Yeah, I know what you're thinking: where's this deadbeat been for the last month? Football season ends with the Ducks getting their hearts stomped on, and Mr. Loves-to-listen-to-his-own-voice goes silent. Typical. I've come to expect this kind of juvenile behavior from this blog. Frankly, I was hoping he cut bait and ran like that Piper guy.
And now he just expects to waltz back in and start writing about whatever he wants?
Yes. Yes I can.
As it turns out, graduate school at UC-Berkeley is challenging, and time consuming. So, rather than overexert myself writing about half-baked topics I'm not committed to, I'm scaling back to one self-absorbed column a month. I hope you enjoy.
Despite all the jokes I've made on Twitter over the last few months about my lack of knowledge regarding the Oregon basketball team, I've had my eye on them. Like most, I had fairly low expectations for this year's squad; the combination of post-scandal stink, high roster turnover, and unproven talent had many Ducks fans feeling a monumental amount of meh. In the early part of the season, Oregon looked like exactly the team we thought they were: good enough to beat the Detroits, UC-Santa Barbaras, and Illinois of the world, but just lacking the couple extra facets needed to take down a team like Arizona, Michigan, or VCU. The Ducks went up north in January to play the southern Canada schools, and went 0-2. They sat at 12-6, with the meat of the Pac-12 schedule still to come. They could have mailed it in, gone .500 for the rest of the season, and we would have totally understood.
Strangely, they chose not to.The formula didn't really change, but the results improved dramatically with a few small tweaks.
Joseph Young is still chucking up shots like the Charmeleon to Tajuan Porter's Charmander, but he's passing more (6+ assists in four of his last nine games), and he's taking fewer silly-ass heatcheck shots while still nailing the good ones.
- The Pac-12 refs are the Nazis, and Elgin Cook has cracked their code like Alan Turing. (Was this joke an excuse to type the sentence "The Pac-12 refs are the Nazis"? You can't prove that it was.) Cook has discovered that, if he dribbles towards a defender and shoots the ball, the striped simpletons will blow their whistle and let him shoot free throws. And it's working brilliantly. He's averaging nearly 15 points per game over the last twelve games, and has shot 70 free throws in that span. In Oregon's sweep of the Bay Area road trip, their first since 1976, Cook went 15-19 from the line, and controlled sections of the game all by himself.
Dwayne Benjamin has transformed from a big who thought he could shoot threes, to a big who could actually shoot threes. After the loss to Washington, Benjamin's three-point stats sat at 13/49 (26.5%). Those are Hungover Josh Smith numbers. But over his last twelve games, Benjamin has looked like a ponytailed Hedo Turkoglu. (Don't spent too much time thinking about Hedo Turkoglu with a ponytail, you'll break out in hives.) Benjamin has gone 17-31 (55%) since January 22nd, and has turned into Oregon's most reliable second-half shooter.
Dillon Brooks scoring numbers have cooled, but when he's had trouble filling the bucket, he goes to work on the glass. 7-17 shooting vs. Washington and Washington State? 15 rebounds over the two games. 1-6 shooting against Cal? 10 rebounds, his first double-digit rebounding game since Concordia in early December. And his hyper-efficient 19-and-7 was the difference in the upset win over Utah.
10-2 over their last twelve games, with the regular season finale to come against the Beavers. Oregon is all-but-locked into the #3 seed for the Pac-12 tourney, and have put themselves in great position to make their third straight NCAA tournament. How far can they go? Young and Cook are the constants, the standard-bearers. You know essentially what you're getting from those two every night. The same can be said about Jordan Bell, who's good for six points, six rebounds, and a couple blocks every time he takes the floor. Benjamin's new found reliability has powered Oregon's surge, and we've seen what Brooks and Jalil Abdul-Bassit can do when they get hot. At their best, Oregon can give any team in the country some problems. It might be overzealous to expect a second Sweet Sixteen in three years, but Oregon has exactly the make up of a capable upset team. This should be fun.