On Oregon and Expectations…

Posted by Adam Butler on March 12th, 2015

When the Pac-12 announced that the Oregon basketball program possessed both the conference’s Player and Coach of the Year, there was some surprise. Each had performed valiantly in his role this year, earning the second seed in the Pac-12 Tournament and exceeding expectations set months before a single shot was taken or play was called. Because when it came time to do those things, Joseph Young made lots and Dana Altman called the right ones. For their efforts, the coaches of the Pac-12 recognized them. It was the most recognition the program had received in months.

Will added expectations curtail Joseph Young and Oregon? (USA TODAY Sports)

Will added expectations curtail Joseph Young and Oregon? (USA TODAY Sports)

You see, Oregon has been under the radar since they went off the radar, dismissing several key players from what had projected as a big season. You know this. But what we don’t really know is what Oregon looks like with expectations. How the neons shine in the spotlight. The Ducks have been fitted for their targets and we’re not really sure how well they’ll fit. They’ve won nine of 10 games since starting conference play a pedestrian 4-4. During that streak, they’re scoring 1.11 points per possession (good) and yielding 1.02 (average). Offensively this is slightly better than their season average (1.09), but defensively it’s on par. The streak, as it were, seems to be nothing beyond the ordinary. Having something expected of this group is.

And how have Dana’s Ducks previously worn expectations? In 2012-13, they began the season unranked with moderate expectations – whatever we can consider November expectations. It was Dana Altman’s third season and third roster. By the start of Pac-12 play, the Ducks were 12-2, still unranked, but winning! Two weeks later they’d crack the Top 25, and two weeks after that they’d fall back out – losing three straight. They closed that season 8-5, tie-breakers relegated them to the #3 seed, and they won the conference tournament. Were they ever necessarily targeted here? Not really. But that effort distinguished the Ducks as a winning program and we expect things of winners. So as we headed into 2013-14, Oregon was ranked #19 and playing in Korea! It kept winning, reaching heights as lofty as 10th in the nation by the time the Ducks headed to Utah to start conference play. And then they’d lose eight of their next 10 games, falling not only out of the Top 25 but out of consideration for anything. The Ducks fell off our radar. We expected nothing. So of course they rattled off eight straight wins, jumped into the Pac-12 Tourney as as a #7 seed and promptly got annihilated by UCLA. They’d have a nice run in the NCAAs, ending in an unfortunate Kaminsky-ing in Milwaukee.

We learn from history, which is to say history lends itself to expectation-setting. So what, in looking at Oregon basketball’s recent history and considering they have – ya know – the best player and coach in the conference, can we expect? I don’t really know. Contextually this isn’t a very good Pac-12. The Ducks will open this tournament against Colorado (which they beat) – expectations brewing – with a possible semifinal matchup against – well – other teams that they’ve beaten. After all, they’re the conference’s second-best team with its best coach and player – expectations heating up. So with our expectations pot boiling, and seemingly fairly, what does it all really project to? Well they’re the 49th-best team in the nation, according to KenPom. As compared to the other 10 best conferences in America (also according to KenPom), that’s the second-worst ranking for a second-place finisher (only Tulsa ranks lower at 73rd). As compared to their own conference, the Ducks rank fourth in those prognosticating measures. Of course that’s just math, numbers that note Oregon as the 14th luckiest team in the country. In other words, their results have most regularly exceeded – get ready for it – expectations.

So I ask, again, what can we expect? That there will be a target on their back and things won’t be easy. They’ve done nothing herculean to achieve 13-5, just won more than they lost, and perhaps remarkably so. That’s commendable. But is it time for things to normalize just as things begin to get particularly abnormal? This is a tournament and it’s a tournament that is populated by lots and lots of Arizona fans who think their team and their coach were the conference’s best. How do you think the Ducks will be received by that populace? The transformation of a neutral site into a hostile house of vitriol for doing nothing other than… a good job? I expect it to be tough. Within the vacuum of Pac-12 basketball, Oregon has had a fine year. They’ve exceeded expectations both statistically and narratively. March, however, is when the scope expands. When the target on your back isn’t viewed by the familiars of Beavers, Bruins, Cardinal, or Wildcats, but rather committees in small rooms.

Adam Butler (47 Posts)

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