Tomorrow, the Ducks basketball team opens their season with an exhibition game against Lewis and Clark. As Oregon Basketball, and the fate of coach Ernie Kent, sit at a crossroads, many wonder what they should be able to expect for the upcoming season. Certainly, Oregon has the talent to make a run at a Pac-10 title. However, we have also been able to say that for the last few season, only to stammer to mediocre finishes. For a fan base that expects NCAA berths every year, the recent records of this program have been, quite frankly, unacceptable.
So with that as the context, what should we expect out of Oregon basketball this season? The answer, of course, depends on so many questions. Is this the year that Malik Hairston finally steps up to lead the team? Does Ernie Kent finally develop a post player? Has Aaron Brooks matured into a top tier point guard? Will Chamberlain Iguchi and Bryce Taylor be able to score consistently? We cannot say that we know the answers to any of these at this point. However, if I were a betting man, here is how I see the season going:
The only loss on the team is Ivan Johnson, which, given his inconsistency and behavior, is no real loss. To replace him in the frontcourt, Mitch Platt will be back from injury to platoon with Ray Schafer at center. Judging Platt's play two years ago vs. Schafer's play last year, I would bank on Platt being the starter. Neither is going to wow anybody offensively, and both need to hit free throws more consistently. However, Platt just has a little more consistent all-around game. Given Ivan's undependability last year, this duo is a definite improvement. If he needs to, Kent can always go small and put Adam Zahn, Maarty Leunen, or newcomer Franz Dorsainvil at center for matchups against quicker teams. Platt and Schafer, while far from spectacular, are a solid duo that are better than many in the conference.
At forward, the Ducks appear pretty deep. Maarty Leunen and Malik Hairston are solid and will start, but Malik needs to step up and be the leader that everyone thought he would be when he arrived in Eugene. Maarty is a lot like Raef LaFrentz--he can really stretch out a defense, but needs that back to the basket scorer to compliment him. He will open things up for Platt in the middle--the question is can Platt take advantage? If they can get that spacing, Hairston should get a lot of easy buckets just slashing to the basket. Dorsainvil and Zahn can be solid backups, and expect Taylor to get some time at SF to have him and Oguchi on the floor at the same time. Jordan Kent can also be a factor here, but it is questionable as to whether he will play, or try to prep for the NFL draft. I would bank on the latter, which actually might prevent ther from being a major logjam at the postion (although Kent's defense could certainly help.)
At guard, expect Chamberlain Oguchi to start over Bryce Taylor. Both will get plenty of time, but Chamberlain was by far the more consistent scorer last year. I actually expect him to be our best and most consistent player. The real question with him: has he learned the difference between a good and bad shot? Aaron Brooks will start at point guard, and word is he has matured. He will be out for two games--the Mercer game (which will be an easy win), and the UW game at Seattle (which will not be). We will see some of Churchill Odia here as well (and, in those two games where Brooks is suspended, a steady dose of Adrian Stelly as well). To me, the ability of the point guard position to take care of the ball might be the single biggest indicator of Ducks success this season.
Unfortunately, the non-conference schedule does not leave much room for error. I expect this team to lose at Georgetown, which means 11-1 in the non-conference. If they simply go 9-9 in conference, and lose in the first round of the conference tourney, that's 20 wins and the NIT--which in underachieving and unacceptable for this team. If that happens, kiss Ernie goodbye. However, this team has depth, with two deep at each position (maybe too much depth to get everyone quality PT). I think that they pull a winning record and finish 3rd or 4th in the confernce--probably 11-7. Depending on who they beat in conference, that makes them 22-8 heading into the confernce tourney. WIth their soft schedule. they probably need to win a game or two in the conference tourney to secure a spot in the big dance. I think that they probably win one to finish at 23-9. In the Pac-10, that should be enough to squeeze into the tourney. What can they do there? Depends on who they play. But I see this as the year that they finally get back into the NCAA tournament.