Yes, spring football has started and the rest of the spring sports are in full effect. But with that means the forgotten memories of the 2015-2016 Oregon men's basketball team who outlasted expectations. Selected to finish fourth in the Pac-12, Dana Altman got the most out of his squad by winning the Pac-12 regular season and followed that up by winning the Pac-12 tournament. Oh, and of course the Ducks were a number one seed for the first time in school history while winning a school record 31 contests. As quickly as those memories fade, we can begin to see the light in a new season.
The departures: Elgin Cook and Dwayne Benjamin
Starting with the bad, the Ducks lose close to 23 points and eight rebounds per game. More importantly, the Oregon squad lose two senior leaders who brought toughness to every game. These two brought the Ducks more of an edge than other players and did a great job providing a physical presence. Both will certainly be missed, but Cook especially as the senior carried the way for the Ducks in the tournament where he scored 24 points in the knock-out game to Oklahoma while Dillon Brooks struggled. Although Benjamin didn't have the ideal tournament, he did a great job off the bench this year to provide a spark for the Ducks.
In-limbo: Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey, and Dylan Ennis
Speaking of Dillon Brooks, he is one of those players where Ducks fans still don't have a definite answer from. Projected as a late second round pick to more likely undrafted, it would be wise for Brooks to stick in Eugene for one more season. After the loss to Oklahoma, Brooks indicated that he planed to stay, although a new NCAA rule could slightly change that. The rule now allows players to declare for the draft, and not hire an agent, which in that case players are able to go through the pre-draft combine where then they have 10 days to decide to hire an agent and declare, or return to school. I wouldn't be surprised one bit if Brooks at least goes this route to see where his stock lies after the combine.
Another player who is in the same boat is freshman Tyler Dorsey. Dorsey however is projected in the second round in most mock drafts as teams appear to like his upside. The freshman still could use quite a bit of work and with another year with Oregon could turn into an elite scorer and up his draft stock to the first round. Dorsey was a little less committal than Brooks after the Oklahoma loss, where after the game said "he has no idea what he is doing".
The last player in limbo is senior Dylan Ennis. Ennis, the transfer from Villanova was expected to be the Ducks starting guard this year until he never fully recovered from a foot injury forcing him to miss all but two games. Oregon and Ennis have applied for an appeal for yet another year of eligibility but I don't see this one coming to fruition. The NCAA doesn't love when players transfer and seeing that it is something that Ennis has done twice it's unlikely that he will be granted a hardship for an extra season. If he is it would be a huge boost for the Ducks who would boast a lethal backcourt, but don't count on it.
Now for the fun, what players are coming in who could help the Ducks break the Elite Eight barrier and reach the Final Four next year?
Payton Pritchard. 6' 0" 175lb Point Guard ****
Pritchard is the top of the class for Dana Altman and staff. The point guard from West Linn was once an Oklahoma Sooners commit and drew offers from all over the country including Kansas, Indiana, and Villanova. Payton is a lethal scorer and deadly from behind the line, just ask Lake Oswego about that, who Pritchard dropped a career high 45 against this year. If Dorsey does jump for the NBA I see Pritchard jumping into an identical role that Dorsey played this year where he's a shooting guard with the first team and a point guard with the second team. If Dorsey stays, then the Ducks just added a deadly weapon at guard off the bench, something that was much needed last year.
Keith Smith. 6' 7" 190lb Small Forward ***(1/2)
Another commit that the Ducks flipped is the small forward from Seattle. Taken from the backyard of the Huskies, Smith was originally a commit to San Diego State before he switched to Oregon. The small forward will be a welcome edition in the attempt to replace Dwayne Benjamin off the bench.
MJ Cage Jr. 6' 10" 225lb Center ****
The Ducks have added even more length to the squad with the big man from California. Cage chose Oregon over offers from Arizona and Gonzaga along with interest from California. Cage offers the Ducks a nice addition with his post moves as well as the ability to knock down a midrange jumper.
Kavell Bigby-Williams. 6' 10" 223lb Power Forward. ****
Bigby-Williams would be one of the biggest "gets" of this recruiting class. The big man comes from the same school as Chris Boucher, where he averaged 17 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks per game. It’s not a sure deal yet, but the forward has called Oregon his "number one choice". Bigby-Williams is planning a visit to Eugene within the next week, time for the Swatterboy to do some recruiting.