Pac-12 Player of the Year Debate: Dillon Brooks vs. Ivan Rabb

Posted by Mike Lemaire & Adam Butler on November 11th, 2016

It isn’t often that you see a reigning conference Player of the Year return to school and not be considered the favorite to win it again. But such is life when you play in the same conference as a talent like California’s Ivan Rabb. Oregon’s Dillon Brooks is still the likely favorite to win the award again, but Rabb is almost universally considered the better NBA prospect. To make matters even more complicated, Brooks is returning from a foot injury. While Oregon doesn’t seem overly concerned that its star junior will miss a significant amount of time, it remains unclear when he will be back so speculation will continue. I believe Brooks will be back sooner rather than later and he will quickly return to his spot atop the conference food chain. Adam likes Brooks too — he just likes Rabb better. Let’s make the case for both.

The Case for Dillon Brooks

What Does Dillon Brooks Have In Store For An Encore Performance? (USA Today Images)

What Does Dillon Brooks Have In Store For An Encore Performance? (USA TODAY Images)

It would be easy to just state plainly that Brooks is the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year and thus should be the front-runner until proven otherwise. But it would be equally foolish to underestimate the development of a player as talented as Rabb, so let’s make the case for Brooks more thoroughly. The Toronto native is not the most efficient scorer, especially from downtown; he isn’t the best passer; he isn’t the perfect defender; and, he can disappear on the glass. But there isn’t any other player in the conference, Rabb included, who can claim to be above-average at all of those categories. Assuming he is healthy (and for now, at least, that is a big assumption), Brooks has a chance to rank among the top 10 in the Pac in scoring, assists, rebounding and steals. He has NBA size and athleticism, and if he can cut down on his turnovers and improve his shot selection, he could become a ruthlessly efficient and unstoppable offensive player. Rabb is without question a future lottery pick and almost certainly has the brighter NBA future, but he will never be able to stuff a stat sheet as completely as Brooks. He is the best player on the best team in the conference and his ability to create his own shot and guard multiple positions is the engine that powers Oregon. He should be able to improve on his numbers from last season and lead the Ducks to the conference crown. If he in fact does both, there will be nothing Rabb can do to stop the Brooks’ coronation ceremony. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Coach of the Year Debate: Dana Altman vs. Sean Miller

Posted by Mike Lemaire & Adam Butler on November 9th, 2016

There is no clear-cut favorite in this season’s race for Pac-12 Coach of the Year. Most pundits are picking Oregon‘s Dana Altman but it feels like he is winning by default. Altman has something working against him, though, which is that expectations are already sky high in Eugene. If Oregon wins the conference it may be because they were expected to win the conference, and if the Ducks underachieve, Altman will quickly fall out of the race. I still think that Altman is the right pick and the correct pick. Adam and his eternal soft spot for Sean Miller respectfully disagrees. Here’s the case for each.

The Case for Sean Miller

Sean Miller Has His Work Cut Out For Him This Season (USA Today Images)

Sean Miller Has His Work Cut Out For Him This Season (USA Today Images)

As of today we must acknowledge that we don’t know that status of Allonzo Trier. He’s pretty good at basketball and critical to Arizona‘s success this season. That said, if he misses extended time and the Wildcats still finish among the top three teams in this conference, it should only further cement Miller’s claim on Pac-12 Coach of the Year. Beyond the fact that the conference set a precedent of rewarding overachievers (all of the 2015 awards), Miller is poised to navigate a Pac-12 season with a group of talented players all of whom are in brand new experiences. Considering Altman returns 68 percent of the minutes played by his rotation last season and UCLA’s Steve Alford is only moving players into more natural positions, Miller will almost certainly have a larger impact on his team’s success that some of his counterparts. And in making this candidacy, I don’t want to paint the Wildcats as underdogs. They’re not. They’re ranked 10th nationally and even in the absence of Trier (and now, Ray Smith) they still rate as a top-30 team according to Sports Illustrated‘s What-If scenarios. Even with just eight scholarship players, none of whom has significant experience in their role, expectations are always lofty in Tucson. But Arizona only plays Oregon once (in Eugene) and has a schedule that is favorable so that this inexperienced, albeit loosely veteran, roster can have time to develop. Miller teams trend well late in the season and this is a group that likely won’t buck that trend.

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: How Quickly Can Dillon Brooks Get Healthy?

