This week, I had a chance to chat with Pac-12 Networks analyst Kevin O'Neill on the phone, discussing Oregon's surprising year, Joe Young and Dana Altman, and of course, their chances in the Pac-12 tournament and NCAA tournament.
Addicted to Quack: First off, lots of exciting games within the conference this year, including an upset win by Oregon over Utah. Did you expect the Ducks to have anywhere near this level of success this season, or is it as big a surprise as you’ve seen in recent years?
Kevin O'Neill: I think what Dana Altman did with this team is what he always does; he gets the most out of them. I don’t think anyone thought they were going to be an NCAA (tournament) team with all the graduations and all the problems that happened off the court. That’s why, in my mind, Dana Altman was the coach of the year in the league. I think Wayne Tinkle did a great job at Oregon State, I think Sean Miller did a great job, I think Larry Krystkowiak did a great job, but I think Dana was the coach of the year in the Pac-12
ATQ: Of course, Joe Young was also named Pac-12 Player of the Year this week. Do you think the coaches got it right, or is there a player more deserving from your point of view?
O'Neill: He deserved it. Nobody did more for their team than he did. He gave them a chance in every game because he’s so good. He’s selfless and he makes everyone better. I’m really happy for Joe Young that he got that. He had a great year.
ATQ: Oregon obviously turned a lot of heads this season, finishing second in the conference when they were picked to finish eighth. What do you see as a realistic outcome in the conference tournament for the Ducks?
O'Neill: They’re going to get to at least the semifinals, and then who knows? I’m not sure if they can beat Arizona, but they’ll have as good a chance as anybody.
ATQ: Obviously, Joe Young is the backbone of this Oregon program. Aside from Young, who do you see as the most important piece to the Ducks for their upcoming tournaments?
O'Neill: They get so many contributions from so many guys, but Dillon Brooks, to me, has really jumped out and become their second best player, and one of the top two or three rookies in the whole league. So I would say if Dillon Brooks plays well, they're going to have a chance to win any game.
ATQ: Of course, Joe Young is graduating this year and won’t be back next season. Do you expect the Ducks to be just as successful without Young next year, or could we see some down years for the program ahead?
O'Neill: I think it’s a huge void to fill. If Joe Young wouldn’t have been on the team this year, I think it would have been hard for them to be .500. They’ve recruited well, they’ve got good guards coming in. Don’t ever underestimate the job Dana can do with whoever he has, but you can’t help but miss Joe Young, especially with the kind of year he had this year.
ATQ: When you take a look at the hypothetical opponents Oregon could face in the Pac-12 tournament, who do you think Oregon matches up best with?
O'Neill: They’re going to beat Colorado. And then they’ll have a very tough game with Utah, but they’ll have a chance to win.
ATQ: Finally, who do you see winning the Pac-12 tournament?
O'Neill: Arizona is going to win the tournament.
ATQ: I figured that might be the prediction. If Arizona gets upset at any point during the Pac-12 tournament, who do you think would be the team to do it?
O'Neill: The teams that have the best chance, Oregon and Utah, are on the other side of the bracket, so that would have to be in the finals. Nobody on Arizona’s side of the bracket can beat them.
ATQ: As far as the NCAA tournament, do you see Kentucky winning it all, or someone else?
O'Neill: Kentucky has to have the best chance; they’re the best team. When you get in the NCAA tournament, you’re only one bad shooting night by your team or one great shooting night by the other team of being knocked out. You never know, but it looks like Kentucky has a great chance to win the national title.
ATQ: Oregon has been projected as an 8 or 9 seed in the NCAA tournament, which of course would put them on a collision course with a team like Kentucky or Duke, should they win their first game. Do you think the Ducks can be competitive against the nation's elite teams, or would they get blown out of the water?
O'Neill: Whoever they play, I don’t care who it is; they’re going to be very competitive and will have a chance to win the game. When you have Joe Young and Dana Altman, those two guys alone will give you a chance to be in any game. If I know Dana well enough, he’s more than happy to just be in the NCAA tournament and he’s overjoyed with their season, but they will be very competitive no matter who they play.
Oregon begins their postseason tonight at 6:00 p.m. PT when they face Colorado in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas. The winner will face either Utah or Stanford in the semifinals on Friday.