It’s been said over and over by now but the 2018-2019 Oregon basketball season was filled with ups as well as many downs. The team started on a good note while receiving a preseason #14 ranking in the AP poll. Dana Altman had his best recruiting class to date with the signing of Bol Bol, Louis King, Will Richardson, Miles Norris, and Francis Okoro (all ESPN 100 recruits). All was good in the world of Oregon basketball. Then, the injuries occurred.
First, it was Louis King and his torn meniscus. Then, that was followed up with the big season-ending foot injury to Bol Bol. Kenny Wooten also had a fractured jaw (among other problems) and was out for a long period of time. Plus, you remember when Abu Kigab left the program? I honestly forgot that had happened. At one point, Dana Altman was playing with only eight scholarship players. Even through all of that, The Ducks were still able to overcome the obstacles and find their way into the oh’ so Sweet 16.
Let’s take a look at a timeline of the important moments from this special season for the Ducks.
2K Empire Classic (November 15th-16th):
Oregon’s Thanksgiving holiday tournament took place in Madison Square Garden and the first matchup came up against an NCAA Tournament team, the Iowa Hawkeyes. Ehab Amin scored a season-high of 25 points in the loss to Iowa, 77-69. The Hawkeyes scored 29 points from the free throw line as the Ducks gave up 24 team fouls. Oregon bounced back in the tournament with a win over the #15 Syracuse Orange, 80-65. That would be the only AP Top 25 win the Ducks would get during the regular season. Bol Bol contributed 26 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 blocks in the Big Apple victory.
Texas Southern (November 26th):
The first home loss of the season coming against the SWAC opponent was suppose to be an easy W for the Ducks. The Tigers were a sub-200 team according to KenPom. Wooten didn’t play the second-half due to a knee injury and his absence was critical in the embarrassing loss. Trayvon Reed, the 7’1” senior center for Texas Southern, was outstanding as he was perfect from the field going 9 for 9 as well as 5 for 5 from the charity stripe. Oregon would drop out of the Top 25 after this loss and never get back into the AP poll.
UCLA (January 10th):
In the first matchup against the Bruins, it seemed that Oregon had locked up their victory early on in the second half. Then, the Ducks gave up a nine-point lead with under a minute left to play in regulation and ended up losing in OT, 87-84. A missed close-out on a huge three pointer by Prince Ali and an offensive board plus the put-back by Chris Smith would keep the Bruins alive. It was quite the choke job from a Ducks team that was looking to get back on track by getting their first PAC-12 victory. That would have to wait.
Arizona State (February 28th):
Before the last loss Oregon would have in PAC-12 play against UCLA, Dana Altman made the best coaching decision of the season. He plugged in Francis Okoro into the starting lineup and forced Payton Pritchard to be the only guard amongst a bunch of big men. Ever since Altman made this move before facing up against the Bruins, the Oregon Ducks ended their season winning 10 of their last 12 games (including postseason). Maybe that is the reason why Altman got the opportunity to sign a contract extension through the 2024-2025 season. As for the game against the Sun Devils, U of O looked like the team that everyone was expecting to see all the way back before the season even started. This victory would be the start of a historic winning streak for the Ducks.
PAC-12 Tournament (March 13th-March 16th):
After 4 wins in 4 days in the Sin City (over Washington State, Utah, Arizona State, Washington), the Oregon Ducks were named the PAC-12 Tournament champions and stole a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Payton Pritchard was named the Most Outstanding Player as he averaged 16.3 PPG, 4.3 APG, and 2.0 SPG in 4 games. This was truly the most impressive accomplishment this team had all season.
NCAA Tournament (March 22nd-March 28th):
Oregon came out of the San Jose region with two victories (#5 Wisconsin and #13 UC Irvine) and a berth into the Sweet 16 for the third time in four years. Oregon continued their ten-game winning streak until falling to #1 seeded Virginia who is still alive and well in the Final Four. #12 Oregon was the highest seeded team remaining in the tournament after the end of the Round of 32. Quite the Cinderella story.
If I had to give out awards for this team, I have some pretty obvious answers for you. The Most Valuable Player is Payton Pritchard (12.9 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 4.6 APG, 1.8 SPG). I think if he ends up staying one more year, Pritchard would be in consideration for the top PG in the nation (regardless of the class year). Next, my Defensive Player of the Year is Kenny Wooten (6.3 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 2.2 BPG). That 7 blocks he had against the UC Irvine Anteaters in the Round of 32 was just spectacular to watch. Ehab Amin (5.9 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 1.5 SPG) was pretty close but Wooten just turned it up to a whole new level in the postseason. Lastly, my Freshman of the Year is Louis King (13.0, 5.3 RPG, 1.3 APG). See how obvious those were?
Now, this Oregon Ducks squad will be remembered for many years to come but looking forward to next season’s team, the future is unknown. Bol Bol has already entered the NBA Draft while signing with an agent. Louis King has a big decision to make on whether or not he should stay in Eugene one more season. What about Pritchard and Wooten? How much will Richardson, Norris, and Okoro improve this offseason? Will this upcoming recruiting class live up to the expectations? Will Cole Anthony and/or Cassius Stanley end up joining the Oregon class of 2019 recruiting class? A lot of questions still need to be answered.
*Arden Cravalho is a senior at Gonzaga University... Follow him on Twitter @a_cravalho