The short answer? No.
There is no doubt the Ducks are coming off a disappointing loss to the in-state rival Beavers and now have lost two of their last three games.. But at a closer look, both losses could have been easily predicted.
First, the loss at Colorado, where the Ducks haven’t won in the Dana Altman era. The second, coming off a two week pause, missing 3 starters, including the leading scorer in Chris Duarte, and playing a hot Oregon State team that has also given Altman fits the past few seasons? A recipe for a couple clunkers. And that is exactly what we got.
Now, normally is the time of season where Altman teams really start to hit their stride. However, for obvious reasons, this has not been a normal season. With so many injuries, and so much missed time due to COVID-19 protocols, the Ducks have not been able to develop a rotation, or the team cohesiveness that is required to sustain success.
The Ducks have 12 games left in the regular season. 12 games to get everyone back in the lineup, find a rotation and be playing their best basketball come PAC-12 and NCAA tournament time. Sure, a regular season conference championship would be nice, of course it would be. But this season, more than ever, with so many players and teams missing games, the main goal is to be healthy and swing away at the end of the season.
Freshmen Need More Run
Jalen Terry and Franck Kepnang need more minutes, plain and simple. They both bring elements to the game that no one else on the roster can give. Terry, with his lightning quickness, and ability to stretch the defense really could give the opposition fits moving forward. And Kepnang, with his size and shot blocking prowess, can also help this team immensely.
Yes, both players have missed a significant amount of time this season. Terry in COVID-19 protocols, and Kepnang joining the team late after reclassifying. However, now that they are both here and healthy, it’s time to get them as many minutes as possible to get ready for the Tournament.
Obviously, when Will Richardson returns from injury, he will be seeing the bulk of time at the point guard position. But, what I would like to see is Terry be the primary back up ahead of Amauri Hardy. While Hardy has been serviceable and steady in his minutes up to this point, he has not produced much offensively.
Most notably, Hardy is shooting only 25% from the three point line, an area in which the Ducks have struggled. Terry on the other hand is shooting 38% from behind the arc, which is second on the team, behind only Duarte. While Hardy is averaging a solid 4.1 assists per game, that number will predictably go down with the return of Richardson who will take more of the ball handling duties.
Another area Terry excels is in the open court. With speed and athleticism, he can do a much better job of pushing the ball quickly up the court creating more opportunities where the Ducks don’t have to try and always play against a half court defense. Too many times I’ve seen Hardy walk the ball up the court, especially in late game situations.
I’m not sure how many times I have harped on this in the past, but Altman’s match up zone defense is at it’s best when there is a shot blocker in the paint. The defense, while effective in causing teams problems, also requires a lot of movement, communication and discipline. It also is aimed at allowing defenders on the perimeter to be more aggressive when guarding three point shooters. However, when that breaks down, which does happen, a shot blocker in the middle, like Kepnang, can save more than a few possessions per game.
What Kepnang also does is allow other players to play their more natural positions on offense. Most notably, Eugene Omoruyi, who before the injury of N’Faly Dante was averaging 19.5 points per game. Since Dante’s injury, Omoruyi is averaging only 14 points per game.
The reason for this is that when Omoruyi is at the center position, teams are having their opposing centers guard him. At 6’6, Omoruyi is generally undersized compared to other teams centers, which makes it more difficult for him from his best spot on the court: the post. However, with another big on the floor, opposing teams are forced to play a smaller player on Omoruyi, allowing him to be more effective while posting up.
I don’t think we will truly see the full potential of this team until closer to the end of the regular season. Once Richardson returns, it will still take him a few games to get back to full strength and game-ready shape. Once that happens, then Altman can start to find which rotations and players work best together.
The goal should be to continue to get guys as many minutes as possible so they are ready for the stretch run. If we get towards the end of the season, with everyone healthy, and the team is struggling, then the worry can set in. But until that time, no need to panic, this team is still finding their way. We have no reason to not trust Dana Altman and what his teams can accomplish.
Coach Alex Nordstrand
Top Photo By Eugene Johnson
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