Basketball season is officially in full swing, and it sure is a great thing. Albeit a little bumpy at times, it’s happening. Through schedule changes and postponements, the season goes on, and we have another fun and exciting set of Oregon Men’s and Women’s teams to watch and root on as we bring in the New Year.
Watching these two teams get their season underway has left me extremely optimistic for what this season could be. These teams are deep, talented, they play hard and they play for each other. In what is undoubtedly a difficult season, they seem to be having fun, and I sure am having fun watching them.
Men Off to a Rare Hot Start
In typical Dana Altman fashion, he has employed a handful of newcomers to this years rotation, all of whom have already begun to make major contributions to this year’s team. From the hustle plays of Erik Williams Jr. and LJ Figueroa, the hard nosed attitude of Amauri Hardy, to the explosiveness of Jalen Terry, the cog that makes the engine run is Eugene Omoruyi.
Omoruyi is the definition of versatility, and the near perfect player in Altman’s system. At 6’6″ 235, he has the size and strength to battle with opponents in the post, but also the athleticism and quickness to play on the outside as a wing or even a big guard. The Ducks are running their offense through him, and having great success doing so.
He is most effective in the post as both a scorer and a passer. His go to moves are a back down fade away jumper, and a quick spin move to the baseline for a lay up. Because of his dominance in the post, teams are being forced to double team him, leaving shooters and cutters open for easy baskets.
Generally, Altman’s teams struggle out of the gate, not hitting their stride until PAC-12 play, but this group seems to be finding it’s groove much more quickly this season. The biggest thing I am seeing from this team early on, and one of the reasons for the improved success, is the ball movement. This group is sharing the ball, and making plays for their teammates much better than teams in years past.
There is no doubt that the unfortunate injury to N’Faly Dante, who tore his ACL, was a major blow, as the Ducks are now pretty thin on the front line. They are however, able to make up for it with the versatility their length brings on the wings. Even with Dante in the fold, their best lineup was with Hardy, Chris Duarte, Williams Jr., Figueroa and Omoruyi.
When Will Richardson returns, he will replace Hardy in that lineup, making all five players on the court 6’5″ to 6’6″, which creates so many problems for opposing teams. Offensively, all five can handle the ball and shoot from the perimeter. Defensively, they can switch one through five causing havoc and mismatches for opposing teams.
Lady Ducks Haven’t Skipped a Beat
Kelly Graves took a page out of Altman’s book this year, as he’s had to work in eight new players to the team’s rotation. Even with this new look squad, our Lady Ducks have just kept on rolling. That is a credit to both Graves’ and his staff’s ability to coach and get their teams ready, but also the overall talent this team has.
There has been obvious instant impact from the five incoming freshman highlighted by the explosive play of Te Hina Paopao, who looks to be a star in the making. There’s also the streaky Taylor Mikesell, who can offer instant offense, as well as the steady play of senior forward Erin Boley, who has expanded her game to more than just a spot up three point shooter. Boley and Mikesell are complemented well by the dominant size and skillset of Nyara Sabally and Sedona Prince, who so far have given opposing teams fits down low.
This team is one of the most well constructed teams I have seen, on the Men’s or Women’s side. They have depth, athleticism, shooting ability, size and obviously talent. The schedule will more than certainly start to ramp up as they continue to get into conference play, as the PAC-12 is far and away the most talented conference in the country.
There will undoubtedly be hiccups along the way, and some tough losses. But as this team continues to grow, and gain experience, the sky is truly the limit, and I am not sure if there is a more talented team in the country. Which is truly remarkable considering they lost three players taken in the top 8 of the WNBA draft.
This is an exciting time to be an Oregon Basketball fan for both the Men’s and Women’s teams. The adjective I keep going back to is fun. They are just fun teams to watch and I am looking forward to seeing how far they can go in this crazy season. And boy am I just thankful to be able to watch any Oregon basketball at all!
Coach Alex Nordstrand
Top photo by Gary Breedlove
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