Oregon Opens Season With Road Test At VanderbiltPosted by AMurawa on November 11th, 2011
Welcome to hoops season, Pac-12 fans. Yeah, we’ve had seven games this week so far (including a couple featuring Arizona), but let’s face it: tonight is the real opening night. We’ve got 131 games on the docket involving Division I teams, and we’ve got seven Pac-12 teams in action (Oregon State and Washington hold their openers on Saturday evening, while Washington State and Utah will wait until Monday to get going). And while fans of each team will be interested to see exactly how their teams look in their first official competition, the one Pac-12 game tonight that should have fans around the country interested is Oregon’s trip to Nashville to face the #7 in the latest RTC poll, Vanderbilt. And while the basketball matchup with the Commodores may only serve as prelude to the main event for most Duck fans this weekend, for us hoops junkies, this is every bit as worthwhile.
While Oregon head coach Dana Altman was hoping to put together a solid schedule this season, opening the year on the road in one of the tougher places in the country to play, Memorial Gymnasium, was not necessarily the goal. But a road game with Auburn fell through in August and Oregon had to scrape around to find a replacement, eventually landing on Vandy (the ‘Dores will return the favor with a trip to Eugene in future years).
For Oregon fans, it is their first look at a remade roster, featuring three newly eligible Division I transfers, four incoming freshmen and one junior college transfer to pair with the six returnees from last year’s CBI championship team. While one of those transfers, point guard Devoe Joseph, won’t be eligible until the middle of December, 6’7” senior forward Olu Ashaolu and 6’11” junior center Tony Woods should play big minutes right away and give Altman an element of size up front that was missing last year. And, given that Vanderbilt’s starting center Festus Ezeli is out for this game with a knee injury (he would have missed the game even without the injury due to an NCAA suspension for receiving improper benefits), that could be a strength for the Ducks.
The Commodores return four other starters, highlighted by senior wing Jeffery Taylor and junior guard John Jenkins. Jenkins is a deadly shooter and the Ducks will need to keep tabs on him at all times as he runs off screens and even attacks off the dribble. With Altman expecting to play more man defense than he did last year, we’ll get a good idea who he sees as his best backcourt defender based on who gets charged with the bulk of the responsibility for Jenkins. It could be freshman guard Jabari Brown that gets first crack at Jenkins. Brown is known primarily as an offensive player who can score in bunches, but at 6’5” he has the size to match up with the 6’4” Jenkins and the athleticism to chase him in the halfcourt. Whether the youngster has the savvy and the drive to stick on his man for 40 minutes remains to be seen. One slip up, and Jenkins can make you pay.
On the wing, Duck junior E.J. Singler should get first crack at guarding Taylor. Taylor is an absurdly athletic and versatile threat for the Commodores, capable of pounding the glass on one end, grabbing a board and starting a fast break, and finishing with a dunk at the other. Singler, much like his older brother Kyle, is a scrappy defender with sneaky athleticism that will certainly not back down from the challenge.
One other key matchup here will be at the point, where Vandy returns senior Brad Tinsley, a rock-solid veteran that led the SEC in assists last season, handing out assists on 27.2% of his team’s field goals when he was on the court last year. Throw in the fact that he knocked down 45 threes at a 37% clip and he’s got the ability to make defenses pay if they give too much attention to Jenkins or Taylor. However, Tinsely’s not the quickest guy in the world, and a guy like 5’9” sophomore guard Jonathan Loyd could present problems. Loyd is expected to man the point for the Ducks in concert with senior Garrett Sim until Joseph is eligible, and while neither guy is the complete package at the point, they should have enough to hold down the fort.
Long story short, this is a game that college hoops fans around the country should be very interested in. Not only will we get a good read on highly ranked Vanderbilt (albeit playing without Ezeli, one of their major weapons), we’ll get to see how far this Oregon program has come and take a look at a roster that could surprise people in the Pac-12 and elsewhere. You may need to carve out some DVR time for this game (7pm PST on FSN), depending on how close Belmont is able to keep their game with Duke, not to mention the various other games around the conference. But the fact that we’re now able to start scheduling college basketball games into our daily agendas again is just awesome.