Happy I Hate Washington Week: What is wrong with the Ducks?

Steve Dykes

A three game losing streak that finally ended on Saturday to the last place Utes at home showed some glaring problems with this Ducks team. Problems that need to be fixed if they have any chance of pulling a sweep, or even a split as they head up to Washington this week. Let's take a look at what some of those problems are, and how the Ducks can solve them.

First of all is turnovers. Pac 12 championship teams do not lead the conference in turnovers as the Ducks do now. This was a problem that looked like it was starting to get fixed before Artis went down and the ball handling and point guard of the offense went into flux. In the 5 games before Artis went down the Ducks were averaging 12.4 turnovers per game. In the five games without him they have averaged 18.8. The importance of not turning the ball over was never more evident than in the last two games. Against Colorado, Oregon did a pretty good job keeping control of the ball until the last 4 minutes when they had 5 turnovers and gave up a 7 point lead in the end. By contrast, Oregon turned the ball over 11 times in the first half to Utah and the Utes turned that into an 8 point lead. In the second half, the Ducks only committed 6 turnovers and outscored Utah by 17 points. For a team that lives and dies by their efficiency like Oregon does, turnovers are a killer.

Now most people will immediately look at the point guard for the reason for the turnovers, and Loyd and Moore are not immune from criticism. However, Singler and Emory, who have had to shoulder a larger share of the ball handling, need to take a lion's share of the blame as well. Singler has tried to force too many plays the last couple of weeks causing an abnormally high number of offensive fouls and Emory who has typically been solid in transition has had a number of unforced errors himself. In order for Oregon to keep a rather high efficiency number, these two guys have to play within themselves and stop forcing the action.

The next thing Oregon needs to do if they want to get back to where they were before Artis went down is get off to a hot start. Oregon hasn't reached 30 points in the first half in the last four games. Typically, Oregon's shooting is in the mid 30% as well. For a team that was averaging in the mid 70's in point per game, scoring in the 20's in the first half causes a couple of problems. First of all, they're not getting out to any type of lead where they can use one of their main strengths, their aggressive defense and depth. Instead of Altman being able to go to his bench, rotate in a bunch of guys and force the action, they have to stay with their starters longer to try and score to keep up. Second, teams are able to keep it close and if Oregon struggles at the end (California and Colorado) they may let it slip away.

Next, where have the freshmen gone? I know Artis is sitting on the bench with a boot on, but Dotson, Carter and Moore need to contribute. Dotson is a dynamic scorer and not afraid to play defense. He needs to get at least 10 shots a game. His 16 against Utah was the first time he had reached double figures since the WSU game. He adds spacing to the floor, that lets the big guys maneuver down low. When he's not getting his touches, the defense can pack it in and make it difficult for Oregon's offense to work. Carter is going to struggle to see the floor since Kazemi is playing so well, but when he does get in, he has to bring energy off the bench and make the opponent work for everything they get. Lastly, Moore has the length and size to be a lot of trouble for guards in the conference, and he's really progressed as he's seen more time, but he can't take a step back.

Finally, Singler needs to let other guys carry the load. EJ is the unquestioned leader of this team, but he is also the least athletic guy in the rotation and he struggles to get his own shot. Early in the year, we wondered when EJ would get out of his slump, and he did that in the stretch where Oregon beat Arizona and Ucla. But since Artis has gone down, he's forcing the action way too often. This is really hurting Oregon's offense. Oregon's offense is built on ball rotation, movement, and finding the open guy. EJ keeping it and trying to take his man one-on-one throws everything out of rhythm. Plus, he's just not athletic enough to get by his man consistently.

It was refreshing to see Dotson get more aggressive offensively in the second half against Utah. The Utes had concentrated a lot of their game plan on stopping EJ early in the game. As Dotson hit shots, that took Utah out of what they wanted to do. If teams are going to focus on shutting down EJ and he works within the confines of the offense, that will open things up for the big guys (Kazemi, Woods and Austin) down low.

This may sound like a number of problems for a team this late in the season vying for a conference championship, but they are all fixable. A lot of this has occurred since Artis went down, and the easy thing to do would be to point to that and expect it to be fixed once he returns. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Oregon has a bulls eye on its back as they stay at the top of the standings, and no one is going to take them lightly. Oregon has 3 winnable games left on its schedule. Winning 2 of the @Uw, Cal, Stanford and @Colorado games puts them at 24 wins on the season (not counting the Pac 12 tourney) and looking at a 5 or 6 seed in the NCAA Tourney. To get there they need to fix some of these problems, and getting Artis back is only the start, not the finish.

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