Nobody saw this coming. Nobody at the beginning of the Pac-12 season could’ve predicted such dire straits for Oregon basketball. A month ago, the Ducks were near the top of the college basketball world. They started the season with 14 consecutive wins. They were ranked 10th nationally. They had just beaten Utah at the Huntsman Center in dramatic fashion. They were surely headed to the NCAA Tournament and were seen as the chief challenger for Arizona.
Now? Oregon looks like an NIT team more than anything. The Ducks are still in the conversation for a bid to the Big Dance, but only because of a nonconference cleanup that featured wins over Georgetown, Illinois, BYU and Mississippi. They are 3-6 in the Pac-12, 15-6 overall and sitting in ninth place heading into a road game on Thursday against Arizona.
Is loss to Cal just a blip?
San Diego State (19-1)
Should lock up No. 2 seed for NCAAs in the West
Cruising through WCC
New Mexico (17-4)
Love the frontcourt depth
Cobbs saved the day vs. Zona
Anderson = Most versatile player
Arizona State (16-6)
Carson back into form
Win over Texas keeping Big Dance hopes alive
Some big games ahead
Overall record lacking, but Wolf Pack 7-2 in MW
Bullied Utah on Saturday
Oregon State (13-8)
Robinson easing off hot seat
What’s happened to Oregon? Clearly, the Ducks miss Tony Woods more than anyone thought. The 7-footer from last year tried to do too much. He had bad hands. He thought he was a better offensive player than he really was. He often threw off Oregon’s chemistry.
But he was a rim protector, one of the best shot-blockers in the Pac-12. He was also one of the most athletic centers in the league. The Ducks sorely miss both of those attributes this season. Without him, they surrender the most points of any team in the league.
There are a number of other issues as well: Oregon’s been inconsistent at point guard; shooting guard Joe Young — one of the leading scorers in the league — has seen his level of play dip in conference games; the Ducks lack shooters; they aren’t nearly as physical as they were last season when they made the Sweet 16.
"We’ve got to get tough," Young told GoDucks.com "There are toughness plays we need to make that we don’t make."
This isn’t a unique situation; seemingly every year, teams that are beasts during the nonconference schedule flame out when the lights get the brightest. It’s not even unique to Oregon this season. If you look into Big 12 country, Oklahoma State is 4-5 during league play. The Cowboys were a top-five team in December, and they have Marcus Smart, one of the best players in the country.
Still, in spite of all that, the year isn’t over for the Ducks. There are nine games remaining in a Pac-12 that’s so jumbled in the middle that almost anyone can still make a run. But if Oregon is to dig itself out of the mud, coach Dana Altman has to find something that work for him. Is his best point guard Johnathan Loyd? Or is it Dominic Artis? Is Ben Carter the best guy to man the center spot? Or is it Richard Amardi? Is Mike Moser a small forward or a power forward?
These are questions that probably should be answered three quarters into the season. But the Ducks are still battling in part because Carter and Artis were suspended by the NCAA for the first nine games of the season. It’s not a stretch to say their inclusion into the lineup has caused chemistry issues, since all six of their defeats have come after their eligibility was restored.
There’s still time to turn it around. But amazingly, Oregon’s accomplished one thing not one person could’ve foreseen on Jan. 2 when it escaped Salt Lake City with that 70-68 overtime victory.
It’s now looked at as a bad loss for the Utes.
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.