Franckly, Who Cares if Kepnang is Young?

Ryan Robertson Editorials 24 Comments

Dana Altman is a fantastic basketball coach. He builds great rosters with solid length, has decent game plans in most games, and gets his teams to play hard night-in and night-out. Every coach has their tendencies though, and unfortunately for the Ducks in the Sweet Sixteen, Altman has the tendency to play freshmen less.

Of course there are exceptions to the rule: Bol Bol played in only nine games due to injury, but averaged nearly 30 minutes per game. Bol did look to be a transcendent talent, however. The 2017/2018 team had a bunch of freshmen play significant minutes, but they had very little returning production from their Final Four run the year prior. In 2014/2015 Jordan Bell played 23 minutes per game, but he was one of only three players above 6’7″ on the roster.

Altman’s unspoken rule of age can be broken, which begs the question: why did Franck Kepnang play only 10 minutes against USC?

When N’Faly Dante went down for the year after playing only six games, Kepnang had been enrolled for less than a week. Altman had from that point (December 17th) until March 28th to work the true freshman into the lineup. As USC did anything they wanted on offense, and Oregon didn’t have the size to challenge them defensively, Kepnang rode the bench.

Chris Duarte and Eugene Omoruyi scored 49 of Oregon’s 68 points, but the other three starters scored only 11 points. Off the bench, the Ducks were ineffective to say the least. Amauri Hardy was yanked off of the floor after only three minutes, he finished the game with a rebound and no other stats. Chandler Lawson played for eight minutes and finished the game with two rebounds and a foul. Jalen Terry, once expected to be a major component this season, played a single minute.

Gary Breedlove

Oregon needed an inside presence to take pressure off of Chris Duarte in the Sweet Sixteen.

The only bench player to have any impact on the game was Kepnang. The true freshman played much of the back half of the second half and logged eight points and a rebound. But one play in particular signified why he should’ve been in the game for more than the 10 minutes he logged. It was a post up on Evan Mobley that resulted in a layup.

Why was a late game post up resulting in exactly two points significant? Mobley was clearly a concern for Oregon. Usually teams break a zone by either shooting lights out from the perimeter, or by getting inside and bullying the opposing big men. On the aforementioned basket by Kepnang, Mobley looked weak. Kepnang backed him in to the paint, got him to overcommit to his inside shoulder and spun around for an easy basket. It was the type of offense that Oregon lacked in both blowout losses to USC this year.

Detractors of Kepnang will point to some defensive errors as a reason to not let him play. The issue with that rhetoric is that Oregon had the 103rd rated defense this season, so playing a young player who could provide some rim protection (Kepnang averaged 1.1 blocks per game in only 8.5 minutes per game this season) could do very little to make their defense worse. The second issue with not playing someone because they struggle situationally is that the best way to improve at basketball is to play basketball.

Overall, Altman made a bad choice this season. He chose to let his only healthy player above 6’8″ sit on the bench, instead of letting him get valuable playing time and conditioning that could come up big late in the season. The good news for Oregon is that both their great coach and their good young player will be back for next season.

Ryan Robertson
Yuma, Arizona
Top Photo From Twitter

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ptdduck

USC won the points in the paint battle, 42-36, a minor difference. Oregon out rebounded USC 29-28. The biggest reason Oregon lost is that USC was +15 at the 3 point line. We couldn’t defend the 3 and Richardson, LJ and Williams didn’t play well. Richardson needed to have a big game.

Duck Phan Phil

Franckly, I agree. Altman should’ve given Kepnang more minutes so he’d be available in a time of need. On the flip side though, the Ducks were in the Sweet 16 in large part because of Fig’s play in March, including his 3 pt shooting. But let’s be honest, Fig is not a great shooter, and he had a really bad game against SC, not only shooting, but shot selection, stepping out of bounds, that 4-step travel on the break…just awful. There’s a point where a coach has to decide whether to sub a guy or go with what got you there. Making that call in the moment is a lot harder than making it in hindsight, but in hindsight the mistake is obvious.

Haywarduck

First day of spring is this Thursday, no fooling. Spring practice starts this Thursday culminating with the spring game on the 5/1. We have 14 practices to look forward to before the spring game.

I can smell football in the air, can’t you! I can also see our new starting qb separating from the pack, well not yet, but….. soon!

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

I am excited for football, but admit to being diverted by a superb No. 3 Softball team and a No. 20 Baseball team that will get better…

It’s a beautiful day in Eugene–wonderful to be in spring!

Annie

Will the spring game be on TV?

Tandaian

I know it happens to all teams, but when the Ducks offense stalls it stalls in a big way. It most often seems to stall when teams go to a zone.

Hitting outside shots would have gotten USC out of the zone, but nobody could make a bucket other than Duarte and Omoruyi.

Neither hit from the outside to make USC pay. USC was superior in the game. Evan Mobley is gone and likely so is Eaddy and White.