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 19th, 2016

It seems unfair to say that Oregon’s chances at competing for a National Title depend solely on the long-term health of Dillon Brooks, especially considering the sheer amount of talent and depth Dana Altman has stockpiled in Eugene. But then again, Brooks is no ordinary role player either. The Toronto, Ontario, native emerged as one of the best two-way players in the Pac-12 last season, averaging 16.7 points per game (47.0% FG) to go with 5.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game. He started in all 38 of the Ducks’ games and was the linchpin to Altman’s successful attempt at a nearly position-less rotation. He played as the team’s nominal power forward, but his NBA size and athleticism allowed him to easily guard multiple positions and a match-up nightmare on the other end of the floor. Although he laid a seven-point egg in the Elite Eight against Oklahoma, his performances in the Round of 32 against St. Joseph’s and in the Sweet Sixteen against Duke positioned him as a leading candidate for Pac-12 Preseason Player of the Year this season.

How will Oregon adapt without Brooks? (Photo Credit: Craig Strobeck)

How will Oregon adapt without Brooks? (Photo Credit: Craig Strobeck)

When Brooks withdrew his name from the NBA Draft in late May, it instantly made the Ducks a trendy 2017 title contender. That outlook, however, changed considerably when Altman casually mentioned in a summer conference call that Brooks had been held out of workouts because of a “problem with his foot.” Brooks had foot surgery two weeks later, and it became increasingly clear by August that he was going to miss part of the regular season. That shouldn’t be a major issue, though, as the Ducks are one of the few teams in the country with sufficient talent and depth to replace a player of Brooks’ caliber. If Altman wants to play small, he can feel confident in the trio of Casey Benson, Dylan Ennis, and Tyler Dorsey. If he prefers a larger lineup, versatile big men Chris Boucher, Jordan Bell, and JuCo transfer Kavell Williams-Bigby lead one of the country’s best stables of post players. If the team’s recent exhibition games in Spain were any indication, Altman plans to mix and match until he finds a rotation he is comfortable with, a luxury most coaches in the conference surely envy. But that depth won’t change the fact that Oregon will still be missing its best player on both ends of the floor.

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Where 2016-17 Happens: Reason #27 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 16th, 2016

As RTC heads into its 10th season — Season X, if you will — covering college basketball, it’s time to begin releasing our annual compendium of YouTube clips that we like to call Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball. These 30 snippets from last season’s action are completely guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on Friday, November 11. You can find all of this year’s released posts here.

#27 – Where Soaring Ducks Happen.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-132013-142014-15 and 2015-16 preseasons.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Oklahoma 80, #1 Oregon 68

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 26th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Buddy Hield Looked Like a Champion Today (USA Today Images)

Buddy Hield Looked Like a Champion Today (USA Today Images)

  1. Sure, Buddy’s Great, But There’s More. Don’t worry, we’re going to get to your National Player of the Year favorite, Buddy Hield, and his 37 points, in a moment. But there is so much more to Oklahoma than just a star shooter dropping threes in from 25 feet out. This is a complete team. The Sooners have at times this year had trouble on the glass at both end of the floor. Today, the entire team chipped in to help the relatively thin frontcourt compile a significant advantage on the glass, grabbing 42 percent of the available offensive rebounds. Freshman Christian James again provided a big spark from the wing, grabbing 10 boards of his own to aid the effort. Then there’s Hield’s backcourt mates Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard. They’re not as offensively explosive or as flashy as their more famous running mate, but both are highly efficient and always in control. While Hield definitely has the ability to carry the team for long stretches of time, there are more reasons than he that the Sooners are Final Four-bound.
  2. Oregon First Half Out of Sorts. Oregon wasn’t going to win with Buddy Hield playing so well regardless, but the Ducks didn’t do themselves any favors either. They seemed tentative throughout the first half, always a step late to loose balls. They had at least four mindless turnovers. They left points at the free throw line. And three-point shots just weren’t falling. Some of those struggles were certainly caused by the Sooners, who pressured the Ducks at the top of the key and took ball-handlers like Casey Benson, Tyler Dorsey and Dillon Brooks out of their rhythm. But after playing fast and loose against Duke on Thursday night, the Ducks couldn’t bring the same level of energy in this one. They gave up 15 second-chance points and 12 points off turnovers, building up an 18-point halftime deficit that they never had a realistic chance to erase.
  3. Three-Point Shooting and Dunks. In the first half, the Sooners put on an offensive clinic, scoring 1.33 points per possession by hitting threes and getting easy looks at the rim. Of their 36 first half field goal attempts, 14 came from three while an equal number came at the bucket. Oregon adjusted somewaht in the second half through better energy and help defense, limiting the Sooners to just three point-blank looks in the second half. The difference was apparent in the Sooners’ production, as they dipped to just 0.97 PPP in the second half. This isn’t exactly groundbreaking news, but preventing the Sooners from getting easy looks at the rim goes a long way towards limiting their oft-prolific offense.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Oregon 82, #4 Duke 68

