The city of Eugene and the University of Oregon are synonymous with Track and Field, and to a lesser degree football. And while UO will probably always be known for their track teams first, I’m here to tell you why the Ducks men’s basketball team is going to be an elite squad next year.
Look, I know football season is coming up first, but as a Seattleite and a Washington State University alum with an outside look at Ducks football, you guys aren’t who you used to be. We Cougs expect to beat you guys now. So maybe it’s time to shift your attention to basketball.
Before we dive into next season, let’s take a look back. Come tourney time, the Ducks pulled off an impressive and highly improbable Pac-12 tournament championship, thus giving them the automatic bid into the NCAA’s. They won their first two games in the big dance but eventually lost in the sweet 16 to the University of Virginia (Virginia won the title). Nevertheless, the 2018-19 hoops season should be deemed a success.
As we look ahead to next season, Oregon still has many of the key pieces remaining from last year’s roster. They still have a star point guard and an elite defender in the post who will make them hard to beat. They did lose two key pieces, but neither of these players should be considered irreplaceable. To the left to the left, everything you own in the box to the left…..
UO will most likely have star point guard Payton Pritchard back. Pritchard is a damn near perfect college point guard. He is a true extension of his coach on the floor. Furthermore, he plays with a fire that is not found in all players.
In terms of his skill-set, he is a solid all-around player. He is a very good defender, playmaker, and court general. If he continues to work on his game in the offseason, he could be the best player in the Pac-12 next year.
I didn’t stutter.
If it weren’t for him, there is literally zero chance the Ducks would have pulled off their unlikely March heroics.
In the Pac-12 championship game last year, he tallied an impressive stat line; it read; 20 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, and 4 steals. This came against an elite defensive team in the University of Washington.
He reminds me of ex-Arizona Wildcats point guard T.J. McConnell. McConnell is currently playing the backup point guard for the Philadelphia 76ers.
If Pritchard is to become the best player in the Pac-12, he will need to improve his defense and shooting.
He is an inconsistent three-point shooter. Most guards his size need to develop a killer shot from beyond the arc to avoid tangling with the trees down low. He only shot 33 percent from downtown last season. This needs to improve.
In terms of his defense he already is an annoying defender. However, he needs to become a lockdown defender. He needs to be the type of player that opponents fear dribbling the ball around. Last year he averaged about 2 steals per game. This is an impressive number, but he still needs to improve if Oregon is going to reach their full potential.
Last year he didn’t receive the honors of being placed on the Pac-12 first team, Pac-12 second team, or even Pac-12 honorable mention. Let’s hope this fuels his fire to keep working in the offseason.
He averaged 12.9 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 4.6 APG, and 1.8 SPG in the 2018-19 campaign. He also led the team in minutes per game, averaging 35.5.
Another key returning player is power forward Kenny Wooten. For all intents and purposes, he is a center in my book, but he’s listed as a forward. Wooten literally blocks everything. The man is a highlight reel waiting to happen.
In the 1st round of the NCAA’s last year, he blocked 4 shots against an elite big man in Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ. These blocks crushed the Badgers spirit, and eventually led to a blowout win for the Ducks.
In the Pac-12 tournament, he set a tourney record by blocking 10 shots in four games. Oregon won the title. He averaged 2.2 BPG last season.
On the other end of the court, he is an alley-oop machine. He’s the type of player who forces a defender into a bad position. Do I let the guard take a wide-open layup, or commit and give up the electrifying alley-oop? And with Wooten it’s always electrifying.
The rest of his offensive game needs work, but at the college level he can skate by on his athleticism. In the NBA, this won’t fly, but we’re talking about the conference of champions here. Last year he scored just above 6 PPG.
If he can develop a 15-foot jumper he will be an unstoppable force for UO. He is a rare athlete at the college level, and the Ducks are lucky to have him on their roster.
For me, personally, I can’t wait to see him play. He’s a fun dude to watch.
The final returning player I am going to discuss is Francis Okoro. Okoro is big—like, really really big. His right arm is stronger than the whole WSU Cougar basketball team combined.
Seriously, though, his defense changed the entire trajectory of the Ducks’ season.
With Oregon’s season spiraling out of control, head coach Dana Altman made a rash decision. Altman started Okoro. Once Okoro was placed in the starting lineup, UO finished the season 8-1 including the previously mentioned Pac-12 tourney title.
The whole thing kind of happened by accident.
”I wish I could say it was planned and something that was well thought out, but it was an accident, Altman said.” He then added, “But it’s worked out. All that credit goes to Francis.”
His defense combined with Wooten makes it hard for any opposing team to score down low. Okoro is the bully who bodies up anybody in the paint. This makes it easier for Wooten to sit back and wait for the big block.
He’s essentially the Draymond Green of the Ducks. He’s going to do all the dirty work that no one notices. He will grab rebounds, dive on the floor, guard the opposing team’s best player, and keep energy levels high during periods of stagnation.
These plays are often the difference between winning and losing games.
On the offensive end of the court, he has a lot of improvements to make. To be honest, his offensive game is almost non-existent.
Nevertheless, he is not out there to score the rock. He is out there to provide energy and play defense. It will be exciting to see him play with added confidence and a season of experience under his belt.
Who’s Gone and How to Replace Their Scoring?
The Ducks will need to replace two key players from last year’s squad, Louis King and Paul White.
King (or as Bill Walton calls him “Louie The King”), was the leading scorer on Oregon’s roster last year.
I really wanted to say that he was going to be easy to replace, but after watching his highlights, the man can hoop. He’s 6’9”, can shoot the three, has a nice 15-footer, and hew has a nice touch around the rim. He averaged 13.5 PPG last season.
The other player whom UO needs to replace is Paul White. White is also 6’9” and had the ability to hit the long ball. He was not a superstar by any means necessary, but he was a solid senior player. Most importantly, he found a way to put the ball in the hoop. He averaged 10.6 PPG last year and shot approximately 38 percent from beyond the arc.
It’s unlikely that the Ducks will be able to replace this scoring with one player. But they can do it as a collective unit. With Pritchard driving the lane, and defenders needing to stay by Wooten, three-point shots will open up for other players.
One of these players is Victor Bailey. Bailey shot an impressive 39.8 percent from beyond the arc. If he can continue to be a knock-down three-point shooter, it will allow the Ducks to spread the floor. On the other hand, he does need to score more PPG. He averaged 7.4 PPG last season.
Another player who could fill UO’s scoring void is Will Richardson. Plain and simple: Richardson needs to become a better three-point shooter. He only shot 27.8 percent from downtown last year. If he can improve his shooting, Oregon will have multiple scoring options. He averaged 6 PPG last year.
If you look around the Pac-12, this could be the Ducks’ year to dominate. They have a stand-out point guard, a stud center (in my opinion), and a great head coach. This is usually a solid formula for a successful basketball team. All they have to do is find a couple more shooters and they’ll be off and running in TrackTown.