The Oregon men's basketball team opened the Pac-10 schedule this past weekend at Mac Court with games against USC and UCLA (an 83-62 blowout loss to the Trojans, followed by a respectable 83-74 loss to the No. 12 Bruins), so it's probably high time we break down the Ducks, as well as their Pac-10 competition. We might even offer a few "expert" predictions along the way. So, without further ado, I give you your official 2009 Addicted To Quack Pac-10 Hoops Preview:
The Ducks are coming off what many considered a disappointing 2007-08 season. Oregon entered the year with four returning starters following one of the best seasons in program history. The 2006-07 Ducks, led by senior Aaron Brooks, juniors Maarty Leunen, Malik Hairston and Bryce Taylor, as well as freshman phenom Tajuan Porter, finished the regular season 23-7 (including a 17-2 record at Mac Court), ran away with the Pac-10 Tournament title, and rolled through the first three rounds of the NCAA Tournament before falling short of a Final Four appearance with a loss to eventual National Champion Florida in the Elite Eight.
But even with starters Leunen, Hairston, Taylor and Porter all returning last season, Oregon was unable to capitalize on its momentum from the previous year, finishing the regular season 18-12, including a disappointing 9-9 Pac-10 record, as well as first-round losses to Washington State in the Pac-10 Tourney and to No. 8-seeded Mississippi State in the South Region of the NCAA Tourney.
Despite the subpar year, head coach Ernie Kent and his staff hauled in one of the strongest recruiting classes in the country, and arguably the best in Oregon's history. Bolstered by 2008 McDonald's All American center Michael Dunigan from Chicago, the Ducks added two other Chicagoans in big man Josh Crittle and shooting guard Matthew Humphrey (high school teammates of one another, and AAU teammates of Dunigan's), the athletic, highly touted Teondre Williams from Georgia, and local product and pure-shooting wing Drew Wiley. With high marks already pouring in for these five recruits, the Ducks added Garrett Sim, a savvy, sharp-shooting point guard from Portland who opted out of his commitment to Cal. (We owe a special thanks to former Cal coach Ben Braun, who was canned last spring, and Sim was granted release from his L.O.T.)
And after pulling in another outstanding recruiting class, Kent was rewarded with a contract extension through 2011-12. With the new Matthew Knight Arena set to be delivered in time for the 2010-11 season, the future is bright for Oregon basketball.
But, you're going to have to be patient...
A Little Preseasoning
If you were expecting to see a Jekyll and-Hyde, inexperienced Oregon squad this season, well, the Ducks' preseason performance should have more than met your expectations. At first glance, a 6-6 record after a slate featuring six home games, one quasi home game (A.K.A. Papé Jam) and five on the road seemed, well, more or less expected. And with four of those 12 preseason matchups coming against teams from major conferences and another two against quality mid-majors, a .500 nonconference finish seemed somewhat impressive for a team whose roster features nine new players, including six true freshman.
Well, I think we can agree the record was expected. But how the Ducks got to it wasn't.
After squeaking by the Northern Colorado Bears, the other UNC that finished seventh in the 9-team Big Sky last season, Oregon laid an egg at home against the Oakland Golden Grizzlies, a team that embarrassed the Ducks in Detroit a year earlier. The Ducks rebounded four days later with a win at UC Irvine, then headed to paradise for their much-anticipated appearance in the Maui Invitational. Led by double-doubles from both Dunigan and junior Joevan Catron, the Ducks routed Alabama, 92-69, setting up a matchup with unanimous preseason No. 1 North Carolina.
The Tarheels, led by last year's AP Player of the Year Tyler Hansborough, did what everyone expected, exploiting Oregon's inexperience en route to a 98-69 drubbing. The Tarheels went on to beat No. 8 Notre Dame, winning their third Maui Invitational (1999 and 2004).
Less than 24 hours later, the Ducks were back on the floor with a matchup against then-No. 6 Texas. The Longhorns, reeling after a 1-point loss to Notre Dame the previous night, took advantage of Oregon's lack of tournament experience, jumping out to an early lead and never looking back in their 70-57 win. Overall, the Ducks were outmatched by the tournament's elite, but Dunigan and Catron showed the ability to play well against some of the nation's best.