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 24th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion

Three Key Takeaways.

Dillon Brooks and Oregon jammed their way past Duke. (Photo: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports)

Dillon Brooks and Oregon jammed their way past Duke. (Photo: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. The Oregon Way. Threes and layups. It’s not a new concept by any means, but Oregon sure runs it to perfection. In a seven-man rotation with a true point guard, two versatile bigs and four athletes who can both shoot and attack off the bounce, the Ducks have made an art out of basing their offense around the long ball and the short ball. For the season, they take about 42 percent of their shots at the rim, and roughly 34 percent from three-point range. Tonight, they were even better than those season averages, taking 23 threes (35 percent of their FGAs) and 28 shots that were either dunks or layups (45%), leaving just 13 (20%) of those inefficient two-point jumpers (they went just 3-13 on those attempts).
  2. Fast-Paced and Fun. In a game chock full of versatile and athletic basketball players (Brandon Ingram, Dillon Brooks, Grayson Allen, Elgin Cook, and on down the line), we saw the type of entertaining basketball we expected. In the halfcourt on both ends of the court, offenses effectively shared the ball and sought out offensive mismatches to exploit. Both defenses trapped to try to slow their opponent down and force turnovers. If defenders were beat off the bounce, there were rim protectors (especially on the Oregon side) waiting to attempt to clean up the mistakes. And the dunks. My lord the dunks. Of those 28 Duck dunk or layup attempts we mentioned above, Oregon converted 19 of them, often in spectacular fashion.
  3. Casey Benson. He’s the quiet man on the Duck team. He’s not going to be playing above the rim. He’s not often going to be among the high scorers on his team (tonight’s 11-point effort was just his fifth double-digit scoring effort this season). But man, he just doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. Tonight, he had one awful first-half turnover, but other than that he was nearly perfect. Benson knocked in three threes, got to the rim for a layup for an additional hoop, handed out eight dimes while facilitating constant ball movement, and generally ran his team to perfection.

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Bracket Prep: West Region

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 14th, 2016

bracketprep22

On Monday and Tuesday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: Monday (East and West); Tuesday (South and Midwest). Here, Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) breaks down the West Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC West Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCwestregion).

Region: West

Courtesy of SI.com

Courtesy of SI.com

Favorite: Oregon, #1, 28-6. Maybe there are college basketball fans back east that go to sleep early and haven’t seen the Ducks this season. And maybe some fans out west have chosen to ignore the Pac-12 Network. Because there are some people who are surprised that the Ducks are a #1 seed. But news for the uninformed: Oregon is really, really good. KenPom ranks Oregon as the fifth-most efficient offensive team in college basketball. It’s a squad built around a seven-man rotation that is dedicated to truly positionless basketball. Everybody on the team can handle and pass; just about everyone can take their defender off the bounce; most are capable of knocking in jumpers at a high rate. But where the Ducks have morphed from a good team into a great one is on the defensive end. With two elite shot-blockers in Chris Boucher and Jordan Bell anchoring the back line, quick and aggressive athletes swarming the perimeter and offering help defense, and a savvy defensive tactician on the sideline in Dana Altman, Oregon is capable of taking away a team’s best options, forcing turnovers (on better than 20 percent of opponents’ offensive possessions) and converting easy (and often spectacular) transition opportunities. There are without a doubt teams in this region that can beat Oregon, but the Ducks should be favored in every game between now and Houston.

