Oregon Basketball and The Season of New: And Away We Go…Posted by AMurawa on October 31st, 2012
Welcome to Oregon Basketball and The Season of New, a weekly Pac-12 microsite column from Rockne Roll (@raroll). His column will focus on the various issues facing college basketball through the prism of the Oregon Ducks, a program ostensibly on the rise with top-notch facilities and coaching but still subject to many of the same problems suffered by many of the other high-major programs around the country.
As October slides towards November and the fall grows cooler, a great yearly tradition begins to take shape. From Cameron Indoor to Pauley Pavilion, young men across the country focus their attention not on the orange of the leaves, but on the orange ball and orange rim of their chosen game. The cooler weather not only signals that it’s time to break out the sweaters and scarves, but that college basketball season has once again arrived. This phenomenon is no different in Eugene, Oregon, where the turning leaves have been mostly washed away into gutters and down storm drains by the ever-present rain. As water drips off of the high, sharp roof of Matthew Knight Arena, the University of Oregon Ducks team within works to prepare for the new season.
“New” really is an operative term for the beginning of basketball season at many schools. Whether due to graduation, transfers, or the lure of fame and fortune in the NBA, a new year invariably means a new roster. The best of college hoops often have to deal with this sort of turnover more than others: Last year’s national champion, Kentucky, must replace its entire starting lineup and then some, with seven players graduating and/or entering the NBA Draft. When the season begins anew, their replacements are assembled and then given only a few weeks of official practice to adapt to the new environment, get into shape, and meld themselves into the larger team.
Oregon is facing a similar situation, having lost six players in the offseason to graduation or transfer. Three of those players were starters, including last year’s transfer standout Devoe Joseph. Nine newcomers have been selected to take their place; six freshman and three transfers. The new Ducks had their first test on Monday night against the Cavaliers of Concordia University, an NAIA school from Portland. And while the result wasn’t ever really in question, how the new guys would perform on the big stage was. With star forward E.J. Singler sidelined with an injury, they were more or less on their own in their Division I debut. There were a number of individual standouts — five of the new players scored in double figures. But the fact that this was the first game of the season stood out in defensive communication and turnovers, of which the Ducks gave up 13.
“Defensively, we missed a lot of rotations. The energy, defensively, just wasn’t good” were some of the first words out of head coach Dana Altman’s mouth after the game. “We didn’t play good defense at all,” agreed junior guard Jonathan Loyd. “Everybody wants to get to the offensive end; you’ve got to play better D.”
This isn’t an unusual sentiment. At the SEC’s annual media day last Thursday, Kentucky head coach John Calipari said that, in practice so far this year, his freshman simply “don’t play hard enough.” And while the new freshman and transfer players have to adapt to each other and their new playing system, there’s also the simple hurdle that this is a another, higher level of basketball than what they’re used to. This is particularly true for Oregon, a team that plays at a pace that is fairly quick by college standards.
“For me,” Loyd reminisced, “it took half a season to really know that the college game is played at a higher pace; it’s way faster, you can’t take plays off.” “We’re going to have to do a little conditioning,” Altman had previously acknowledged. But there will be time for that. There is a little more than a week before the exhibition schedule ends and the “real” games begin. As for those returning like Loyd, it’s reason enough to smile that it is once again basketball season. “It was just good to be back out there, playing with everybody,” he said.