The Ducks traveled to Utah a week later, dropping their third in a row to the Utes, 95-81. However, freshman Sim racked up a career-high 28 points, proving once again how talented Oregon's freshman class really is.
The following Sunday, Oregon took on Kansas State at Mac Court as part of the Pac-10/Big 12 Hardwood Series. Last season, the Ducks pulled out a tough win against the Wildcats in Manhattan, despite a dominant performance from freshman stand-out Michael Beasley, who was selected No. 2 overall in June's NBA Draft. Many expected to see Oregon fall to 3-5 with a loss to the Wildcats, but behind Porter's season-high 28 points, Oregon pulled out with a 75-70 win, improving to 4-4 and hinting at a possible momentum shift heading into a three-game swing against West Coast Conference foes.
Of course, rather than capitalizing on the momentum from the Kansas State win, Oregon came out flat in the annual Papé Jam at the Rose Garden in Portland, losing to San Diego, 64-57. Dunigan's performance exemplified the Ducks' inconsistency, finishing the loss with 0 points and 5 rebounds in 21 minutes, his worst outing yet.
And the struggles continued for Oregon, losing for the second year in a row to Kent's former team, the St. Mary's Gaels, followed by a 79-76 overtime win over subpar Portland. After wrapping up the preseason slate with a win over Long Beach State, the Ducks improved to 6-6. Oregon was one of two teams entering Pac-10 play without a winning record; the other was Oregon State.
The Oregon Ducklings
Obviously, Oregon's tumultuous preseason run wasn't out of the ordinary. Young teams often struggle early on, especially with a number of challenging games on the schedule. And we all know the Ducks are young. Scratch that: The Ducks are very young. And inexperienced. With only two seniors on the roster (guard Churchill Odia and center Franz Dorsainvil, who averaged a combined 21.7 minutes/game), six true freshmen, two redshirt freshmen, and one transfer, the inconsistent performances are bound to continue.
Let's take a look at your 2008-09 Oregon Ducks, shall we?
Tajuan Porter, Junior, Guard
Porter seemingly solidified himself in Oregon hoops lore with an absolutely electric freshman year, breaking the Pac-10 frosh record for three-pointers with 110. But a subpar sophomore effort brought the Detroit-native down to Earth. After 14 games, one thing is clear: Porter might be the streakiest shooter in the country. Although the 5-6 glorified shooting guard leads the Ducks with 14.9 points per game through Sunday's game against UCLA, he's scored well under that total on three occasions and has shot worse than 30% from behind the arc in six games this season. If you think think these numbers are affected by the three-point line shift, well, you're wrong. Porter is shooting 37% from downtown, a 1-point improvement over last year's mark. If the Ducks hope to finish in the conference's top seven, they're going to need a more consistent Porter to get there.
Joevan Catron, Junior, Forward
The much-improved Catron has shown flashes of offensive dominance so far this season, but like Porter, has not been able to put it together consistently. The 6-6 Chicago-native reminds me of a poor man's Zach Randolph (minus the attitude and ignorance) with his ability to score at will and his knack for getting boards despite his size. Plus, he plays matador defense on the other end, something Randolph is notorious for. Catron's averages are up from last year, with notable increases in points (9.3), rebounds (7.2), assists (2.8) and free throw percentage (73%). However, Catron's shooting has struggled so far this season, averaging 38.7% from the floor, a nearly 13 point drop from from last year's 51.2%. But some of that could be due to a nagging ankle injury that limited Catron throughout the latter part of the preseason. The Ducks are 4-3 in games Catron plays 26 minutes or more, and two of those losses came at the hands of top-10 teams (Texas and UCLA). Look for Catron to heat up offensively during conference play as Dunigan improves and takes a bit of the load off Joevan.
