Without a doubt, losing to the USC Trojans in the Sweet Sixteen was painful, but Oregon Basketball has plenty to still look forward to.
But before we jump into that, we can chalk up the Ducks 2020-21 season as a success. If before the season someone had looked into their crystal ball and said that the Ducks would win the Pac-12 regular-season championship and advance to the Sweet-Sixteen, I think most Ducks fans would have screamed, “I’ll take it!“
The Ducks dealt with Covid-19, key injuries (N’Faley Dante, Chris Duarte), and played most games without starting any true “bigs.” The starting line-up mainly consisted of four six-foot-six players, and another at six-foot-five which created some inherent disadvantages down low. The talent and firepower on the outside did make up for this, but not enough to where they could make a deep run in the tournament.
The height and length of USC proved to be too much for the Ducks to overcome. Teams could overplay the Ducks on the perimeter without worry that they’d get schooled in the paint. The Ducks have been the Pac-12’s best program over the past decade under coach Dana Altman, but some might wonder if the loss to the Trojans could represent a changing of the guard in the conference.
Luckily for the Ducks, size is on the way.
Next season, the Ducks will feature the energetic Franck Kepnang and the return of the injured N’Faly Dante, while bringing in freshman and five-star recruit Nathan Bittle. Also, the Ducks welcome Isaac Johnson back from his two-year Mormon Mission. All four of these players stand at six feet, eleven inches tall. On top of this, six-foot-eight forward Lok Wur figures to take on a bigger role.
Duck fans have to be salivating at the thought of getting a fully unleashed Kepnang. The early enrollee, who should currently be a high school senior, was brought along slowly during the season by coach Altman to help him adjust to the college game. By next year, with a full offseason of training and workouts, Kepnang should be a force. In limited action, he brought fire and energy that make many believe he could be a dominant player when his time comes next season.
Meanwhile, Bittle, who draws comparisons to former Duck star Chris Boucher, could make an immediate impact given his rare combination of size and skill. And if Dante can stay healthy, he has proven to bring an inside presence that the Ducks severely lacked without him this past season.
The Ducks will also return starting point guard Will Richardson, who at six-foot-five brings good size to the position at the college level. And currently, with the recent decision of forward Chandler Lawson to enter the transfer portal, the Ducks have four open roster spots in which they could bring in even more size, as solid recruiting transfers have been good friends to the Ducks during the Altman era.
The 2021-22 season will be a transitional year for the Ducks filled with uncertainty. But, one thing for sure is that big things await.
Top photo credit: Gary Breedlove
Darren Perkins is a sales professional and 1997 Oregon graduate. After finishing school, he escaped the rain and moved to sunny Southern California where he studied screenwriting for two years at UCLA. Darren grew up in Eugene and in 1980, at the tender age of five, he attended his first Oregon football game. His lasting memory from that experience was an enthusiastic Don Essig announcing to the crowd: “Reggie Ogburn, completes a pass to… Reggie Ogburn.” Captivated by such a thrilling play, Darren’s been hooked on Oregon football ever since. Currently living in Spokane, Darren enjoys flaunting his yellow and green superiority complex over friends and family in Cougar country.
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