When people talk about Oregon Ducks and sports, they think about football. Or perhaps track and field. But basketball? You must be kidding me, right!?
As hard as it is to believe, a few years back they made their way to the Elite Eight, powerhouses in the March Madness tournament. Since then though, they've really struggled.
Last year the Ducks finished dead last in the Pac-10, going 2-16 in the conference, and 8-23 overall. That stings.
I'll preview this upcoming season this way: players in the backcourt, frontcourt, the bottom line, five things to look for, and my predictions as far as the schedule goes.
Believe it or not, the Ducks have one of the fiercest backcourts in the Pac-10 this year. Tajuan Porter is back for his senior year, LeKendric Longmire has matured into an amazing player, and they could have an explosive season.
Porter led the team through the Elite Eight as a freshman, and still has his skills. In fact, he's improved. He can score at will, and will lead the team to victory this season.
Garrett Sim and Malcolm Armstead also provide some depth at guard, and Sim is to start alongside Porter this year. Sim was a freshman last year, and will definitely be improved, and give assistance to Porter nicely.
Armstead may be small, but he led a top notch junior college in Florida last year, and will also be a great addition to the supporting cast surrounding Porter. He helped his team a lot, and I expect some great things from this young man.
Longmire is a key player to the team and I predict he averages more then 10 points a game. He's a great threat with Porter, and his immense height really helps as well.
Oregon also has Matt Humphrey and Teondre Williams. They didn't do much of anything last year, but the high school stats suggest there is something there.
With Porter, Sim, Longmire, and Armstead heading up the backcourt, the Ducks may surprise a few teams. They have all five returning starters, and the team should gel really well this year.
Michael Dunigan is really the key to Oregon's frontcourt. He's obviously going to improve from his freshman year, which looks great for the Ducks. Dunigan posted eight points and five rebounds a game last year.
I predict he can double that. If he does, that's another weapon in the Ducks arsenal. He also had some major blocks, though they were few and far between. The defense is what needs to step up.
Checking out the stats, opponents outscore the Ducks by nine points a night on average. Dunigan, Joevan Catron, and highly spoken of recruit Jamil Wilson all need to step it up to shut offenses down and seal victories.
Dunigan could be the best low post threat of the conference this year if he lives up to expectations. He's fairly fast, has great height, and is a big dude that gets it done essentially.
Wilson was considered among the top five small forwards in the nation. That's huge. Oregon needed some help there, and he should deliver. Spoken very highly of by his coaches and teammates, he'll definitely bring some wow effect to the Duck’s defense. He could be the element missing in stopping teams from running up the scoreboard.
The Ducks also have Josh Crittle, and Jeremy Jacob, two big guys out there that will give the starters a rest, and could bring a lot to the table.
The Bottom Line
Let facts be facts: Oregon Ducks basketball was terrible last year. This year, it's a whole new ballgame. Literally.
Porter leads a team with all five starters from last season. The Ducks have explosive playmakers in Porter, Longmire, Dunigan, and possibly from Sim, Armstead, and the big guys in front.
If Oregon’s defense shuts the likes of WASU, Washington, USC, and other conference teams down, the team can get an edge, and put up some W's.
Now, I'm not saying the Ducks are headed to March Madness this year. But Porter is in his senior year, and believe this: he's not going down napping. He'll be known, and will make a huge impact on where this team ends up.
Five Things To Watch For
1. Ernie Kent. Overall, he's fixing to be fired. Play-calling and the all around coaching scheme really needs to be improved. He's on the hot seat, and with good reason. If he doesn't turn things around, he's getting the axe.
2. Tajuan Porter. Believe it, he's what the season depends on. If he bombs, gets hurt, or for whatever reason doesn't play, things could be even worse than last year. Also look for amazing plays, great passes, and him giving us some big wins.
3. LeKendric Longmire. He's big, fast, and explosive. Longmire is a huge key to the team’s success this year. Same as Porter, if he can't play for whatever reason, the team will struggle. Look for him to make plays on both ends of the ball.
4. The Defense. It needs improvement desperately. Last season the Ducks gave up an average of 76 points per game, worst in the Pac-10, 314th in NCAA. That flat out stinks, and needs to change now. If it doesn't, the Ducks are in for another long year.
5. The New Court! Yes, it's not very important. But seriously, the new arena is tight, and if you ever get a chance to attend a game, I encourage you to. It'll be louder than ever, screaming for the Ducks to play good basketball.
I'll take it piece by piece, predicting each game and the final outcome.
Nov 13—Dec 6
I think this starts off well, as the Ducks will win five games in a row. Maybe, just maybe, a loss to Montana but I highly doubt it. But upsets happen...
Obviously on Dec 6, they get hammered by the Tigers on their home court. But this gives the Ducks a good start at 5-1.
Dec 12—Jan 10
After a loss to Saint Mary's, they’ll go on a four game win streak up to the WAZU game. They will lose to them, and then the Huskies. Then, they’ll beat Oregon State on Jan 10th. So far we're 10-4.
Jan 14—Feb 6
Double losses to the Arizona teams, Cal, and they proceed take down Stanford (my big upset prediction). Two more losses, and they beat the Beavers once more. This puts Oregon at 12-9.
Feb 11—March 6
This is the roughest part of the year. The Ducks will lose to Arizona, ASU, and upset Stanford once more, and then lose four more straight conference games. For the season closer, Oregon will get sweet revenge on Washington St. This makes them 14-15 for the regular season.
Not bad if I do say so myself, and much better then last year. Now, that's obviously not March Madness material. But it's a step in the right direction and will save Ernie Kent's job in my opinion.
While it's not a great season, it won't disappoint. There's going to be some good games, particularly the Stanford and OSU ones. I look forward to the new season and seeing how things play out.