The Oregon Men’s basketball team is once again PAC-12 regular season champions. For the second consecutive year, the Ducks have proven to be the best and most consistent team in the conference. In a year in which not all schedules have been created equal, and there may be some who challenge the fact that the Ducks are deserving of the regular season title, Dana Altman and his team will have a chance to prove it in the conference tournament.
The Ducks, winners of 10 of their last 11 games, seem to only be getting stronger every game, culminating the regular season in an 80-67 win over the in state rival Beavers. In what was arguably their best performance of the year, the Ducks shot 57.4% (27-47) from the field, and an incredible 65.2% (15-23) from the three-point line. While those shooting numbers might be difficult to repeat, the key stat that stands out is the 18 assists as a team.
As I have mentioned before, when the Ducks have struggled this season, it is when they are not moving the ball on offense and everything is one-on-one. However, averaging 17.7 assists across their last three games shows why the Ducks have begun to have more offensive success. This willingness to make plays for teammates is why the Ducks have been shooting so well from the floor, and specifically the three-point line.
Instead of relying on Chris Duarte and Eugene Omoruyi to have to make plays every time down the court, the ball is moving and we are seeing other players get involved. The biggest benefactor has been LJ Figueroa, who is shooting 50% (24-48) from behind the arc in his last 10 games. If he is able to continue at that pace, this Duck team will be hard to beat.
Another key difference has been the play of Will Richardson, who seems to finally be getting into his rhythm after missing 2 months of the season. Many expected it would take Richardson more time to regain his footing, and play as we all expected him to, which is an All-Pac-12 team quality player. Him being aggressive adds a third playmaking option with Duarte and Omoruyi which makes for a very difficult offense to guard.
In typical Altman fashion, we have seen him tighten up his rotation at the end of the season. He seems to have settled on mainly a seven man group, with the five starters of Richardson, Duarte, Eric Williams Jr., Figueroa and Omoruyi playing the majority of the minutes, while Chandler Lawson and Amauri Hardy see a handful of minutes off the bench.
It will be interesting to see how Altman decides to deploy this rotation during the PAC-12 Tournament. If the Ducks were to make their way to the championship game, that would mean three games in three days. That would be very difficult on the bodies of the players who are playing 30+ minutes per game.
Will Altman decide to stretch his bench a bit more, giving some of the inexperienced, but talented underclassman more time? Or does he decide to ride his best, and hope that they will have enough gas in the tank to make another run at a conference title?
My best guess, he goes with his seven man rotation and hopes for the best. Altman is a competitor, and expects a lot from his players. If a player is not playing well, they will not stay on the court. There is not always a long leash, especially during tournament time. There is also still a lot to play for in this group. Even with a 19-5 record, the Ducks are still being underestimated, and most likely undervalued in the NCAA Tournament. Winning the PAC-12 Tournament would go a long way toward giving the Ducks more favorable matchups in the Big Dance.
So how does Altman keep his guys fresh playing multiple games on consecutive days? Strategic rests. With Men’s college basketball having media timeouts every four minutes of game time, it gives coaches a chance to strategically sneak in a couple of extra rest minutes for players.
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For example, say there is a foul at the 12:30 mark of the first half. If a player gets subbed out during that dead ball, then the next whistle happens at 11:15, which leads to a media timeout. The player who initially got subbed out would potentially have 4-5 minutes of rest real time, but only miss 1:15 of game time. With eight media time outs per game, this can be done multiple times for maximum effectiveness, and with multiple different players.
I fully expect the Ducks to come out hungry and ready to play. Even after winning the conference, they are still not fully getting the respect they deserve, whether that be individually or as a team. This group is special, and ready to make a run. This is not a team I would want to play right now, and that means we are in for a fun ride in March as Oregon fans.
Coach Alex Nordstrand
Top Photo By Eugene Johnson
Alex is a lifelong Duck fan living in Eugene who goes to every Football and Basketball game that he can, and appreciates his wife for putting up with him during those seasons. Sports have always been his biggest passion, having played and coached Basketball at the High School level. He hopes to bring a unique and deeper understanding of both the Men’s and Women’s basketball teams at Oregon, and looks forward to nerding out with everyone while writing and talking Ducks!
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