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Oregon Basketball

Oregon MBB: Season Outlook

April 5, 2020
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The 2020-21 season will be different for the Oregon men’s team in at least one way.

For the first time in four years, the Ducks will need to find their way without the leadership of consensus all-American guard Payton Pritchard. They'll also lose – at minimum – Anthony Mathis and Shakur Juiston to graduation. However, they will add a couple of highly talented transfers who had to sit out this season, as well as a 4-star freshman guard and a frontcourt player who red-shirted.

Let's start with those transfers: junior Eric Williams Jr. from Duquesne and senor Eugene Omoruyi from Rutgers. Both are 6-6 forwards who can slide between the 3 and the 4. They offer versatility in an era when not only Dana Altman but coaches everywhere are moving to “positionless” systems.

Having athletes who can play three or even four spots makes a team so hard to defend and leads to fewer mismatches on defense. Every offensive set can look different that it’s difficult to figure out how to slow a team down.

It will be crucial that Omoruyi and Williams shoot the ball relatively well, as we saw Oregon struggle at times this past season when the wings and small forwards weren’t producing. You have to be able to space out teams in college basketball, and these two can do that; both averaged about 14 points a game in their previous season.

It should help as well that they have been scrimmaging with teammates for a full year. There’s still going to be a learning curve once they actually step onto the court, but they’ll come into the season well-prepared.

The incoming 2020 class is still a work in progress. At the moment, the Ducks have only one commit – 6-1, 160-pound 4-star point guard Jalen Terry -- but Oregon has been very active in exploring the transfer market. I have a feeling they’ll add one or two veterans, including one who would have to sit out for a season.

Oregon is still in the running for a few big name preps, including combo guard Jalen Green, the nation's No. 3 overall player. There were rumors Green could go pro, but over the past month there’s been a huge influx of predictions to Auburn.

Whatever happens with recruiting, Oregon brings back a ton of talent.

At guard, the Ducks expect to return combo junior Will Richardson, senior wing Chris Duarte and sophomore Addison Patterson. This group is über-talented, with a nice blend of experience and savvy. Richardson and Duarte should both be starters, with the fast-closing Patterson likely to push for more playing time.

Patterson flashed his potential toward the end of the season; he could develop along the lines of Dillon Brooks: a physical guard who doesn’t shy away from contact and can create his own shot off the dribble. He might never be an elite shooter, but he’ll be more than capable of knocking down threes at a solid rate.

Duarte and Richardson should be the team leaders – and probably be the go-to scorers as well. Both can shoot and attack the rim, and Richardson may have some of the best finishing moves in all of college basketball.

Joining the two transfers at forward are a trio of 6-8 players: Chandler Lawson, C.J. Walker and Lök Wur.

Lawson was a pleasant surprise who started multiple games and was solid all year. He may not have superstar potential, but he could be a fantastic 4-year player. He’s smart, plays tough defense and isn’t reckless with the basketball despite being a willing passer – three prerequisites to play much for Altman.

Walker, the most highly touted of the trio, had an interesting season in which he seemingly started to put it all together at the end of the nonconference schedule. Then an injury sidelined him for several games and he never recaptured that momentum.

Walker's wild athleticism burst through from from time to time, but there are a lot of little things he still has to improve. He needs a more consistent jumper and slightly better handles, and his decision-making was suspect on occasion.

In particular, there were times where he would pass the ball even when there was a lane to attack. At others, he would randomly decide to slash to the hoop with the defender was in the right position and a help-side defender on the way.

In the middle, Oregon should welcome back Francis Okoro and N’Faly Dante.

Okoro he was a guy who didn’t take the sophomore leap many expected he would. In a season where he was troubled by freak injury and family tragedy, consistency was lacking.

First off, Okoro needs softer hands. He didn’t secure a lot of rebounds that starting centers have to grab, and he had a tendency to fumble good passes. He needs to make sure he doesn’t commit those bad turnovers and become a more efficient rebounder.

Then there's Okoro's court vision. Numerous times this season, he’d have the ball with his back to the basket while one of the guards came open off a screen at the top of the key. Okoro would just straight up miss seeing those guys, and it cost them a lot of really easy buckets.

Dante is interesting because he has all of the physical tools necessary to dominate at the college level.

The former 5-star missed the season's first nine games when the NCAA didn't clear him after early graduation from high school. Oregon was just ramping up his minutes when he lost roughly a month and a half with a balky knee. Upon his return, Dante looked good, but not great. He could make your jaw drop, but he seldom looked consistently dominant.

An absolute wild card in all of this is 2019 signee Isaac Johnson. The 6-foot-11, 220-pounder signed with the Ducks but took his mission out of high school. Due to the Coronavirus we’ve seen these trips cancelled or cut short, a la Logan Sagapolu in football. This will be something to monitor moving forward as well. 

I believe that with another year in the program we could see the real Dante. He’ll become more confident in his ability to create shots. He’s already a decent passer, and his bulk and shot-blocking ability should translate to excellence on defense.

The 2020-21 Ducks are likely to take some time to gel. They have a ton of good pieces, but a lot of the players are awkward fits.

Altman is going to have to work some of his usual magic, but if he does this team has the required blend of talent and experience to repeat as Pac-12 champs and play deep into March.

 
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