These Ducks Are Strong (John Locher, AP)

These Ducks Are Strong. (John Locher, AP)

Should They Falter: Oklahoma, #2, 31-3. If your team has a National Player of the Year candidate like Buddy Hield, shoots 42.6 percent (second in the nation) from three-point range, plays solid defense and also has one of the nation’s best coaches in Lon Kruger, it has a chance to go very far in this NCAA Tournament. After starting the season 15-1 (with the only loss a triple-overtime epic to Kansas), the Sooners have cooled by going 10-6 down the stretch against strong Big 12 competition. But when things are going good for Oklahoma (and they are often going good), the Sooners can play with any team in the country. Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard are the flashy names, but big men Kadeem Lattin and Ryan Spangler do the dirty work that can help win tight games in March.

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Two Angles on Last Night’s Oregon/Arizona Classic

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) and Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 12th, 2016

On Friday night in Las Vegas, Oregon outlasted Arizona in stunning fashion, withstanding a furious comeback to win in overtime. Below are two perspectives on the outcome, coming from each team’s perspective.

On Arizona

What Arizona has leaned on all season long is its distinct advantage in the frontcourt. It’s a traditional looking lineup the Wildcats roll out there, which is neither right nor wrong; it’s what they have. Against Oregon, that might not cut it. Because to contextualize what the Ducks have all over its roster, they have innumerable small forwards. Arizona has none (or a few who are limited). When considering matchups, this is a tough one, arguably, for both teams. But Ryan Anderson was neutralized, Kaleb Tarczewski isn’t an offensive threat, and the rest of the team could be bullied by the mismatches. It’s what allowed Oregon to effectively win the game in the final minutes of the first half.

Mark Tollefsen Missed Just One Shot On Friday Night, But He's Probably Still Thinking About That One (Daily Wildcat)

Mark Tollefsen Missed Just One Shot On Friday Night, But He’s Probably Still Thinking About That One (Daily Wildcat)

So naturally: what a ball game! We can exhaust the narrative of MARCH MADNESS but there’s a reason the damn line stands. Mark Tollefesen had two free throws with 0.4 seconds remaining to win the contest. To win the game. He didn’t win the game. And consider the box score. The Wildcats had 27 offensive rebounds and 27 second chance points. The Ducks had 24 points off of 15 (not a terrible number) Arizona turnovers. The Wildcats were a free throw make by an 83 percent foul shooter from winning a game in which – at that point – they had abysmal performances from  Anderson and Gabe York.

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Handing Out Pac-12 Superlatives

Posted by Mike Lemaire (@Mike_Lemaire) & Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 8th, 2016

With another Pac-12 season now in the books, it’s time to put a bow on the regular season before we all head to the various pool parties and blackjack tables in Vegas (cue Bill Walton: “Please. Las Vegas!). Let’s hand out all the traditional awards below, listing the top candidates followed by the rationale for our picks. Let’s get right to it.

Player of the Year

  • Ryan Anderson, Sr, Arizona: 15.8 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 118.5 ORtg, 24.8% of possessions, 56.9 eFG%
  • Dillon Brooks, Soph, Oregon: 16.7 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.2 SPG, 111.5 ORtg, 26.3% of poss, 51.4 eFG%
  • Gary Payton II, Sr, Oregon State: 15.9 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 5.3 APG, 2.4 SPG, 111.5 ORtg, 27.0% of poss, 50.8 eFG%
  • Jakob Poeltl, Soph, Utah: 17.5 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.6 BPG, 127.1 ORtg, 25.9% of poss, 65.3 eFG%
  • Josh Scott, Sr, Colorado: 16.5 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.7 BPG, 121.5 ORtg, 23.5% of poss, 53.6 eFG%

 

Jakob Poeltl's Excellence At Both Ends Of The Court Makes Him The Clear Cut Pac-12 POY (Charlie Riedel, AP)

Jakob Poeltl’s Excellence At Both Ends Of The Court Makes Him The Clear Cut Pac-12 POY (Charlie Riedel, AP)

Andrew Murawa: That’s a pretty solid five-man first team (with guys like Jaylen Brown, Andrew Andrews and Chris Boucher also having arguments for inclusion). But there is one player from this group who stands above the rest, as Jakob Poeltl has been the best offensive player in this conference, ranks among the handful of best defensive players, and has been a rock in leading the Utes to a second-place finish.

Mike Lemaire: My heart wants to pick Gary Payton II, but my head knows the right pick here is Poeltl. The big man has put together a season that rivals that of any Pac center in the past two decades. He is among the league leaders in nearly every statistical category and is the focal point of the Utes’ game plan on both ends of the floor. It isn’t a coincidence that Poeltl is playing his best basketball of the season as Utah has gotten hot.

