The Oregon Ducks suffered their first loss of the season against fellow top 25 member, number 20 Colorado. Despite this loss, they will still win the Pac-12 over the likes of top-ranked Arizona and teams like UCLA and Colorado. There are four reasons in particular—not dependent on the rest of the conference—why Oregon will win the Pac-12’s regular season.
1.) Coaching. Dana Altman is a wonderful coach who has done wonders for the Oregon program since the departure of Ernie Kent. He has been able to meld transfers with players fresh out of high school to form cohesive, quality teams.
He historically has an excellent track record. At Creighton, he coached three All-Americans and won over 300 games. With Oregon, he has won nearly 70% of the games with just a shade under 60% in conference. Altman’s credentials are solid and as he figures out how to fix this team’s defensive woes, the Ducks will only improve. This year Altman is coaching Joseph Young, who is one of the front-runners for Pac-12 Player of the Year, and Altman’s ability to utilize Young at Oregon even beyond what he showed at Houston, is a sign of his coaching chops. Clearly he is a capable coach.
2.) Depth. This is probably the most important reason. The Ducks have a deep bench, especially on the perimeter. Ten players average double-digit minutes per game, and six average more than 20 minutes per game. No one plays more than Joseph Young’s 30.2 minutes per game, meaning that the players should not be worn down near the end of the season, and Oregon can rotate bodies throughout a game and season and more importantly there are lots of players with critical game experience who—theoretically—will be able to step up if others are struggling.
Recently returned from suspension point guard Dominic Artis provides a great option to run the team when starter Jonathan Lloyd is on the bench. Last year Artis was the starter as a freshman, and going into the season was the presumed starter before being suspended (along with Ben Carter) for selling university provided items for the first nine games of the season. However, now he has come back but whether or not he regains last year’s form and returns to the starting point guard role remains to be seen, but for the moment Artis is a more than capable back-up.
Young is Oregon’s best player, averaging 19.1 points per game while making 54% of his field goals—outstanding for a guard. He is the star, but Damyean Dotson (11.6 points a game with a game winning dunk against Utah) and Jason Calliste (11.4 points per outing) can be called upon to start or be instant offense off the bench.
Elgin Cook is a forward-guard combo and has been invaluable in games averaging a solid 9.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. He generally spells Mike Moser (13.9 points and 7.6 rebounds a contest), and while he lacks the 3 point threat that Moser poses, he is still an offensive threat. Moser may be Oregon’s second most important player behind Young. He is able to score from everywhere, stretching the defense and providing driving lanes for the guards. The fact that there is such an able backup in Cook reinforces the Ducks’ depth.
Waverly Austin, Richard Amardi, and Carter are the depth in the post. While these three barely average over 10 points and 9 rebounds a game combined, they are there to give solid defensive minutes. They will never be the stars, but their ability to play a few quality minutes a game are invaluable.
There are many players who can play multiple positions for prolonged minutes without serious drop-off in production or talent. This also ties in neatly into the fourth reason why Oregon will win the regular season.
3.) The perimeter. Oregon has one of the best perimeters in the country. Young (leading scorer), Lloyd (leader in assists), Dotson (timely shots), Artis, Calliste (capable scorer), and Cook are all able drivers and, with the exception of Cook, good to very good shooters. There are a dearth of options and combinations for Altman to utilize without a significant dip in on-court talent during a game. Oregon showed this in their 9-0 start to the season with one of their best players in Artis suspended. The Ducks will—and have been—able to withstand personnel losses and off-shooting nights with their excellent perimeter players.
4.) Shooting. Oregon is the 13th best shooting team in the country at 49%. This translates into the 3rd most prolific offense (89.4 points per game). The Ducks will be able to shoot their way to victory on the many nights. Granted, in conference play where the other team knows how to best defend their opponent percentages can plummet, but Oregon possesses the shooters and drivers to outscore the opposition. The inverse is that a poor shooting night coupled with Oregon’s lackluster rebounding (131st) can doom them to certain defeat, but the Ducks’ record and shooting percentage this season is indicative of a team that will be in any and every game they play. Excellent coaching and a depth of perimeter shooters mean that there will be few nights where no one is able to score. Taken with the previous three points, they will win enough games to take the regular season title.
Oregon lost their second conference game and probably should have been defeated in their first against Utah. A shaky start to conference play is not indicative of final performance. The Ducks may technically not win the conference (the tournament crowns the champion just like every other conference other than the Ivy League which lacks a post-season tourney), but they will win the regular season.