Ducks lose Omoruyi, Duarte and Figueroa as starters/rotation players. Hopefully, the Ducks find somebody to help Richardson in the backcourt.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

Apparently there are a ton of great shooting guards in the portal that are quite skilled and experienced to fill that gap for one year…

Duarte is, probably, a first round draft pick. Can we find a talent like that in the portal, I hope so. I do think Duarte was one of the better players we have had play at Oregon, recently. The guy is a brilliant, extremely talented player.

With our bigs coming back the shooters will be critical to making a team that can make another deep run. It is nice to know we have the size, we just need the shooters.

Duck Phan Phil

Jonathan Lawson is a player who could help. He has that spindly thing going like his brother, and Altman isnt exactly known for beefing up his players (see Boucher and Bol) so he might not be physically ready, but he does have scoring and passing skill set from the 2 or 3. Also major nickname upside in “Johnny Law”

Santa Rosa Duck

Kepnang did look good at the end of the game. He should be a good contributor next year. Regardless of how much he played last night, there was no way we get by USC. They are a superior team. Thank you Dana Altman for an interesting year.

I was hoping for more from the women yesterday but when you score just 14 points in the 1st half, you are not going to win a big game. Oh well……Thank you Kelly Graves for an interesting year.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

Altman is to BLAME?

I have a Duck-Buddy who coached basketball and knows a lot more than I, and he sent me an email with the following:

“The problem with Oregon, though, was the coaching when USC jumped out to a big first half lead, and Altman’s offense did not have an Oregon player at the free-throw line willing to shoot first and pull the big man up which would then compromise the zone defense USC was playing.

Whether it was Figueroa or someone else, that player in their offense was a not a “shoot-first” person when they received the pass at the free-throw line, and it wasn’t until the second half when Altman moved Duarte to that spot that Oregon made a run. it was frustrating to watch. It was such an easy adjustment as well. If you watch the game again, just watch when the person at the free-throw line on the offense gets the ball.

They have a half a second to get a nice jumper off most of the time; instead, the first thing the player is trying to do is pass. You take the best shot the defense gives you, and it was there time and time again if one is looking to shoot.

A jumper from the free-throw line is a great, great shot because almost everyone practices from 15 feet for free throws.

Once that person at the free-throw line on the offense starts putting down jumpers after catching the ball, then the whole defense has to adjust and it is compromised because a big has to over-react and step 10-15 feet away from the rim. USC never had to adjust. Either Altman told his players to “pass” the ball at that slot on the floor or he had a player that was not a first-look-to-score player.

Either way, that falls on Altman to adjust. Oregon could be in the elite eight. Kepnang would have likely fouled out had he played in the first half, but Oregon would have been closer the whole game with a small adjustment that should have been easily seen in the first half.”

I thought this was superb fodder as a ponder-point, as it makes me wonder why….

Darren Perkins

I agree here. I was yelling at the tv to “take the shot,” but then they’d make an errant pass down low. That and the “why is Kepnang playing” (as Ryan covered) sunk the Ducks.

As much as we all believe in Altman, he was very off in this game, and with the six day layoff it’s even more surprising. And, if us at home could clearly see what was going on, couldn’t an Oregon assistant get in Altman’s ear? He’s human, we all have bad days, but somebody needed to let him know.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

I was thinking the same thing…with so many assistants and how this is “Zone-Busting 101” and they would not bring it up with Dana?

A Response to Above….

This came from another Duck-Buddy who also knows basketball pretty well, and like all of us with football–good, knowledgeable people will disagree!

“Nah, I don’t blame Altman. The way you beat a zone is by shooting well and attacking the gaps. I think Mobley was the key to making it effective, he covers a lot of ground and was able to close out before we could hit the mid range jumper. And since we couldn’t hit the open-ish 3s, we were stuck.

That free throw jumper is a lot more difficult then what it seems. Especially starting with your back to the basket. It’s really not an efficient way to score points.

Altman kept trying new people in the pivot spot but USC knew what was coming and was ready. And later in the game, it wasn’t so much that Duarte was the answer, they shifted out to cover the 3’s since they were up by 15-20 points.

Really, if we hit 2 or 3 of those outside shots on either side of halftime, this is a different game.

Every zone d is beatable and every zone has a weakness. Ultimately they are just reacting to what’s in front of them.

Mobley was just too long and closed out too fast. We really needed him to get into foul trouble but he really played great D.

In the past, we would do the 3 man weave to open up lanes and get the defense moving. But that hasn’t been used much this year (or last year) for whatever reason. Maybe because Duarte and Payton were so good one-on-one🤷‍♂️

I was more frustrated by our defense. Where was our after-made-shot press??”

Do any of you have a different perspective?

All I know about second guessing is there is usually a pretty good answer. I saw the same thing and a guy like Altman knows the game better than me. My take was also have Duarte shoot more and make them double team him. It did seem to be the obvious chess moves, but there must have been something else in play we didn’t see.

SC did play the better game. Also Mobley is the real deal, with elements of his game we undoubtedly don’t even begin to understand the impact of. That would have been the other focus, get him in foul trouble, but easier said than done.

