Oregon head coach Dana Altman is 192-72 in his career with the Ducks. He has seen almost everything one can envision during a coaching career that began in 1989 at Marshall. Nevertheless, not many would accuse Altman of being a fast starter.
Aside from the 2013-14 team led by Joe Young, Dana Altman has always lost a game or more during November, December and January. However, he hasn’t lost a regular season game AFTER Valentine’s Day since the 2012-13 season.
Starting slow is nothing new for the Nebraska native. He would rather start slow and end strong, clearly.
During his first year at Oregon in 2010-11, Altman lost six games (7-6) between November and December. Nevertheless, his team still finished with 21 wins that year.
In his second campaign with a team that only lost 10 games in 2011-12, Oregon fell on four separate occasions during the first two months of the season.
Let’s take a closer look at Altman ‘trending’ through a college season:
Altman was extremely disappointed with his team’s play at a the PK80 Invitational. Yet, he understands this is a young bunch that possesses a great deal of talent and upside. At the end of the day, these tactics are typical of Altman to be used for motivation.
Take a look at this quote. When do you think it was stated by UO’s head coach?
"Didn't play very well, and didn't make plays for each other, so we've got a tremendous amount of work to do. It's difficult, but that's the way it goes. We've got some good players that didn't play very well."
If you said last year, you’re right! But, I’m pretty sure not many did. Who would think this is how Altman spoke of a historic 33-6 team after a tough loss to Baylor on the road in Texas? The loss pushed their record to 2-2 for a .500 start to the best year in program history.
Please keep that Altman quote in mind as you read the rest. 365 days later with a brand new team, he’s saying almost the exact same thing.
He knows the players pay attention to his words, so he provides them with motivation when he addresses the media. He doesn’t have to say something to their face for a player to receive his message.
“If our ball movement doesn’t get better, we’re not going to play,” said Altman after the loss to Oklahoma.
This is a great example of Altman speak. He loves to downplay the team, as a whole. Especially, when they need a spark on the defensive end. Duck fans are used to this.
The officiating over the weekend was egregious. But, I don’t think that is news. Regardless, the head man couldn’t overlook the glaring stat that took everyone by surprise from Portland.
“39 free throws against DePaul and 44 tonight, you can’t do that,” said Altman with disgust. “I think they’re listening, they just haven’t been through any adversity. It’s going to take some time with young guys. Five, six freshmen out there. They’re struggling with it. They all want to score, we’re not real excited about guarding anybody.”
Altman has been continually dejected by the effort on the defensive end. However, he has been encouraged, at times, by Kenny Wooten who would rather play defense than offense. His coach is looking for more attitude like that in the coming months.
“We’re giving up too many easy points, way too many easy baskets. We have a tremendous amount of work to do and we have to get a lot tougher on the defensive end.”
Meanwhile, Paul White is growing nicely in the Duck offense. During the three-game PK80 showcase, the Chicago product amassed 13.0 PPG while helping in the paint defensively and on the glass. He started all three games from Portland.
Dana Altman knows the defensive intensity is in his locker room, he just doesn’t know what jersey number he’s wearing yet. He didn’t recruit these guys to Eugene to be ONLY scorers. As the numbers suggest, Altman will right the ship.
“Not easy to correct, but correctable. They’re not easy though. All the things we need to do are the tough things. We got a lot of volunteers to shoot it and pass it. But, we don’t have any volunteers to do the tough things right now.”
Anytime someone like Trae Young scores 43 points against your defense, the microscope is going to be held over it for a bit. Needless to say, when that person is a true freshman it’s a major headline.
“We haven’t been guarding that well,” stated Altman. “We played poorly defensively. I’m disappointed we fouled so much, but I wouldn’t say surprised because we haven’t established our defense. We’re not committed to it right now and so, until we do, we’re going to struggle.”
Last year, Altman used the same tactics when his team struggled to score and rebound early, especially when Dillon Brooks was recovering from offseason surgery.
“I think part of it is fundamentals. A big part of it,” Altman echoed. “Our fundamentals defensively, we’re doing a poor job. We use our hands way too much. Most of our calls were using our hands. Those are tough to correct. It takes a lot of effort to correct those.”
He’s right. A majority of the whistles were blown because Duck defenders were out of position. With quick, assertive footwork, any game is a breeze. Just ask a middle infielder or interior lineman, it’s all about the footwork fundamentals.
Basketball is no different, but effort goes a lot further in this sport in my opinion. Altering attempts and forcing tough shots are the keys to playing defense. You don’t need to record noteworthy stats to be a defensive presence. This is what Altman wants.
He wants someone like Jordan Bell, who is willing to grind on defense without looking for “his” on the offensive end. However, Altman is finding out quickly that Bell was a rare breed.
“I don’t know, I don’t know,” the coach replied. “Every team is different, I mentioned that the other night. Every group is different. They might want to take it on the offensive end, but not sure what to do with it on the boards on the defensive end which are just as important, and to this team more important. I mean, 80 points should be enough to win. Just not good.”
As Victor Bailey Jr. continues to grow, senior Elijah Brown seems to be fighting a regression. Through seven games, the transfer is averaging 12.3 PPG on 39 percent from the floor and 31 percent behind the arc.
He seems hesitant to fire when open and is often forcing his shot when he’s covered. It’s a slump and he will come out of it. With the team fighting inconsistencies, Brown’s offensive absence has been highlighted.
“Bad decisions, bad decisions,” stated the head coach in reference to Elijah. “You can’t do that.”
Altman then reiterated his same sentiment from years past, knowing the road ahead will be difficult.
“We need a tremendous amount of work. I hope our guys heard that. Again on the defensive end, you can’t foul. They beat us by 24 points at the line. You can’t have that discrepancy. Points off turnovers, something that when we’re successful we usually win and we didn’t.”
This is a young team who is still learning to play with one another. It will take some time, but there is plenty of talent on this roster.
The 2017-18 squad is bridging the gap between the greatest team in program history and the No. 1 recruiting class in America. Have some patience with them. They’re still searching for their leader.
“I think we’re a lot better than this but we’re going to have to work very hard to change things around,” Altman said with confidence.
In my opinion, Troy Brown is the leader and star of this team. But, he just doesn’t know it yet. He’s very unselfish and needs more confidence in his game to attain this role. It certainly will not be given to him, but it’s apparent the talent is abundant with Troy.
After a good week of practice, the Ducks are eyeing their next contest in 48 hours.
Next up, Oregon (5-2) will head back home to play Boise State (5-1) on Friday night from Matthew Knight Arena. The Ducks will be looking to extend their nation-best home win-streak to 47 games. Tip is slated for 6:30 p.m. PT and will be televised live on the Pac-12 Network.