Oregon's loss to Wisconsin in the round of 32 at the NCAA tournament was difficult to swallow, primarily because the team enjoyed a 12-point lead at half. But while the final score was disappointing, the season as a whole was a success. It was a rocky season, one that included a big mid-season swoon, but Altman's team, like every one he has coached in Eugene, got better as the season progressed.
As the team and fans reflect on the success of the 2013-14 season and look forward to next year, there is a lot to be excited about. While Oregon loses key players to graduation, they also welcome back Damyean Dotson, Dominic Artis, Joseph Young, Elgin Cook, and Ben Carter, all of whom played significant roles on this year's squad. Jalil Abdul-Bassit and AJ Lapray will also have another year of seasoning and could see playing timedepending on how individual position battles shake out. Another huge reason for optimism and excitement is Dana Altman's 2014 recruiting class, which is deep and balanced and boasts as much talent as any in Oregon history.
As I wrote in December, the four players that Oregon signed during the early signing period (Ray Kasongo, Michael Chandler, Dwayne Benjamin, and Casey Benson) should all compete for playing time right away. Kasongo and Chandler should be an upgrade over Austin in the middle, while Benjamin and Benson should provide depth in Oregon's back court. Power forward Jordan Bell, who failed to qualify academically last fall, will begin his freshman year in 2014 and has the ability to be a difference maker protecting the rim and grabbing rebounds.
Oregon should also have Brandon Austin and JaQuan Lyle on hand next year. Both are extremely athletic wings who can shoot and finish at the rim. Both players can guard and play multiple positions, create for others, and create mismatches whenever they are in the game.
Austin, who won't be eligible until December, was a top 50 recruit out of high school and originally signed with Providence. Rumors are that he has grown from his 6'6 height in high school and is now at 6'8", with the ability to play four different positions. He could occupy the point forward spot that Arsalan Kazemi operated so effectively in Dana Altman's offense last year. Austin can also do this:
Austin's transfer does come with a big question mark. He was forced to sit out his freshman season due to a suspension stemming from a sexual assault case, a very serious matter for all parties involved. It appears that Altman and his staff were unaware of the allegations until the story broke a few days ago, but nonetheless felt comfortable about taking Austin, not least of all because Providence wanted him to remain with the team.
Meanwhile, JaQuan Lyle is a five star, top-25 player nationally and All-American who could push the presumed starting guards for minutes right away. Like Austin, he can guard and play multiple positions, making the pair a key component for creating match-up problems for opposing teams in the future. Lyle will likely be asked to fill the role left by the loss of Jason Calliste.
All in all the class as comprised has the ability to become part of an elite team in the next couple of years, one that will not only continue to compete for Pac-12 championships but also be a consistent threat to make deep runs in the NCAA tournament.
While the composition of the team could easily change before the season starts in November, here is a very early look at how the depth chart could look heading into fall:
PG: Dominic Artis, Casey Benson, AJ Lapray
G: Joseph Young, JaQuan Lyle, Jalil Abdul-Basit
G: Damyean Dotson, Dwayne Benjamin, Brandon Austin
F: Elgin Cook, Ben Carter, Jordan Bell
F: Michael Chandler, Ray Kasongo