Another season and another round of expectations fill the air around Matthew Knight Arena as the Ducks prepare for the 2015-16 men’s basketball season.
Ever since Dana Altman arrived in Eugene in 2011, the Ducks have formed a habit in exceeding expectations and if they should do that again, Oregon could have a very special season on its hands. The Pac-12 media members have picked the Ducks to finish fourth in the conference even though Oregon lost the Pac-12 Player of the Year from last season in Joe Young.
“I think it’ll be a group effort (where leadership is concerned) and that’s a good situation for a team to have,” Altman said. “We’re looking for efficiency. If the numbers are good and they’re making good decisions, they’ll probably have the ball in their hands a bit more.
Oregon will have to find a way to replace Young, who seemingly took every big shot the Ducks had a year ago and he usually made them. His 35-footer at the buzzer of the Pac-12 tourney semi-finals to beat Utah 67-64 will go down in Duck history. The Ducks will have to go by committee to replace Young’s 21 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game, but it’s a pretty good committee.
Sticking with the transfer route, Altman found a way to convince Dylan Ennis, a point guard that has spent the previous two seasons at Villanova and a season at Rice before that. The former Wildcat averaged 10 points and 3.7 assists per game while shooting 36 percent from three-point range last year that saw Villanova advance to the third round of the NCAA tourney.
The 6-foot-2 Ennis wasn’t brought in to fill in for young’s scoring, but rather to run the offense, distribute the ball to other scorers and to bring some senior experience onto the floor.
“It’s in my personality to be a leader and to communicate well. I think transferring once before (from Rice to Villanova) will help me transition well,” Ennis said. “I know there are new guys and new personalities and I think I’ll adjust quicker than a regular person.”
Whether it’s transitioning off the floor or running the transition on it, Ennis will have plenty of options where the Duck scorers are concerned. Oregon has plenty of talent to light it it from the outside and to stuff the ball from the interior.
One has to start with sophomore combo guard/forward Dillon Brooks. At 6-6, Brooks brings a skill set that he was just beginning to tap into as a freshman last year. Brooks, from Mississauga, Ontario, is continuing Oregon’s Canadian pipeline and the Ducks’ tradition of featuring the athletic guard who can run the floor. Brooks averaged 11.5 points per contest and Oregon seemed to count on his scoring output more and more as the season went along and that should just increase this year.
Brooks spent his off-season playing for Team Canada in the U19 FIBA World Championship where he averaged 18.8 points per game and led his country to their best finish ever with fifth place.
While Brooks will be doing damage on the outside at 6-6, Elgin Cook, also at 6-6, will be doing his thing on the inside. The senior forward from Milwaukee averaged 13 points and 5.2 rebounds as Oregon’s primary inside scorer. He’ll be counted on to fill in some of the scoring that will be missed from Young’s absence.
But unlike last season, Cook will have plenty of help on the inside so defenses can’t key in on him. His big help will be 6-foot-10 senior transfer Chris Boucher from Montreal. Brooks’ fellow Canadian was named the NJCAA Division I Player of the Year while playing for Northwest College in Wyoming. Boucher averaged 22.5 points and 11.8 boards per game. He recorded 18 double-doubles and three triple doubles.
Dwayne Benjamin, the 6-7 senior forward from Lafayette, La., will most likely continue his sixth man role this season. As the first guy off the bench, Benjamin averaged 8.4 points and 5.8 boards per game and shot 35.3 percent from the three-point line.
“I think I played pretty well, but I’m ready to just pick it up and continue to do what the team needs,” Benjamin said. “My role is bigger than last year in being one of the leaders. I think we can be good if we continue to work and we buy in to what Coach Altman tells us. We’re excited to start.”
Also helping out on the inside will be the 6-9 sophomore Jordan Bell, who started 20 of out the 35 games he played, averaged 5.1 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. But his season might start a bit later as he is recovering from a broken foot. He might not be fully in the rotation until the Pac-12 season begins in January.
“We’re going to have a heck of a time replacing him. When you go back and look at his 23 minutes a game last year, he was our leading rebounder and our best shot blocker,” Altman said of Bell missing some time.
Freshman Tyler Dorsey leads a group of newcomers that are looking to make their impact felt right away. Dorsey, a 6-4 guard from Los Angeles, was ranked as the nation’s 23rd best player. He was also the California Player of the Year. He averaged 34 points, 10.4 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game as a senior.
Fellow Southern Californian, Kendall Small, a 6-0 guard from Anaheim, was a four-star recruit that averaged 22 points and 9.3 rebounds as a senior for Mayfield High. He also averaged nearly five assists a game and 3.1 steals.
The last of the freshmen trio is Trevor Manuel, a 6-9 forward from Lancing, Mich., where he was ranked as the No. 3 player coming out of the state of Michigan. He averaged 22 points per game .
As for the conference itself, it was no surprise that Arizona was picked to win it, followed by Cal and Utah and then the Ducks. UCLA and Oregon State round out the top half. The Beavers’ sixth place selection is their highest in over a decade.
Arizona was the obvious choice to win the Pac-12 as the Wildcats return a loaded roster, led by center Kaleb Tarczewski and his 9.3 ppg and 5.2 rpg. Cal returns the leagues top backcourt in Tyrone Wallace and Jordan Mathews. If there is one team that could seriously challenge Arizona for the crown, it’s the Utes.
Utah returns four starters from a team that finished 26-9 last season and advanced to the Sweet 16 before going down to Duke 63-57.
Oregon begins its 2015-16 campaign with two exhibitions with Northwest Christian Nov. 3 and Southern Oregon Nov. 8. The Ducks’ will try to avoid bad luck with their first counting game coming on Friday, Nov. 13 with a home date against Jackson State.
Other notable non-conference games include Baylor (Nov. 16), Valpo (Nov. 22), Fresno State (Nov. 30), at UNLV (Dec. 4) and facing off with Navy at Pearl Harbor, Haw. Dec. 7. Oregon’s lone true road tests come Dec. 12 at Boise State and Dec. 21 at Alabama.
The Ducks’ first conference game is at Corvallis Jan. 3 in the first of two Civil Wars.
~ Don Smalley