Ducks Basketball Falling Short of Expectations But Potential Still There

Aaron Lewis Editorials

The expectations and excitement around the Oregon basketball team coming into the season was a welcome reprieve from the disaster of a football season that unfolded this fall. Many media experts picked Oregon to make a Final Four run and even win a national title. Pollsters also put Oregon in the top five of the preseason poll for the first time ever.

Oregon coach Dana Altman has a lot of work to do to get Oregon to play up to their potential

Oregon coach Dana Altman has a lot of work to do to get Oregon to play up to their potential

However, expectations have a downside. When you are ranked as a top-five team, it is really hard to live up to those expectations and really easy to fall short (a lot more room to fall than climb). And Oregon has fallen. The Ducks still have time to right the ship and meet those lofty expectations, but Oregon does not look like one of the top 5 or even top 20 teams in the country right now.

Sloppy Play

With the return of Casey Benson (#4 in the country in assist-turnover ratio last year) and the addition of sixth-year senior Dylan Ennis, the Ducks figured to take very good care of the ball this year. However, the Ducks have played very sloppy. Oregon ranks 283rd (of 351 teams) in turnovers per game at 15.6 a game going into last night’s game.

Last year the Ducks were a respectable 45th in the nation in turnovers at 11.1 a game. Oregon’s up-tempo offense will naturally lead to more turnovers than a more methodical offensive approach but 15.6 is far too many if the Ducks hope to make a deep tournament run. Dana Altman is too good of a coach and the Ducks are far too experienced for that number to remain that high.

Dillon Brooks is not Himself … Yet

Dillon Brooks had a fantastic season last year on his way to first-team Pac-12 honors and a lot is expected of him this year. Much of the expectations put on Oregon were because of Brooks. AP selected him to its preseason All-America team, but Brooks has looked more like someone who should come off the bench than an All-America player so far this year.

Oregon has missed Elgin Cooks energy, toughness, and leadership this year

Oregon has missed Elgin Cooks energy, toughness, and leadership this year

Much of Brooks’ struggles can be traced to the foot injury from which he is still recovering. Players need time after an injury to regain their conditioning and their sharpness. His scoring per game has dropped from 16.7 last year to 9.8. His field goal percentage is also down from just under 50 percent last year to 34 percent this year.

The Ducks need Brooks to produce like he did last year but also need his energy and leadership. So far this year, Brooks has been frustrated by his poor performance and by coming off the bench. Brooks’s body language has looked terrible throughout most games.

As he regains his form and plays better (he looked much sharper last night against a Division II Western Oregon team), the energy and leadership should follow. You would just hope that your All-America candidate would show the energy and leadership even when he is not playing like he knows he can.

Missing Cook & Benjamin

Neither the fans nor the media fully appreciated how much Dwayne Benjamin and Elgin Cook meant to the Ducks last season. The length, athleticism and energy those two brought showed up every night. Even when Oregon had an off night from the field, Cook’s and Benjamin’s defense, toughness, and energy would keep them in games.

This year, when the Ducks are struggling to hit shots, they look flat. The talent is still there, but Oregon misses being able to play Brooks, Benjamin and Cook together as three athletic 6-6 to 6-7 players who can switch defensively onto almost any player and finish in transition. Brooks will hopefully provide that again soon and Keith Smith (6-7) has shown flashes of being able to do the same, but Smith is still very raw as a true freshman.

Dana Altman Teams Are Best Down the Stretch

The Ducks need Jordan Bell to step up and fill the energy and toughness void left by Cook and Benjamin

The Ducks need Jordan Bell to step up and fill the energy and toughness void left by Cook and Benjamin

One thing that is easy to forget is that despite getting a No. 1 seed last year, Oregon started the season fairly slow. The Ducks dropped games to some pretty mediocre teams early in the 2015-2016 season. The Ducks lost to UNLV and Boise State and did not enter the top 25 rankings for good until the end of January 2016.

Dana Altman knows how to help a team hit their stride when it matters most at the end of a season – as the Ducks have since he took over. This year should be no different. The Ducks have played below their talent and potential so far this season. Making a final four this year feels like a big stretch at this point; however, the pieces and potential are there to compete for another Pac-12 title and make a deep tournament run.

Aaron Lewis
Salt Lake City, Utah

Top Photo by Craig Strobeck

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