Oregon’s basketball programs head into their respective Pac-12 schedules next weekend, going in seemingly quite different directions. The men’s team has faced some injury setbacks but has also suffered a couple of surprising losses – games they were expected to win despite the injuries. The women’s team has been playing great basketball, despite having lots of new players and some recent roster turmoil. They have lost only twice – to #8 North Carolina and #3 Ohio State. Pac-12 Conference play will challenge both teams.
Oregon fans are used Dana Altman teams getting off to something of a slow start. The 2022-23 Ducks come into the remainder of Conference play with a 7 – 6 record overall and are 1 - 1 in Conference. Three of Oregon’s losses have come in the friendly confines of Matthew Knight Arena. One of these, against the #3 Houston Cougars might have been expected, especially with the early-season injuries the team has undergone. The other two, however, to UC Irvine in November and last week’s loss to Utah Valley are harder to understand. The team’s biggest weakness seems to be very streaky outside shooting. In these two losses, Oregon shot a combined 7-40 (17.5 percent) from beyond the 3-point arc. Oregon’s offense really benefits when it can force defenses to honor the outside shot – the Ducks have dominating inside players in N’Faly Dante, Kel’el Ware and Lok Wur. However, if opponents can sag inside on the post to challenge entry passes, or double-team low, Oregon’s inside effectiveness goes down. The Ducks have also had some trouble taking care of the ball and are averaging more than 13.5 turnovers per game. Oregon has beaten Washington State and lost to UCLA in earlier Conference action.
It’s not always possible to draw strong conclusions from pre-season play as the quality of opponents can be inconsistent. However, several of Oregon’s upcoming Conference opponents have had little trouble with their schedules thus far. The Conference has 3 teams ranked in the top 25 – #5 Arizona (12-1, 1-1), #13 UCLA (11-2, 2-0) and #25 Arizona State (11-2, 2-0). About half the Conference looks like they will play .500 or lower ball – Cal has stumbled to a 1-12, 0-2 start. ASU seems like the team most likely to fall from the rankings
going forward – their two Conference wins were by a combined 5 points. Recently UCLA has beaten #20 Maryland and #13 Kentucky after losing a couple of games to ranked squads earlier in the season. Arizona has beaten #6 Tennessee, #14 Indiana, #10 Creighton and #17 San Diego State and look primed for another excellent season. USC (10-3, 2-0) and Utah (9-4, 2-0) could also challenge for the Pac-12 crown.
Oregon has been led statistically so far by Will Richardson, Jr in scoring (15.1 PPG), and by N’Faly Dante in rebounding (6.7 RPG). Dante and Quincy Guerrier are also scoring in double figures. Richardson is also the run-away leader in assists with 79 in 13 games. The team is shooting just over .300 from the 3-point line and that number is going to have to improve for the Ducks to get into the top part of the Conference standings. Oregon has also struggled from the free throw line, shooting just 65 percent a statistic that can become critical when games are close down the stretch.
The Ducks are 10-2 overall and earned a 1-0 start to Pac-12 Conference play with an exciting victory over Oregon State two weeks ago. Oregon has introduced a number of new players this season and recently had Freshman Jennah Isai leave the team. Oregon appears to be down to 8 players going into Conference play but have jelled well. The Ducks have benefitted from having different players step up in different games – both Endyia Rogers and Grace VanSlooten have had monster outings. However, Oregon has gone through some periods in some games where their scoring touch has been AWOL. The Ducks defense has been good, but they will have to continue to score the basketball regularly as some of their Conference competition will test that defense.
The Pac-12 Conference should be extremely competitive in 2023. Through pre-season, the Conference has five ranked teams, including undefeated #12 Utah (12-0, 1-0), #2 Stanford (13-1, 1-0), #11 UCLA (12-1, 1-0), #18 Arizona (10-1, 0-0) and of course the #16 Ducks. The Utes have clearly built on their 2021-22 success, including scoring 124 points against then-#16 Oklahoma. Stanford’s only loss is to #1 South Carolina and the team sports a high-scoring offense. Ironically, UCLA’s only loss is also to the Gamecocks but they’ve also beaten #11 Tennessee. The Bruins have given up more than 70 points only once so far this season. Arizona’s only blemish is a surprising home loss to unranked Kansas. Aside from that game, the Wildcats have given up more than 60 points only twice. The Conference season has all the hallmarks of being a barn-burner – no team has more than 4 losses in pre-season.
After a 29-point outburst last week in a loss to #3 Ohio State, Freshman Grace Van Slooten leads the Ducks in scoring with 16.3 points per game. Endyia Rogers and Te-Hina PaoPao are also scoring in double figures. Phillipina Kyei is dominating the offensive and defensive glass, averaging 11.3 rebounds per game. Oregon is outrebounding opponents by about 10 boards per game. Rogers leads the team in 3-point shooting at .500 and in assists with 53 over the 12 games. The Ducks are also averaging double-digits in turnovers and could stand a bit more care in this area.
The women’s team continues Conference play coming up this week, with a tough two-fer in Eugene. UCLA (December 30) and USC (January 1) visit Matthew Knight Arena. These two games could give us a sense of whether the Ducks can challenge for the Conference Championship.
The men continue their Conference play with a singleton at home against Oregon State on Saturday, December 31, a New Year’s Eve Party if ever there was one.
Three games in three days – should be a great basketball weekend in Eugene. Hope you can be there to root on the Ducks!