Coach of the Year

  • Dana Altman, Oregon: 25-6, 14-4
  • Larry Krystkowiak, Utah: 24-7, 13-5
  • Cuonzo Martin, California: 22-9, 12-6
  • Sean Miller, Arizona: 24-7, 12-6

AM: Last year, Dana Altman received the official Pac-12 COY award in somewhat controversial (hey, Tucson) fashion, earning the nod over Sean Miller despite finishing behind him in the standings. This year, arguments can be made for any of the four coaches at the top of the league, but this award should belong to Altman. While yours truly has ranked Oregon as the Best in the West since August, the Ducks were picked fourth by the media. And that was before would-be senior point guard Dylan Ennis missed all but 21 minutes this season because of a foot injury. Altman patched together a seven-man rotation from disparate sources and coached them up to become the best team in the conference. Winning 14 games in such a competitive league this season is commendable.

ML: There are many different ways to evaluate Coach of the Year, but I prefer to pick one based on how his team performed relative to expectations. Parity in the conference meant there was no such coach this season, so, with apologies to Lorenzo Romar, this award should go to the coach of the best team: Dana Altman. He is the architect of one of the better two-way teams in the country and has done so while breaking in a new starting lineup. He is both the most deserving and a semi-obvious choice.

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The ABCs Of Why Oregon Is A Final Four Contender

Posted by Mike Lemaire on February 11th, 2016

We’ve been wanting to write about Oregon since the Ducks beat Arizona in Tucson two weeks ago, but coming up with new angles to discuss how good Dana Altman’s team has become is tricky. For the first time since Altman took over the program in 2010, the team is starting to garner real national attention. That of course means that most of the stories about the team’s patchwork roster and intriguing backstories have already been told. Still, the Ducks deserve all the publicity and attention they can get and we on the microsite have been severely lacking in that department, so we decided to make up for it. Rather than regurgitate observations that have already been analyzed to death, though, we instead used the entire alphabet to explain why the Ducks are legitimate Final Four contenders.

Note: This was not as easy as it might look, so we are asking for forgiveness on some of our more obvious reaches.

A is for Altman: It wasn’t very long ago that Oregon was in the middle of an ugly sexual assault scandal and some were calling for Altman’s job. Now he is coaching the best team in the conference and is in consideration for several national coaching awards as well. He gets plenty of criticism for his continued reliance on transfers, especially those from junior college, but players like Chris Boucher, Dwayne Benjamin and Elgin Cook are silencing those critics. He has also made a concerted effort to make his team adaptable and that shows in his willingness to switch up defensive schemes and tinker with lineups. It has all come together this season and now we are watching Altman’s vision come to life.

B is for Blocks: The Ducks do a lot of this, as they are tied with St. John’s for the second-highest block percentage in the country. That elite rim protection is a big reason why Oregon is way more efficient on the defensive end of the floor this season. Boucher leads the country in blocks per game (3.4) and it would be foolish to forget that sophomore Jordan Bell – who is finally rounding into form – was the conference’s best shot-blocker last season.

Chris Boucher, Casey Benson And The Ducks Are Halfway Home To A Pac-12 Title (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

Chris Boucher Has Been a Game-Changing Rim Protector                                                     (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

C is for Canada: Altman and Oregon have been luring players from north of the border to Eugene for years now (remember Jason Calliste and Devoe Joseph?) but recently he has outdone himself. Ontario native Dillon Brooks is on the short list of PAC-12 Player of the Year candidates, while Montreal product Boucher may be the team’s best NBA prospect. The Ducks’ Canadian flavor would grow even stronger if Dylan Ennis, another Ontario product, were healthy.

D is for Dillon: Brooks has always been considered a good player but the sophomore has raised both his game and draft stock this season. Oregon has made a conscious effort to run its offense through the versatile Brooks, and he’s responded by averaging 16.9 points per game, shooting 48% from the floor, and grabbing 6.0 rebounds per game. He also averages 3.2 assists per game and shoots 80 percent from the free-throw line. He is still a limited shooter from three-point range and can be sloppy with the ball, but the Ducks wouldn’t be nearly as good as they are now if Brooks wasn’t in the midst of a breakout season.

