When the era of the transfer portal descended on the college athletics landscape, one program that didn't need any time to adjust was Oregon men's basketball. In the decade that Dana Altman has been coaching the Ducks, annual rebuilding projects haven't stopped his program from winning four regular-season Pac-12 titles and three conference tournaments and making the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament five times.
"I think our coaching staff has done a pretty good job of matching what our needs are with the talent that's available," Altman says. "Guys have come in here and really shown a willingness to be a part of a team."
That formula will be tested yet again in 2021-22, when Oregon returns just three of the nine players who saw the floor in last season's Sweet 16 loss to USC.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Dana Altman
2020-21 RECORD (PAC-12): 21-7 (14-4)
2020-21 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to USC 82-68 in the Sweet 16
G Chris Duarte (17.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg)
G/F LJ Figueroa (12.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg)
G Amauri Hardy (3.9 ppg, 2.2 apg)
F Chandler Lawson (4.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg)
F Eugene Omoruyi (17.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg)
The 2020-21 Ducks thrived on athleticism and versatility, routinely playing lineups in which four or even all five players stood 6'5" or 6'6". The lack of size showed up in the stats; Oregon's rebounding margin in 2020-21 was plus-1, the program's lowest since 2013-14. That deficiency was costly in the season-ending loss to USC, though it shouldn't be a problem for this year's team.
Oregon boasts four players who stand 6'11" and could be contributors. The program signed five-star recruit Nate Bittle, welcomed freshman Isaac Johnson back from a two-year church mission and has both N'Faly Dante and Franck Kepnang back and looking to expand their roles.
Dante had knee surgery in January, but the Ducks hope he'll be available for the start of this season. When he returns, he could share minutes with Kepnang in the post, or they could play together and even share the court with Bittle or Johnson, given that the latter two should be 3-point threats. "There are a lot of questions to be answered," Altman says. "But I wouldn't be afraid to throw three of them out there."
Oregon will miss the toughness that Eugene Omoruyi provided in the post, but Syracuse transfer Quincy Guerrier should account for some of that and can also step out and shoot from beyond the arc. Eric Williams Jr. is one of Oregon's two returning starters; his versatility allows him to get minutes all over the floor. Lök Wur is another versatile, athletic wing who will look to crack the rotation for the first time in 2021-22.
For all the roster movement Oregon has been accustomed to in recent years, the Ducks will have a fourth-year contributor in guard Will Richardson. A complementary player to Payton Pritchard his first two years, Richardson took over the starting point guard job as a junior. Richardson has averaged slightly more than 11 points per game the last two years and has the potential to be a more prolific scorer as a senior.
Chris Duarte's scoring production and defensive intensity will be missed, but the portal yielded potential replacements in Oklahoma transfer De'Vion Harmon and Rutgers transfer Jacob Young. Young averaged 14.1 points and 3.4 assists while shooting 36.9 percent from 3-point range last season; his older brother Joseph was a Pac-12 Player of the Year for Oregon in 2014-15.
Altman also signed junior college All-American Rivaldo Soares, who averaged just over 15 points per game in two years at South Plains College in Texas.
By now, Oregon fans have become conditioned to the arc of a season in which Altman rebuilds the roster. In those campaigns, the Ducks have historically shown flashes of promise during non-conference play, experienced some growing pains when Pac-12 play begins and then hit their stride just as the postseason is approaching. There's no reason to expect anything different in 2021-22, with so many newcomers and so many roles to sort through and define.
If history is any guide, whatever the ups and downs of the regular season, the Ducks will be in the thick of the Pac-12 championship hunt by February and a candidate to make some noise come tournament time in March.
Postseason Prediction: NCAA Tournament Sweet 16
Pac-12 Prediction: 2