Night Line, Weekend Edition: Oregon Hard Pressed To Avoid National Radar NowPosted by BHayes on January 20th, 2013
Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.
Well, well, well — how about those Oregon Ducks? Dana Altman and company flew under the radar for a good long while, but they can now rest assured that they will be the ones wearing the target from here on out. Blame an East-Coast bias, recent years of mediocrity, or the resurgence of fellow Pac-12 powers Arizona and UCLA if you want, but for one reason or another, this team has been overlooked for the past three months. A win over previously unbeaten Arizona on January 10turned some heads, but yesterday’s road win at red-hot UCLA should have everyone’s, and I mean everyone’s, attention. This may be news to much of the college basketball world, but the Oregon Ducks are all alone at the top of the Pac-12, and (gasp!) should now be considered favorites to win the league.
We know what you have done lately Oregon (knock off both conference favorites in the span of 10 days), but why have we not heard about you before? College basketball fans around the country are asking the question, and the Ducks’ body of work over the first two months of the season has no answer for you. The early schedule was relatively weak, but Oregon went 11-2 in the non-conference, which included a dazzling scalp of UNLV in Vegas. Their only losses were to Cincinnati on a neutral court (no shame there) and in triple-OT at UTEP (not a good loss but far from crippling). The rest of the slate featured too many teams with astronomically high RPIs (computer numbers would be much better if the wins had come over moderately bad teams and not the true cellar of Division I), but Oregon did win each of those 10 games by double-digits.
Oregon has been getting it done with solid play on both ends, and a number of guys have been responsible for the efficient efforts. Six Ducks have averaged 20+ minutes a game, and five of the six are double-figure scorers. Freshmen Dominic Artis (double-digit points in all five Pac-12 games) and Damyean Dotson (14.4 PPG in Pac-12 play) have provided a real spark, while Rice transfer Arsalan Kazemi, sporting averages of 8.1 and 9.5 rebounds per game, rounds out a talented trio of newcomers. Tony Woods and Carlos Emory have both upped production from a year ago, and EJ Singler continues to provide a little bit of everything on the stat sheet and a lot of leadership in the locker room. There’s no true Alpha-Duck, but Dana Altman has his bunch playing fast and with loads of confidence, a combination that has proved lethal for Pac-12 opponents so far.
Reasonable arguments can be made for Arizona and UCLA being more talented teams with brighter March futures, but Oregon deserves the title of Pac-12 favorite at this point. They have proven they are pretty much on par with those two teams when it comes to personnel, and are now proud owners of the tiebreakers against those two main rivals, as the unbalanced Pac-12 schedule will provide no Oregon-UCLA or Oregon-Arizona rematch this year. A sad thing for most fans, but the folks up in Eugene are probably not complaining. Road trips to the Bay Area, Seattle and Colorado will all present challenges, but similar tasks face the Bruins and Wildcats. The finish line is a long ways out, but it’s about time the college basketball world take notice that these Ducks are for real.