Oregon is looking at a second straight rebuilding season, having followed up 2017’s Final Four run by settling for the NIT. But this isn’t last season’s cobbled-together roster of freshmen who weren’t quite ready for prime time and graduate transfers looking to shine in greener pastures. The Ducks signed a top-five recruiting class built around five-star center Bol Bol and are expected to get back into contention for a Pac-12 title, and another extended run in March.
Between junior point guard Payton Pritchard, senior wing Paul White and sophomore guards Victor Bailey Jr. and Abu Kigab, the Ducks have a veteran nucleus — players still stinging from having to settle for an NIT bid last spring. But the page has been turned in Eugene.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Dana Altman
2017-18 RECORD (PAC-12): 23-13 (10-8)
2017-18 POSTSEASON: NIT: Lost to Marquette 101-92 in the second round
G Elijah Brown (13.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.5 apg)
G Troy Brown (11.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3.2 apg)
F MiKyle McIntosh (11.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg)
Bol is a much bigger scoring threat than his father — shot-blocking specialist Manute Bol — ever was, and much more comfortable out on the perimeter. “He’ll have some adjustments to the Division I game,” coach Dana Altman says, “but he’s a unique talent. He runs good. He catches it great. He’s got a good touch, and he’s a good passer. So I am excited to work with him.”
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The freshman class includes another five-star forward, 6'9" Louis King. He was sidelined for offseason workouts by a pre-existing injury, clouding his early season outlook this fall. The rotation got a late-summer boost, though, when 6'9" Francis Okoro reclassified into the 2018 recruiting class. The muscular forward gives the Ducks a physicality in the post that they missed last season. Sophomore Kenny Wooten can also help in that regard, having looked to bulk up after a freshman season in which he blocked 92 shots, third most by a freshman in Pac-12 history.
All those additions up front should free up White to play a more natural wing position. Pressed into action in the post as a junior transfer last season, White did yeoman’s work as a defender and rebounder. “Paul’s one of the big keys for us, moving guys around,” Altman says. “He can play three different spots, which is critical.”
The Ducks return their leading scorer in Pritchard. The Oregon native will again be the floor general in 2018-19, and the Ducks believe he can improve his accuracy from 3-point range.
Oregon will look for more scoring punch from Bailey. His athleticism is off the charts, and he developed into a more consistent scorer as his freshman season progressed. Ditto Kigab, a big-time athlete who spent his freshman season refining the technical aspects of his game.
The lone true freshman in the backcourt is Will Richardson, a combo guard out of Oak Hill Academy in Virginia. A four-star recruit, he’ll have the chance to contribute right off the bat, particularly if he can provide the consistent 3-point threat the Ducks so badly lacked last season.
Graduate transfer Ehab Amin will provide some veteran experience and a defensive presence — he led the NCAA with 3.4 steals per game in 2016-17 for Texas A&M-Corpus Christi before sitting out last season due to injury.
The hard-driving Altman tends to shrug off preseason rankings, but he’s particularly skeptical of the lofty projections for this Oregon squad given its youth. Do the Ducks have the potential to be in that pantheon come late February? No doubt. But there could be some growing pains early in the season while the freshmen get up to speed — particularly in the case of King, given his abbreviated offseason.
“I love the talent of the new guys,” Altman says. “I think they’re really good. But it’s gonna take some time. They’re freshmen. They all adjust at different speeds.”
Postseason Prediction: Two & Out
Pac-12 Prediction: 1st