Brief introduction: I’m Keith. I’m a sophomore at the U of O, and I’ll be your Oregon basketball Featured Columnist this season. Although Oregon Ducks basketball hasn’t been particularly great recently (to say the least), I’m more than awesome enough to keep it interesting.
It’s basketball season already? Seriously? I’m not ready to move on to a losing sport; it’s still football season, gosh darn it!
At least for now, Oregon Ducks basketball is the University of Oregon’s proverbial red-headed stepchild.
Why anyone would spend time following a team coming off of an 8-23 season, including losses to San Diego, Oakland, and Washington State by 29 points, instead of a Rose Bowl contending football team, is beyond me.
But I guess anytime you have the chance to watch Oregon play a non-conference basketball game against Colorado State in a half-empty 83-year-old stadium in early November, you can’t pass it up.
Ok, you get. We were bad last year. Worse than that actually. Terrible. Putrid. Atrocious. Words don’t do it justice.
It was so bad that we actually rushed the court after our first Pac-10 win in our 15th try, over a less-than-mediocre Stanford team. And as someone who was a part of it, I felt absolutely ashamed and humiliated the second I left my seat and headed toward the sweat-soaked jersey of Joevan Catron.
Well this year, things should be better.
Are we going to be as bad as last year? No. Are we going to be good? Not even close. But will we be good enough where we don’t have to lose our dignity storming the court on our first win of conference play with less than one month left in the season? I can almost guarantee it.
Oh, how I love low expectations.
In all actuality, the Ducks should be much improved this season.
What was an extremely young team last year now has one more full year of experience under their belt, without losing any keys players (although in Catron’s case, it might not have been such a bad thing).
Lekendric Longmire, the energetic 6'5" junior guard, who finished as the Ducks’ second-leading scorer (9.9 points per game) looks to have taken up a leadership role on the team, a position that was severely lacking last year.
“I think about last season's record every morning when I wake up,” Longmire said. “Truly, it's the first thing on my mind. I'm going to do everything I can to not let that happen again.”
Longmire, along with the emergent Teondre Williams, the steady play of seniors Tajuan Porter and (dare I say it) Catron, and gifted youngsters Michael Dunigan, Michael Humphrey and Jamil Wilson, actually form a talented rotation.
The only question is: Will Ernie Kent screw it up?
Entering his 13th season at Oregon, Kent made possibly the smartest move of his career by hiring Arizona assistant Mike Dunlap to take over as de facto head coach.
Kent, who is much better at recruiting, scowling at referees, and looking extremely awkward while crossing his legs on the bench than actually coaching a basketball team, finally realized that in order to save his job, he would have to demote himself to mere figure head of the basketball program.
Hopefully, Dunlap, a former Arizona Wildcat head coach and Denver Nuggets assistant, can get this team to cut down on turnovers, run an actual offense, and play something that moderately resembles defense.
If he can do that, a middle-of-the-pack conference finish and an out-of-nowhere NCAA tournament bid could be in the mix come February.
Kent believes that, just like he said last year, the pieces are in place for the Ducks to play their preferred up-tempo style of play.
Kent hopes to use a 10-man rotation that will create havoc for opposing teams. He expects that added depth will let the Ducks employ a more effective full-court press than it showed last season.
"Even though we had numbers last year, those guys just weren't physically and mentally strong enough to put that kind of pressure on you,” Kent said. “We are this year."
Tim Wilson, the newly hired basketball strength and condition coach, put the team through an extensive training program this offseason, and it looks to be paying off already.
Dunigan lost 25 pounds, Williams and Porter packed on muscle, and Catron, well, isn’t as fat.
Kent made a second smart decision this season by loading up the non-conference slate with a list of patsies only Urban Meyer would appreciate. Oregon won’t play a single ranked team this preseason, and it might just be the confidence boost the team needs to get rolling come Pac-10 play.
The only downside? With Montana, Montana St., Mississippi Valley St., Idaho St., and Arkansas Pine Bluff headlining the schedule, the Ducks will have a hard time convincing the selection committee for an at-large bid come March.
Nonetheless, the program certainly looks headed in the right direction, and even though you shouldn’t expect the Ducks to return to the Elite Eight this season, the plan is in place for this team to be competitive.
And that’s something you couldn’t say about them last year.