Michael Dunigan, Freshman, Center
There are a lot of reasons to be excited about Dunigan aside from being such a highly coveted recruit. He brings a rare inside presence to Eugene, something Duck fans haven't seen much of the past few decades. In fact, Oregon's last All-American center was none other than Stan Love in 1971, and their last repeat All-Pac-10 center was Blair Rasmussen (awarded three times from 1983-85). Dunigan has the potential to develop into something special; a once-in-a-Duck-fan's-lifetime type of dynamic big man. He's 6-10, 255, but if you look at his frame, he's got a lot of room to add some meat. And if there's one thing you have to give Kent credit for, it's his ability to physically develop his talent by way of conditioning and weight-training. (Take Catron, for example, who's shed a ton of weight since arriving in Eugene two years ago.) And Dunigan is already showing flashes of brilliance, posting two double-doubles in his first four games, and he'd probably have more if not hindered by a nagging elbow injury throughout the preseason. Also worth noting: Dunigan is a graduate of Kevin Garnett's alma mater, Chicago's Farragut Academy. Let's just hope Dunigan doesn't follow in KG's footsteps and bolt for the NBA Draft before his 20th birthday.
LeKendric Longmire, Sophomore, Guard
"K-Long" came off the bench as a freshman last year and supplied instant energy, despite only playing 20 or more minutes three times. The redshirt sophomore from Pascagoula, Mississippi (the first-ever Mississippi-native to play for Oregon) known mostly for his work ethic, shoots a very high percentage from the field, especially for a guard (54.8% last year, 50% this year), despite an atrocious free throw percentage (31% last year, 56.7% this year). The 6-5 Longmire has started all but two games so far this season, and has been one of Oregon's more consistent performers, especially in the past seven games. He's also developed into a decent three-point shooter, improving to 54.5% on 22 attempts this season, up from last year's 33% from behind the arc.
Garrett Sim, Freshman, Guard
For those of us that follow the Oregon recruiting trail closely, we were all excited when we learned Cal had granted Sim release from his National Letter of Intent after the school's firing of Ben Braun. Sim, Oregon's 6A co-player-of-the-year in 2008 who led Sunset High School to a third-place finish at the state tournament at Mac Court in March, was considered the icing on the cake for Oregon's nationally ranked 2008 recruiting class. And Sim hasn't disappointed, replacing Kamyron Brown as Oregon's starting point guard a mere two games into the season. Sim had his coming-out party against Utah, scoring 28 points on 5-of-6 three-point shooting. The freshman standout is now second on the team in minutes per game (26.0), fourth in scoring (10.1), second in assists (2.6) and has been lights out from downtown, shooting 41.5% on 53 attempts, second only to Porter's 93.
BENCH - KEY PLAYERS
Churchill Odia, Senior, Guard:
"Church" is a great role player who does a little bit of everything. The 6-6 wing transferred to Oregon from Xavier by way of Rockville, Maryland, by way of Lagos, Nigeria. Odia has seen steady increases in minutes, points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks since arriving at Oregon. He also played in the Olympic qualifying tournament for the Nigerian national team in 2004.
Kamyron Brown, Sophomore, Guard: After a solid freshman season, Brown entered the season as the Ducks' likely starting point guard, but has seen his minutes gradually decrease due to inconsistent play. He should continue to get minutes, and don't be surprised if the lengthy season wears Sim down and we find Brown back in the starting lineup.
Josh Crittle, Freshman, Guard: At 6-8, 260, Crittle adds much-needed size to the Ducks interior. Although averaging only 14.4 minutes per game, expect to see Crittle's minutes increase as he improves throughout the season. He was Dunigan's teammate on the Chicago-area club team MeanStreets.
Matthew Humphrey, Freshman, Guard: Humphrey's game strikingly similar to that of former Oregon standout Bryce Taylor. He's an athletic scorer who can put up numbers in either the half-court set or in transition, and has the ability to knock down shots from any distance. Of course, he's only a freshman, and we have yet to see much of his potential come to fruition, but the 6-5 guard should develop into a prolific scorer within the next season or two. He and Crittle were high school teammates at Hales Franciscan in Chicago. Humphrey, along with Crittle, also played with Dunigan on the Chicago-area club team MeanStreets.