E is for Ennis: The very definition of a college basketball journeyman, Ennis was supposed to use his last year of eligibility to run the Ducks’ offense this season. Instead, a lingering foot issue sidelined him for the rest of the season. He’s likely played his final minute of college basketball, as the NCAA is expected to reject his appeal for a medical redshirt. But rather than sulk or drop out of school, Ennis has been front and center as the team’s biggest cheerleader. That type of support and loyalty can make subtle, crucial differences in team morale.

F is for Frontcourt: The loss of Ennis has left a gaping hole in the depth of the team’s backcourt, but Oregon makes up for it with a frontcourt that may feature the best grouping of five forwards in the country. Boucher and Brooks need no further explanation, but Bell is a defensive monster who is still shaking off the rust from missing the first portion of the season. Senior Dwayne Benjamin isn’t a great rebounder but makes up for it with his floor-stretching shooting talents, while fellow senior Elgin Cook is the perfect swing forward, capable of filling in wherever necessary. Oh and don’t think Cook is just a role player; he is currently Oregon’s second leading scorer.

G is for Gimmes: The importance of succeeding at the free-throw line can never be understated. While the Ducks are shooting six percent worse from the charity stripe this season than they did last (76 percent has come down to 70 percent), the percentage of free-throw attempts in relation to field-goal attempts has risen sharply, from 28 percent to 40 percent. Oregon is getting to the free-throw line far more often, which is a big reason why the offense has been able to overcome its long-range shooting issues. If anything, it might be worth trying to get to the line even more often.

H is for Homecourt Advantage: Here’s the first letter that demanded a real stretch! Considering the Ducks play in a 12,000-seat arena and can barely muster an average of 8,000 fans for conference home games, the fans may not deserve too much praise. But the crowd is starting to come back (with an assist from the school athletic department) and the team is noticing and responding. The Ducks have yet to lose in Eugene and with just three manageable home dates remaining on the schedule (vs. Oregon State, Washington, and Washington State), it doesn’t seem likely they will this season.

I is for Idolization: The second stretch of the piece! But idolization is a pretty good word for Ducks’ guard Casey Benson‘s fascination with watching his brother play. The elder Benson (T.J.) played at Weber State and now coaches at Grand Canyon University, so the younger Benson had a pretty good mentor to learn from. The younger Benson is one of the best decision-makers in college basketball and has become an unexpected linchpin in one of the nation’s most efficient offenses.

J is for Jumpers: Oregon makes a fair amount of them (its 53.3 percent shooting on two-point field goal attempts is best in the conference) and last we checked, making shots is an important part of becoming a good basketball team.

K is for Knight: It is pretty near impossible to mention the success of Oregon athletics without pointing out that a big part of that success is Nike chairman Phil Knight’s deep pockets and profound love for the school’s sports teams. Matthew Knight Arena is a gleaming testament to both Phil’s son and his own generosity. It may also be the coolest court in college basketball.

Knight

Matthew Knight Arena’s Hardwood Is As Distinctive As Any In College Basketball

L is for Luck: According to hoop-math.com, opponents took 418 field goals in transition against Oregon last season and roughly 38 percent of those attempts came from downtown. Opponents made just 30.8 percent of those shots. This season, opponents have taken 255 field goals in transition (basically the same per game average as last season) and once again roughly 38 percent of those attempts have come from downtown. Opponents are now making 44.4 percent of those attempts, however. Oregon can definitely stand to tighten things up in that area, but that number screams regression. If and when that luck runs out, Oregon’s already solid defense might start looking even more efficient.

M is for Mennenga: As in assistant coach Mike Mennenga. Mennenga is in his second season as an assistant in Eugene but his strong ties to Toronto (he used to be a youth basketball coach there) are a big reason why Oregon is so popular with players from up north. We already explained how important Canada has been to Oregon’s success this season, so it is only fair we give Mennenga his due, as well. 

N is for Newcomers: Since Altman took over for Ernie Kent, the roster has seen an average of nearly eight new players each season. This season isn’t the best example of the constant turnover – in part because we never got to see Ennis play extended minutes – but at the risk of sounding redundant, Boucher and Dorsey have worked out pretty well. It takes a gifted coach and stable program to successfully integrate new players year after year. Oregon does it better than almost anyone else.

