The national championship run of the football program combined with fan apathy over the offseason transgressions of former hoopers means that there are not a lot of people paying attention to the Oregon Ducks basketball team. That's a shame, because there are a lot of great stories among the young players on Dana Altman's squad.
One such story is redshirt freshman Jordan Bell. You may recall that Bell, a four star power forward out of Long Beach, was a part of last year's recruiting class, but wasn't cleared by the NCAA Clearinghouse until January. This led to Dana Altman redshirting him for the entire season.
Bell has had a nice freshman season in most respects, though his stats aren't eye-popping--5.4 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. Twice Bell has reached double digits in scoring this season--against Portland State and Concordia. Four times he has hit that mark in rebounding. In the Pac-12 opener against Oregon State, Bell had eight points and nine boards. He also shoots 57% from the field.
But what makes Bell spectacular is his defense, specifically, his ability to block shots. Less than halfway through his freshman season, Bell is shaping up to be the most prolific shot-blocker in Oregon history. His 3.4 blocks per game ranks 5th in the NCAA. The single-season Oregon blocked shots record is held by Tony Woods, who blocked 51 shots in 33 games in 2011-12. That was good for 1.5 blocks per game. As a freshman, Bell is blocking shots at well over twice Oregon's highest all-time rate. In 14 games, Bell already has 48 blocks. He has at least four blocks on seven occasions this season, including six in a game against Portland State. Bell should set the Oregon single season record on Thursday against Arizona. With essentially the entire conference season to go, Bell could easily double up Woods' total. Blair Rasmussen holds Oregon's career record with 116. Bell is a good bet to shatter that before he leaves Oregon as well.
At 6'7", height isn't the reason Bell is such a superb shotblocker. Instead, he simply has the best timing I've ever seen. While Oregon's doesn't have a lot of height this season, Bell's ability to protect the rim has been a big reason why the Ducks have had a surprisingly good defense.
This basketball team is well worth paying attention to. Joe Young is scoring. Dillon Brooks is doing a bit of everything. Bell is patrolling the paint. And Elgin Cook and Dwayne Benjamin have proven to be invaluable swingmen.
When thee players were kicked out of school, and two recruits failed to qualify, fans left this year's basketball team for dead. Instead, they look like an upper tier Pac-12 squad. Playing in March is a distinct possibility.