Last week provided national affirmation of Oregon's basketball renaissance under Dana Altman, further evidenced by the Ducks' first national ranking in six years. At just a little over the midway point of the season, enough data has been accumulated to start looking at statistial trends.
Much has been made of two statistics on the offensive end for Oregon. The first is turnovers. Oregon was regularly in the high teens and low 20s in turnovers during the non-league season, with two freshman plus the turnover prone Johnathan Loyd playing the bulk of the minutes at guard. Oregon still ranks last in the conference in turnovers, at 15.4 per game, but this number is in decline, and the Ducks have had exactly twelve turnovers in each of their three Pac-12 games. The other stat that has been three-point shooting, a spot where Oregon was hovering in the low 20% earlier this season. However, since Pac-12 play has started, the Ducks are shooting 16/38 on threes, or 42%. In fact, the Ducks have pulled their season average up to 34%, and are all the way up to 8th in the conference. Three conference games is a small sample size but, in both cases, regression to the mean was always likely as the freshman gained more experience and E.J. Singler recovered from his miserable start.
If the Ducks can be closer to their still modest in-conference averages, this team goes from good to absolutely deadly. That's because, despite turnover issues and inability to shoot the deep ball, the team remained incredibly efficient offensively. It doesn't seem like that would be the case, as giving nearly a quarter of your possessions away for free isn't a path to offensive efficiency, and they weren't shooting a ton of deep balls to make up for that in the numbers (remember, efficiency is simply points per possession). They also aren't making up for it at the line, ranking in the middle of the conference in free throws made. However, despite the long-range woes, the Ducks still shoot 46% on the season, good for second in the Pac-12. That owes in part to Oregon having the best front court in the league, and getting the corresponding high-percentage inside shots. They also get more offensive rebounds than any team in the conference, and those generally lead to easy put back points. But the biggest reason has to do with a combination of Oregon's defense and pace--the Ducks force more turnovers then anyone else, and when they do, they push the ball up the floor, hard.
Despite the Ducks' crazy high turnover percentage, they actually force more turnovers than they commit. That negates the disadvantage of the high turnover rates by the Oregon offense. Ironically, the same holds true of opponents' three-point percentage, as opponents shoot only 31%. Opponents shoot only 39% overall against the Ducks, and that combination of turnovers and shooting mean Oregon opponents have a league worst efficiency of 86 points per 100 possessions. If we take that as the ultimate goal of a defense--to give up the fewest number of points possible on any given possession--the Ducks rank 11th nationally in that metric. This defense is truly elite.
The final piece of the puzzle for Oregon has been rebounding. Oregon gets 56% of all rebounds--good for second in the Pac-12. The tall-deep front line pounds teams on the boards, creating second chance points for themselves while limiting them for others.
The reason that this team will make the NCAA Tournament and will make a serious run at a conference title is because there isn't a major weakness in their statistical profile. They play elite defense. They rebound well. They score efficiently. The two things they havne't done well--commit turnovers and shoot the three--are both trending in the right direction, and are mitigated by the fact that they force other teams to do things worse. This team isn't invincible. They are going to lose games in conference, and Saturday's matchup at UCLA is particularly concerning. But they're going to win far more than they lose and, especially with Arizona and UCLA on the schedule only once each, Oregon is in the Pac-12 Title hunt.