O is for Opportunity: At the risk of being a buzzkill, it is worth pointing out that there are no dominant teams in college basketball this season. This leaves a very large open window of opportunity for Oregon (and every other team out there) to climb through. If this were last season, Oregon might not even be the first or second best team in the conference, let alone the country. This is nothing to be ashamed of, but let’s not pretend it doesn’t have a big impact on Oregon’s potential tournament success.

P is for Playing Time: Ducks’ freshman Tyler Dorsey was originally committed to conference rival Arizona. But when Arizona took a commitment from Justin Simon and offered other guards, Dorsey knew his potential playing time was in jeopardy and reopened his commitment before eventually landing at Oregon. Playing time was unlikely to be the only reason Dorsey made the switch, but the point is moot now. Dorsey is suiting up for Oregon and is the team’s third-leading scorer and best outside shooter, shooting better than 40 percent from three-point range.

Q is for Quack: You know, like a Duck?

R is for Reckless: One would think that a rotation primarily comprising first or second year players would be more reckless. But in fact the opposite is true, as Oregon takes better care of the ball than almost any team in the country. Casey Benson has turned the ball over just seven times in more than 300 minutes of conference play and Boucher has just nine turnovers in nearly as many minutes. The Ducks lead the conference in turnover margin (+2.88) and are 26th best in the country in the category (ninth best among Power 5 schools).

A Casey Benson Turnover is a Rare Sight These Days

A Casey Benson Turnover is a Rare Sight These Days (Photo: John Sperry, 247Sports)

S is for Stubblefield: As in longtime Altman sidekick and ace recruiter Tony Stubblefield. Hired away from Cincinnati, Stubblefield has been the program’s best recruiter and is at least partially responsible for the commitment of Dorsey last year. He was also the primary recruiter of Oak Hill Academy forward Trevor Manuel, and 247 Sports credits him with successfully enrolling Cook and Brooks in years past.

T is for Transition Defense: Oregon opponents’ effective field-goal percentage in transition is 58.5 percent. This is in part due to the aforementioned problems defending the three-point arc, but what might be news to some is that Oregon ranks among the top 40 teams in the country in percentage of total field goals attempted in transition (18.3%) and effective field-goal percentage defense in non-transition situations (44.4%). In summation, Oregon is good at preventing opponents’ transition opportunities and is really good at defending when the opponents aren’t getting transition opportunities. This is a reminder to Dana Altman to get that transition perimeter defense cleaned up STAT.

U is for Unicorns: Unicorn was the most apt description for the type of once-in-a-generation talent and athlete Kevin Durant was and still is. Now it is being used, albeit slightly more moderately, to describe the 6’10”, 190-pound athletic freak that is Chris Boucher. There aren’t too many players in college basketball with the versatility to block seven shots and make four three-pointers in the same game. Boucher did it against Arizona State on Jan. 31. He is 23 and is essentially a walking string bean, but his arrival has been an obvious boon on both ends of the floor for the Ducks.

V is for Versatility: And versatility is something Oregon has in spades. Take a look at Oregon’s most frequently used lineups over the last five games and you will see Altman experiments with different combinations liberally. Every player in the rotation also plays more than one position. This is not coincidental. Altman readily admits that versatility is an important part of his recruiting strategy and that position-less basketball is the aim. Almost all of the Ducks are matchup problems for the opposition (especially Brooks) and that ability to play different roles is a big reason why the offense is so efficient.

W is for Warriors: To continue that thought, we won’t pretend the Ducks’ attempts to mimic the Warriors’ position-less defense is perfect. Oregon still has issues on the glass and defending the perimeter. But it is interesting to see how many similar pieces Oregon is working with. This excellent analysis of the Warriors’ ground-breaking defense can be applied to Oregon as well (to a lesser degree, obviously). The Ducks have no defensive footprint and can play man-to-man or zone depending on what suits them. They can switch on defense without worrying about size mismatches with Boucher serving as the Bogut-esque anchor. Brooks also has the potential to be an Iguodala-lite disruptor on defense. These similarities may not be perfect, but their potential existence is a definite good thing.

X is for X: This is one of those skip questions on the test and we will take the “X”.

Y and Z: Uhhhh, seems like we ran out of gas. We got nothing. Dana Altman has to hope his team has a more successful finishing flourish in them this March than we did here. And if you read all the way from A through W, you know the Ducks just might.

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