Oregon Basketball and The Season of New: Seniors that Surprise

Posted by Rockne Roll on December 26th, 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. 

Christmas has come and probably gone by the time you read this, so instead of focusing on “the spirit of the season” and joy and all that, it’s time to discuss the real reason that Christmas is such a popular holiday: gifts. Everyone likes receiving gifts, and college basketball coaches are no exception. Quite a few coaches have been reveling in the gifts they received from Recruiting Claus way back in the offseason as their freshman prospects have blossomed into powerhouse college players. But gifts come in all shapes, sizes and amounts of remaining eligibility for coaches. As the season has unfolded, a number of seniors that were previously talented but not quite superstar players have emerged as unexpected studs that have propelled their teams to unexpected success.

Miles Plumlee Has Been a Gift to Duke Fans (AP Photo)

The most prominent example of this phenomenon nationally has been Mason Plumlee.  Notching just over 11 points and nine boards in last year’s campaign, the middle of the Plumlee brothers was expected to headline the Blue Devil’s frontcourt this year, but not to factor into the hunt for national honors nor was Duke seen as a serious national title contender. How times change: Plumlee now averages nearly 20 points per contest and is the leading scorer and rebounder for the best team in the country. “Mason Plumlee’s improvement in a year’s time is extraordinary,” Elon coach Matt Matheny told reporters after Plumlee scored 21 and notched 15 boards in Duke’s 76-54 win over the Phoenix at Cameron Indoor Stadium. “He has done a tremendously good job of developing into a really, really good college player.” “Really good” is an understatement here, as Plumlee has gone from potential All-American to the short list for the Naismith Award.

He’s not the only senior to suddenly emerge onto the national stage. Erick Green of Virginia Tech had been a decent guard and consistent double-digit scorer in years past, averaging just over 15 points per game in his junior year. Flash forward to today, and Green is the top scorer in the country, averaging better than 25 a game while tacking on a career high 4.5 assists per game. These figures may well decrease as the otherwise lackluster Hokies hit conference play in the never-easy ACC, but the transformation from consistent to consistently electric is still impressive.

Once an offensive non-factor, Tony Woods now regularly draws a double team on the block. (Photo by Rockne Andrew Roll)

Back out west, the Oregon Ducks have gotten something of a senior surprise as well. Tony Woods, a transfer last year from Wake Forest, has always been a good defender and athletic shot blocker. But the big weaknesses in his game were rebounding and offense. This year, however, Woods has grown into an offensive force and double-digit scorer, leading or nearly leading the Ducks in scoring in three of their last four games. Woods has always been able to dunk with authority, but his biggest addition offensively has been a jump hook shot that he can hit up to about 10 feet out. “It’s just been rollin’ for me, just playing with confidence,” Woods said of his newfound offensive prowess after the Ducks’ 60-38 win over Nebraska in which Woods scored a team-high 14 points. He’s also moving steadily up Oregon’s career blocked shots list, part of which he thanks fellow frontcourt senior Arsalan Kazemi for. Kazemi leads the Pac-12 in rebounding, and his dominance on the boards gives Woods more opportunity to rack up those blocks.  “It lets me kind of roam around, be free,” Woods explains, though he also jokes that, “I’m jealous. Arsalan gets all the boards, I don’t get any boards.” “Tony is evolving as an offensive player, he did a lot of good things,” Altman said, a high compliment coming from him. “I think he’s really feeling comfortable with his jump hook, I think he feels comfortable attacking the basket, the jump hook has set up some things for him, and now if we get him passing the ball out of there and posting a little deeper I think he can take another step and we can get some looks at threes.”

Altman sees Woods’ offensive evolution as key to Oregon’s ball-movement based offense for just that reason. He wants his shooters taking the deep shot off the pass from the low post. “If you’re a three-point shooter, the best three is one from the post looking directly in. There’s an art to getting good threes,” Altman said after his squad used just that shot to go 9-of-16 from downtown in their 91-50 shellacking of Houston Baptist. On the flip side, it was the inability to establish the low post game and move the ball back outside that Altman blamed in part for the Ducks\’ disappointing triple overtime defeat, 91-84, at UTEP just days before. The Ducks went 8-of-28 from beyond the arc in the game, with two of those misses potential game winners late in the first two overtime periods by Damyean Dotson and Kazemi, respectively. “We didn’t move the ball well on the offensive side,” forward E.J. Singler said of the defeat. “I had a rough game against UTEP.” Singler fouled out with seconds left in regulation with two points. But that movement was back against the Huskies of Houston Baptist, and Altman is hoping to build it consistently, and to build it around Woods. “We want to go to Tony, we want to get him established, we want to build it inside-out,” he said. The Ducks will have another chance to rehearse their ball movement against Nevada on New Year’s Eve before kicking off the conference season against Oregon State on the January 6.

Rockne Roll (12 Posts)

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