Now that the entire schedule for the Oregon men’s basketball team has been completed and released, let’s take a quick look at what we’ve got ahead of us this winter. With the nation’s #3 recruiting class on board to join several key contributors from last season, expectations are towering for the 2018-2019 men’s squad, and as we’ve learned by now from watching Dana Altman-coached teams, it’s not how you start necessarily, but how you finish.
After three bouts against overmatched teams at Mathew Knight Arena to begin the campaign Oregon heads to the big apple for the 2K Empire Classic in New York to face Iowa out of the Big Ten and then, depending on whether they emerge victorious or not, either Syracuse or UCONN awaits. Both ways the Ducks will be facing an early challenge, and hopefully they end up responding more efficiently than they did in their early-season tournament last year at the PK80.
The rest of the pre-conference schedule is a mixture of what should be runaway victories coupled with legitimate challenges. Oregon travels to both Waco and Houston Texas to face Baylor and Houston, and is also welcoming an actual home-and-home series with Boise State, who after defeating Oregon 2 out of the last 3 in basketball and also securing another football victory over Oregon last December, has garnered a fair amount of heat from the UO fan base.
After opening conference play by hosting in-state rival OSU Oregon dives right into the fire with a home slate against the LA schools. UCLA was closest to Oregon in terms of recruiting success this year and due to the impending sanctions at Arizona, may well be the biggest threat to the Ducks for the Pac 12 crown. USC, after enduring a drawn-out losing streak to Oregon on the hardwood, rebounded by outing the Ducks in 3 straight matchups last year, and UO now eyes some payback of its own.
A trip to Tucson arrives the following week and though UA is facing a slew of sanctions a game at McKale is rarely ever an easy task. Following is the trip to Tempe, where ASU may well be as difficult to gauge as it was last season. The Ducks return home for a bout with their neighbors to the North, and if recent history is any indicator Oregon should make short work of the Washington schools. This should serve well as a warm-up for another difficult road swing inland to face Utah, whom Oregon split two games with last year, and Colorado. Altman has never won a game in Boulder, not even with his heralded Final Four squad. Can Oregon finally break the “curse” this year?
Oregon thankfully avoids the always worrisome Bay Area trip this year and instead welcomes the two schools to Eugene for their only meetings. Again historically these two schools have not been an issue for Oregon when playing “deep in the woods”. A quick trip up I-5 to Gill Coliseum awaits the next week, where Oregon has found both success and failure the last few years. Indicators show that Oregon appears to be more readily able to handle the Beavers in Corvallis when the matchup occurs later in the season, which it does this coming year. Oregon then faces probably its toughest road swing of the season when it visits UCLA and USC. Again, UCLA looks to be formidable and USC, despite losing a plethora of key seniors, is still a tough draw in LA.
Oregon wraps up the remainder of the season in the Pacific Northwest, hosting the Arizona schools at home before travelling to Washington. Arizona State has not presented Oregon with much of a challenge at home and Arizona, good as they have been, has found MKA to be a house of horrors, falling to Oregon in 2013, 2014, 2017, and 2018 on the mural-like floor. As mentioned before, the Washington schools haven’t presented Oregon with many issues in recent years, even when hosting the Ducks, so the trip up to the evergreen state doesn’t seem too daunting.
Final analysis: Oregon’s non-conference schedule is no joke, and while the Pac 12 isn’t always a juggernaut in men’s basketball on the whole perennial programs Arizona and UCLA present enough legitimacy within conference play to give Oregon credit for what amounts to a reasonably challenging slate overall. As I mentioned in my men’s basketball roster breakdown I expect big things from this squad with its compilation of returning role players and highly-touted incoming freshmen. 25 wins should be a given in my opinion and again with the sanctions hovering over UA the Bruins seem to be the primary contender to Oregon’s chances for another conference title. All in all I’d expect the Ducks to corral a 1 or 2 seed in the Pac 12 tournament by season’s end and be looking at around a 3 or 4 seed in the NCAAs. A dual crown of regular season and conference tournament champion coupled with a potential 2 seed in the big dance is a high aim, but to me certainly not out of the realm of possibility. The main question becomes how far can a team loaded with talent but with hardly any March Madness experience go in the NCAA Tournament?
That, we will have to wait and see.