Just read Altman’s discussion of the game and he takes the blame. Like a true leader he takes the fall, but the play on one side was much better. When you are playing at this level you can’t have an off shooting night if the other side is shooting lights out. Gonzaga does seem like they are playing at another level, we’ll see how that goes.

CJ

Did Altman make mistakes? Definitely. Did it cost the Ducks the game? Possibly, but probably not.

Figueroa + Richardson + Williams Jr. shooting 3 for 17 cost the Ducks the game along with an 8 minute stretch between the 11 minute and 3 minute mark in the first half where the Ducks only scored 3 points.

Altman’s mistakes were:

  1. Not heavily pressing a team with a lot of size that are somewhat clumsy compared to the quickness of the Ducks.
  2. Definitely agree that the free throw shot was there all game. It is a lot tougher shot than it looks, but it’s still a shot that can be knocked down at a high percentage and should of been taken advantage of to open up other shots.
  3. NOT PLAYING BIG FRANCK MUCH SOONER IN THE GAME. He should of saw this coming. Many of us saw this coming a few months ago. We were going to struggle in the dance without an aggressive big.

All that being said….. I was really stoked on this team this year. They played with a lot of heart and effort. That’s the most important thing to me. Wins and losses will happen but it’s the effort in the end that counts. Figueroa, Omoruyi and Duarte were a joy to watch play together. They seem like really high character guys and I wish them the best in the NBA.

Jon Sousa

I have always loved the enthusiasm and energy that Franck brings to the team. Even watching him on the bench (well, OK, standing close to the bench) he was excited and exciting. He looked totally excited and happy to be in the dance, playing or not.

On the court, he is a leader. You see him communicating and encouraging the other guys.

All season long, I enjoyed every minute that Franck was on the court. I am hoping that he stays around for a couple more years to learn the game well enough to not have to play in the G league. If he stayed a full 4 years, he would most likely become a lottery pick.

CJ

Altman has always seemed to have an interesting way of utilizing his big men. Not sure his track record with the type of basketball big guys play has been the best.

Well considering next year we are likely to see a team with Terry at point guard, Richardson at shooting guard and then three front court guys all near 7′ we will get to see a Duck basketball team like no other we have seen in the past (plus I believe there is another guy coming in from a mission who signed up a few years ago who is also 6’11”). The combination of Bittle, Kepnang and Dante on the court leaves me feeling real hopeful for the next couple seasons.

The question is will Altman utilize them for their strengths or will be have them riding the pine in favor of quick, agile shooters like he has favored in the past.

Unfortunately last night Figueroa, Williams Jr. and Richardson combined to shoot for 3 for 17 from the field. That was the back breaker in that game.

Jon Sousa

I don’t expect 3 bigs on the floor at the same time very often or for many minutes. Somebody has to come off the bench. Watching three bigs rotating, getting close to equal minutes, and maintaining strong, fresh legs is something to look forward to.

CJ

Yeah I agree, but imagine those three guys on the court at once. That would be formidable front court trio. Bittle may play as an extra tall small forward in some instances. But you are right they are likely to rotate throughout the game.

The key piece now is a knock down shooter small forward/wing. I am guessing Altman is already mining the portal today to see who he can bring in.

David Marsh

Looking at the women’s team….

Talk about the injury bug making for a rough year and a rough end of the year. Though the future is very bright for the women as there is loads of potential.

This year was going to be a down year regardless as losing the big three from last year was a major blow.

David Marsh

Size was a huge factor for Oregon’s loss.

Though if I recall that is one thing that has been addressed in the next recruiting class… Though will they be too young to see the court?

I think a major factor this year for all freshman has been the covid protocols. The reduced in person time together for coaches and players has probably hurt player development more than we could imagine.

Some players more than others obviously.

Here’s looking forward to a year without the impact of covid in sports for 2021-2022!

Haywarduck

I would hope he would see the field on the football team more than 10 minutes a game, if he was to try out. The guy is an absolute amazing athlete and has the effort and intelligence to become special.

I look forward to seeing how Altman continues to develop him. It would also be interesting to see him play some football and come in at TE on short yardage situations. Can you imagine a team trying to stop him from catching a jump ball?

The guy who deserves all the accolades, and more is Chris Duarte. He was a player you wanted to be more selfish, because he was such a delight to watch shoot and make plays at the basket. Chris Duarte, MVP of the Oregon Ducks, not even close. If he doesn’t make an NBA team I will be shocked.

The other guy who played with extreme heart and talent is Eugene Omoruyi. The guy would have fit right in with the Kamikaze Kids, no better compliment can be made.

The 2020-21 Ducks were a special team, well done!

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

It would have been great to have seen him playing much more through the season, and you make a very valid point Ryan. I could not believe all the shots missed last night, and I am disappointed with how Lawson missed a number of lightly contested lay-ups.

Chandler has always been a reluctant player, where Franck has been aggressive from the beginning. Nonetheless, I am proud of how this Oregon team was the regular season conference champion over three other Pac-12 teams in the Elite-Eight!