.4 rebounds per game.

Jordan Bell: While some of his numbers may not be as high as Boucher’s, Bell is a strong post player. Last season he had a .576 FG% and 53 total blocks for the season. He also averaged 7.0 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.

So why are returning players important for winning a championship? To answer that question we will take a look at the last five winners of the NCAA Tournament. The most recent champion, Villanova, had five key players return from their ’14-’15 season. The 2015 champion Duke had four players return from the previous season. The 2014 champion UConn had a whopping seven returning veterans, and the 2013 champion Louisville had five returners. The team with the fewest returning key players was the 2012 champion Kentucky with only three. All of these key players played in at least 90% of their team’s total games.

Figure 1: change in FG% for the last 5 NCAA champs

Figure 1: change in FG% for the last 5 NCAA champs

Figure 2: change in PPG for the last 5 NCAA champs

Figure 2: change in PPG for the last 5 NCAA champs

Figures 1 and 2 show the average change in FG% and points per game from the season before the team won the tournament to the year they won the championship. I searched the statistical archives on each of the teams’ sites and averaged the numbers for all of their returning key players.

These graphs show that even if there was a negative change, it was not a significant change which means teams can typically count on the veterans to be consistent.

This consistency helped three of the five champions finish significantly better in the tournament than the previous year. Villanova and UConn didn’t even make it into the previous season’s tournament before winning, while Duke was eliminated in the first round. Kentucky and Louisville both had Final Four appearances in the year previous to winning the championship.

With an Elite Eight appearance last year for our veterans, along with solid numbers, Duck fans should expect this team to go far in the NCAA Tournament. These six returning players give the team a strong base from which to build, and they give we fans some hope that 2017 could be the start of a championship year.

Amanda Brenner
Glendale, AZ

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