Sunday, November 26, 2006

SEASON ON THE BRINK - OREGON BASKETBALL

The most interesting basketball team in the country hails from Eugene, Oregon - a team full of immense talents and outrageous head cases, led by an alum who has turned everyone in the community against him through arrogant behavior and a wandering jimmystick. Coming to a Big Top near you, the three ring circus that is the Oregon Ducks!

Good news: Well, for starters they have more offensive talent than anyone this side of Westwood and Tucson. Aaron Brooks is maddeningly inconsistent, but when he's on he's as good a pure point guard as any in the conference. Chamberlain Oguchi has the best name in the conference and is money from beyond the arc; he can be a good defender when he puts in the effort. Malik Hairston (left) hasn't played yet this year due to a groin injury, but he's the team's top returning scorer (15.0 ppg) and one of the few Ducks who seemed to play hard all of last year. Maarty Leunen is a rebounding fool at PF who was bothered by a gimpy ankle for much of 2005-6.

According to RPI guru Ken Pomeroy, Oregon was the 2nd unluckiest team in the country last year. We'll get into Pomeroy's ratings in a subsequent piece, but he's picking the Ducks as his dark horse team to go deep in the postseason.

Bad news: Ernie Kent recruits big men like Ben Braun recruits point guards - only occasionally, and with mixed results. Mitch Platt returns from a medical redshirt year at the five spot, but behind him and Leunen there ain't much. So far Platt has come off the bench and Kent has started 6'5" swingman Bryce Taylor at the 4, with Leunen at the 5. Adam Zahn started last year, but hasn't seen the court much in '06. That's a really small team, and all the perimeter scoring in the world won't help them beat the bigger teams in the Pac. The Ducks have one true center in junior Ray Schafer, and he's not much of a threat. Jordan Kent (son of the HC) will add athleticism at SG once the Ducks are done playing in their miserable bowl game.

Then there's the other stuff. Oregon was so dysfunctional last year that the players held a players-only meeting, and didn't invite Jordan Kent. The Ducks openly loathe their head coach (and, apparently, his kid) and usually play with the cohesion and togetherness of their professional counterparts in Portland. Kent has helped dig his own grave with, er, questionable personal behavior including a lost weekend "recruiting" in Mexico and several allegations of infidelity. Unless he both wins and improves the atmosphere around himself and the program, this is his last year in Eugene.

New faces: Tajuan Porter is Oregon's answer to Jerome Randle - a 5'6" freshman who's very quick and will back up Brooks at the point. Juco transfer Josh Akwenuke will provide minutes at the three. Big body Joevan Catron may be called on to help inside given how thin Oregon is up front.

Prediction: Fourth place. We're in the camp who thinks Oregon might pull it together this year and surprise some people. They are very athletic, with the best perimeter game in the conference. Bigger teams will give them trouble, but the Ducks are likely to outscore most opponents. It would not surprise us, though, if the wheels completely came off this team, and they finished seventh and out of the postseason money. The Ducks' first big test comes Wednesday at Georgetown.

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