The Oregon basketball program has been identified by two things during the tenure of head coach Dana Altman — roster turnover and winning. The first trend has continued as the 2015-16 season approaches, but the Ducks are confident that the second one will as well.
Fueled by the scoring punch of Joseph Young, Oregon went 26–10 last season and set a program record by winning at least 20 games for the fifth straight year. With Young now putting up shots for the Indiana Pacers, the Ducks will look elsewhere for points, not to mention the ball-handling role he filled with increasing frequency in 2014-15.
There’s at least one trend the Ducks hope to end when next March rolls around. After reaching the Sweet Sixteen in 2012-13 — nobody on the current roster remains from that squad — Oregon hasn’t made it beyond the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32 in either of the last two years. “We still haven’t gotten past that first weekend,” senior Elgin Cook says. “We’re going to practice hard every day so we can be conditioned enough, and condition our minds, to play that long.”
Pac-12 predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, available online and on newsstands everywhere.
Podcast: Who should be No. 1 in College Basketball in 2015-16?
With Young filling it up from outside, the Ducks were able to mask their lack of low-post scoring punch on most nights in 2014-15. They still don’t have a dominant scorer in the post, though sophomore Jordan Bell’s school-record 94 blocked shots as a freshman established him as an intimidating defensive presence.
What Oregon does boast is a trio of veteran wings who are threats both to go to the hole and pull up and shoot. Cook, Dwayne Benjamin and Dillon Brooks combined for an average of 32.9 points per game last season, and each has the ability to carry the scoring load at times. “We’re just going to go out there and play as a team,” Benjamin says. “One night it might be my night, next night might be Dillon’s night.”
Cook is the team’s top returning scorer after averaging 13.0 points per game as a junior. He may never be a scorer on the order of Young, but he’s worked hard over the last two years to clean up his jump shot and provide a complement for his ability to slash to the rim. “Just getting plenty of shots up — shooting off the dribble, catch-and-shoot,” Cook says. “Doing a lot of work.”
The Ducks did add some size in their recruiting class, with the Junior College Player of the Year — Chris Boucher — and four-star freshman Trevor Manuel. Like sophomore Roman Sorkin, they’re lanky big men who are as comfortable trying to score from outside as they are inside.
No. 21 Oregon Ducks Facts & Figures
Record: 26-10, 13-5 Pac-12
Postseason: Second Round
Consecutive NCAAs: 3
Pac-12 Projection: 3
Postseason Projection: Second Round
The loss of Young somewhat resembles having to replace two players since the natural shooting guard also handled the ball quite a bit during his senior season. Given the loss as well of starting 2-guard Jalil Abdul-Bassit, that’s a lot of minutes that Altman has to replace in the backcourt.
In keeping with his track record, Altman went out and nabbed a transfer who is expected to play a big role — in this case point guard Dylan Ennis, a fifth-year senior from Villanova. The Ducks also added one-time Arizona commit Tyler Dorsey, a top-25 recruit who can help replace Young’s scoring output. Sophomore Casey Benson and freshman Kendall Small provide depth.
To get all the newcomers on the same page, the Ducks went on a preseason trip to play five exhibition games in Spain in August.
“It’s all about the leadership of the fellows who have been here,” Benjamin says. “We‘re returning some important players from last year, so it’s just going to take us getting the new players involved.”
Key Losses: G Jalil Abdul-Bassit, G Joseph Young
Top Players: G Dylan Ennis, G Tyler Dorsey, F Elgin Cook, F Dillon Brooks, F Jordan Bell
As usual, Dana Altman combed the waiver wire and brought in transfers who are expected to have an immediate impact, including a couple who add size to the roster. Dylan Ennis is a projected starter at the point, and Chris Boucher provides badly needed size in the frontcourt. Tyler Dorsey should help fill the scoring void left by Joseph Young. Fellow freshmen Kendall Small and Trevor Manuel could round out the regular rotation.
The Ducks may have been known for Young’s prolific scoring in 2014-15, but their defense — the bread-and-butter of a Dana Altman team — was as critical. Oregon went 17–0 when holding an opponent under 70 points, but 9–10 when the opponent hit for 70 or more.
The lack of size in the post forced Altman to employ more of a high-scoring, up-and-down pace than he preferred last season. He intends for the Ducks to be tougher on defense in 2015-16.
“That’s how we’re going to win most of our games,” Benjamin says. “Again, we won’t be the biggest team in the country. We’re going to win with our defense and our effort.”