As the Oregon men’s basketball team hits some midseason struggles, its luster is wearing off.
The year started off with a fast break, but now the Ducks are down and trying to beat a full-court press. This week the Ducks checked in at number 17 in the AP Poll, dropping three spots after their lackluster loss to Oregon State over the weekend. This loss also drops them to second in the Pac-12 behind Colorado, which has surprised a lot of people this year with its play.
Oregon began the year as the favorite to win the Pac-12 for the second straight year. The Ducks backed up those claims right from the get-go, going through their non-conference schedule with an 11-2 record. This included wins over Memphis, Houston and Seton Hall, and also a big-time win in Ann Arbor against the then fourth-ranked Michigan Wolverines. During this stretch, their two losses were to North Carolina and a strong comeback effort, which ended in a one-point loss to Gonzaga.
Oregon propelled its way through its non-conference schedule with stellar play from Payton Pritchard, Anthony Mathis and Chris Durante, with Will Richardson providing solid play from the bench.
When the Ducks opened up conference play they were ranked fourth in the country, and had fans thinking about the Dillon Brooks and Jordan Bell days at Matthew Knight Arena and drawing comparisons to the Final Four of 2016-17. While a loss at Colorado raised the eyebrows of many Ducks fans, it wasn’t major concern because Oregon hasn’t fared well in Boulder in recent history.
Oregon’s struggles and flaws did not become apparent until a shocking loss in Pullman against Wazzu, who had not beaten a top-10 team since 2007. The subsequent games against Washington and USC were knockdown drag-out fights against far inferior opponents. Pritchard’s late-game heroics helped the Ducks escape with a win against the Huskies, and the Ducks also made it out by the skin of their teeth with a double-overtime home win against USC. After a good hard win against UCLA, Oregon again struggled with a 77-72 win over California. The Ducks’ sloppy play continued against Stanford and Oregon State, with back-to-back losses on the road.
The consistent theme during this middle stretch of the season is that Oregon plays down to the level of its opponents. Dana Altman’s team is superior to any other team in the Pac-12, with veteran leadership and a great 2019 recruiting class that he threw together at the 11th hour. Unfortunately, Oregon’s schedule doesn’t get any easier from here on out, with a trip to Arizona still on deck and another rivalry matchup against Oregon State, who will be looking to play spoiler by that time of the season.
Last year, Oregon’s late-season run through the Pac-12 tournament into the Sweet 16, where they lost to the eventual national champion Virginia Cavaliers, started around this point in the season. What helped the Ducks last year was the increased production off the bench, most notably from Richardson and Ehab Amin. Then-freshman center Francis Okoro rose to the occasion as well, playing very strong basketball down the stretch.
If the Ducks are going to make a run like last year’s, they will have to channel the type of playing they started the season with. They will also have to get some bench production back. Early on, the Ducks were getting good production from role-players like Mathis and Shakur Juiston. Players like Chandler Lawson and Addison Patterson were also contributing to Oregon’s success, and even highly touted freshman CJ Walker started to find his stride. That production has slowed down just enough for Oregon’s play to suffer from it.
The Oregon faithful should feel confident this team can make a similar run to last year’s — Altman didn’t become Oregon’s winningest coach by a fluke. Altman has been able to get his team ready to go and have strong performances in “must-win games.” Last season, Oregon was the sixth seed in the Pac-12 tournament and ran the table, winning the whole thing over favored Washington.
A Pac-12 championship was the only hope Oregon had of making it into last year’s NCAA Tournament. As long as Oregon doesn’t lose its last remaking contests, it won’t need to win the Pac-12 to get in this year, but now’s not a bad time to get hot and head into postseason play.
Portland,OR Top Photo by Kevin Cline
Bob Rodes, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is an IT analyst, software developer and amateur classical pianist in Manchester, Tennessee.
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