This time of year seems to be coming to us sooner and sooner. Football is only four games in, volleyball has only had a handful of home matches and Halloween is still a few weeks away.
But basketball season is literally around the corner and the Ducks are poised to have yet another very exciting season.
Dana Altman is entering his 10th season at the helm and although his formula has changed, the result is usually the same. Oregon just flat out wins and the 2019-20 season should bring even more wins.
Before looking ahead, one has to take a quick peek of last year that brought a late-season run for the ages. The Ducks will the first ones to say that they struggled for most of that season, but when February and especially March hit, Oregon got things rolling. The Ducks finished the regular season with a 10-8 conference record, but they shocked everyone by winning four straight games in Las Vegas to take the Pac-12 tournament.
The streak continued into the NCAA tournament and the Ducks advanced to the Sweet 16 before taking the eventual national champion Virginia down to the last minute in a 53-49 heartbreaking loss.
Altman used the transfer portal before the transfer portal was even a thing early in his Oregon career, and although the roster does have a couple of transfers, he has built this roster with the very best young talent possible.
Having a senior point guard guiding the ship won’t hurt either.
Payton Pritchard has been a Duck since 1975, right? It may appear that way for the 6-2 West Linn native. He is be quietly becoming one of the best point guards in Oregon history as his stats keep moving up several all-time lists. When it’s all said and done, Pritchard could be No. 1 in steals. He needs 50 steals to break Kenya Wilkins’ mark of 213. Pritchard already became the 37th Duck player to score more than 1,000 points and has a chance to be No.1 all-time in assists. He’ll start with 487 career assists and would need a great season to pass Wilkins’ 614 career dimes. Pritchard would need to average around four assists per game to break the record.
And the point guard will have plenty of chances for assists with all the talent he is surrounded with.
It’ll be mostly new talent as Francis Okoro and Will Richardson are the only Ducks to return that played meaningful minutes last year.
Okoro will begin the 2019-20 season as Oregon’s starting power forward/center. At 6-9, the muscular Nigerian played in 37 games as a true freshman and started 22 of those contests. His improvement as a rebounder and scorer will be the key to his success this season. But scoring could be secondary for Okoro as the Ducks need him to be a defensive stopper and rebounder. The Ducks will have plenty of scorers on the floor at any one time.
Altman secured the No. 4 recruiting class in the country with the help of a couple of key players that reclassified to this class and will be able to play immediately.
When five-star center N’Faly Dante chose Oregon over Kentucky over this past summer, it might have changed the fate of this season. Dante was going to be the No. 1 center in the 2020 class, but he’ll be able to make an impact now.
The other reclassified recruit is 4-star guard/forward Addison Patterson. At 6-6, the Scottsdale, Ariz. native committed to Oregon five days after Dante. Although he played last season at a prep school in Arizona, Patterson is one of the top recruits out of Canada, just like Dillon Brooks was. He averaged 16.5 points and 2.6 assists last season.
Oregon’s big “get” in this class might be five-star center CJ Walker. He’s a Top 20 recruit, although he was somehow left off the McDonald’s All-American roster. The 6-8 forward averaged 15.8 points, 13.8 rebounds and 3.8 blocked shots during his senior campaign in Sanford, Flor.
This class is filled with tall, versatile athletes and four-star players such as 6-8 forwards Chandler Lawson and Lok Wur. But a lot of Pritchard’s assists might go to 6-5 guard Chris Duarte, who was named the junior college Player of the Year and the nation’s No. 1 college prospect. At Northwest Florida State College, Duarte averaged over 19 points and seven rebounds a game. Duarte knocked down 37 percent of his three-point attempts.
Practices might be just as, or even more so, competitive than the actual games. But it’s the games that count and Altman has put together an ambitious schedule to put this team through in preparation for the conference season and March Madness.
Oregon hosts teams like Fresno State, Boise State and Houston early in the season. The Ducks will play Memphis and its No. 1 recruiting class in the country at the PK Invitational in Portland Nov. 12. Oregon will travel to the Bahamas to play in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament where Seton Hall awaits and then possibly Gonzaga.
The Ducks have one true road game at Michigan Dec. 14 before the conference season starts up Jan. 2 at Colorado. The Civil War action will occur Feb. 8 in Corvallis and Feb. 27 in Eugene. Oregon will host Arizona (Jan. 9) and ASU (Jan. 11), USC (Jan. 23), UCLA (Jan.25) with the Bay Area schools (Cal March 2 and Stanford March 4) ending the regular season.
~ Don Smalley