Teondre Williams, Freshman, Guard:
We've already seen that he can throw it down, Freddy Jones-style. He's not a great perimeter shooter, but he's still a scorer who will get his points by slashing to the hoop or in transition. Don't expect to see him make much of an impact this season, but there are bound to be a few highlight-reel dunks in his future. Did I mention he can throw it down?
BENCH - THE REST
Drew Wiley, Freshman, Forward:
Is that Luke Jackson? Didn't he graduate? No, unfortunately it's not LJ, but rather Drew Wiley, the former Thurston High standout from the other side of the river in Springfield. At 6-7 with a similar mop do, the Luke Jackson lookalike actually plays like him too. We might not be seeing any 29-straight-points performances from this sharp-shooting wing, but make no mistake: Wiley can flat-out fill it up.
Ben Voogd, Junior, Guard:
After two seasons at the end of LSU's bench, Florence-native Voogd transferred to Oregon and redshirted last season. The 6-2 guard appeared in 63 games for the Tigers, including a appearances on LSU's 2006 Final Four team, but doesn't figure to play much unless an injury occurs to Brown or Sim. I watched him play in high school, and although he's not much of a shooter, he is very fast and athletic for his size. Could play a valuable role as a supporting player next season, similar to Odia's role now.
Author's note: According to The Register-Guard's Bob Clark, Voogd has apparently left the team. Updated 1/6/09.
Frantz Dorsainvil, Senior, Forward:
Aside from having one of my all-time favorite names for an Oregon player (and in case you didn't know, it's pronounced FRAHNTZ DOOR-sane-vil), the 6-9 Haitian-born French Canadian won't see a ton of floor time after a broken wrist sidelined him for most of the preseason. But at least the senior will have plenty of time to freshen up on one of the three languages he speaks.
John Elorriaga, Freshman, Guard & Nicholas Fearn, Freshman, Guard:
Elorriaga of Seattle and Fearn of Portland, both walk-on redshirt freshmen, complete the Ducks' 2008-09 roster. Neither will play much of a role for the Ducks this season.
Another Conference Title A-Bruin
After receiving a record-tying six NCAA Tournament bids and a record seven first-round NBA Draft picks last year (including three of the first five overall players chosen), the Pac-10 doesn't look the same as it did a year ago. But despite conference's down year, Oregon will still have its hands full trying to stay out of the cellar. The Ducks were picked to finish seventh in October's Pac-10 preseason media poll, ahead of Cal, Stanford and Oregon State. But with the surprising start by Cal and a revitalized Oregon State program, even seventh place could be a stretch for the young Ducks, especially after getting swept at home by the L.A. schools this past weekend.
But, the Ducks have a tremendous amount of talent on the roster, and if they can get something going in their next few games, they could sneak into the post season. Here we'll hand out a few preseason Pac-10 awards, as well as a Pac-10 prediction:
Player of the Year
James Harden, Arizona State
Freshman of the Year
Michael Dunigan, Oregon
Defensive Player of the Year
Taj Gibson, USC / Darren Collison, UCLA
Coach of the Year
Mike Montgomery, Cal
All-Pac-10 First Team
James Harden, Arizona State, G, So.
Taj Gibson, USC, F, Jr.
Darren Collison, UCLA, G, Sr.
Jordan Hill, Arizona, F, Jr.
Jerome Randall, Cal, G, Jr.
All-Pac-10 Second Team
Jon Brockman, Washington, F, Sr.
Jeff Pendergraph, Arizona State, F, Sr.
Dwight Lewis, USC, G, Jr.
Chase Budinger, Arizona, F, Jr.
Patrick Christopher, Cal, F, Jr.
Pac-10 All-Freshman Team
Michael Dunigan, Oregon, C
Jrue Holiday, UCLA, G
DeMar DeRozan, USC, F
Leonard Washington, USC, F
Isaiah Thomas, Washington, G
2. Arizona State*
9. Washington State
10. Oregon State
*Denotes NCAA Tournament bid
For a weekly, up-to-date breakdown of the Pac-10, check out the Power Rankings.
The Ducks will likely struggle through the remainder of this season, but the future looks bright in Eugene. In fact, it looks Lightning Yellow.