Since We Last Spoke: Oregon

Kevin Danna brings his updated insights and observations heading into Sunday afternoon's home contest versus the Oregon Ducks at Maples Pavilion.

The road is where contenders stand out and pretenders fall back. Any solid team can win two home games in a weekend against middling conference competition, like Stanford did against the LA schools Thursday and Saturday. But now they hit the road for two games in the Beaver State, taking on the Beavers' bitter rivals first.

Oregon rolled into this season fresh off a CBI championship the spring before and was considered a sleeper team by many as a result; especially with highly-touted Bay Area prospect Jabari Brown comin' to town. The Oakland kid was supposed to be a game-changer for Dana Altman's team.

Now Brown is enrolled at a school that knocked off the Ducks in the non-conference the previous two seasons (Mizzou).

Brown's transfer after two games was hardly the end of the world for Green and Yellow. The non-conference slate left no surprises: losses to a couple of V schools that are currently ranked or were ranked at the time of the game and BYU; a win over it's-gonna-be-a-long-season-in-our-new-digs-Nebraska and a bunch of low-to-mid-major schools.

As a result, I wasn't sure what to make of this team after 12 games. The Washington weekend gave me a few more clues as to how good this team could be by being the only Pac-12 school to win a road game in the opening conference weekend thanks to a 17-point beating of the Cougs. But followed that up with a 16-point loss at Washington in which they looked very solid at spots, and completely lost on defense in others. Considering how both Washington schools have performed thus far, the Ducks sort of held serve again. This team has certainly improved from last season and will be significantly tougher in conference for the other 11; it's just tough to discern how much better they are.

Oh those Quackers.

They have been pretty helter-skelter on offense. The Ducks scored fewer than 60 points in three of their last four non-conference games, but then nailed 69 percent of their shots en route to a 92-spot against Wazzu. The encore? A 32 percent output on their way to 60 (granted, UW is significantly better, their 8-5 record at the time be damned).  They had some pretty rough moments defensively in that game, too.

Washington is a team that is going to get theirs, but the Huskies were able to get wide open looks time after time from beyond the arc, whether it was in the flow of the offense, in transition or even off in-bounds passes. U-Dub was able to shoot 55 percent from downtown as a result, led by Wilcox's 6-8 long range performance. The Ducks' guards were also unable to stay in front of Tony Wroten, who was able to get to the hoop at ease all night long (but I'm not sure anybody will be able to stay in front of that Super Frosh).

On the individual front, the Ducks are led in scoring by Tubby transfer Devoe Joseph at 13 per ever since he has been eligible, but he rarely got off a good shot in a 1-13 outing against the Dawgs - his first single-digit scoring game in the eight he has played as a Quack. He can score though, and I wouldn't expect this to be an extended slump.

Singler and Sim are two guys that have gotten better with each year in a Duck uniform. Kyle's little bro has shown a lot of toughness this year and almost single-handedly kept the Ducks in the game against Washington for a stretch in the first half; he reminded me a lot of Kyle at spots in that game with some tough rebounds combined with the athleticism to make some nice moves in traffic. Sim is a spot-up guy who will make a defense pay if he can hide in the corner, catch the pass, and release. He makes the kind of shots that will force an opposing coach on the road to call a timeout; those are the shots that can cap a run to get the crowd in frenzy. If the Ducks make any sort of extended run on Thursday, Sim would be the one player to stay closest to defensively.

But my favorite part of this Duck squad is their front court. They might not have the most recognizable or best group of forwards and centers in the Pac, but Olu Ashaolu and Tony Woods are two guys to take very seriously.

Olu is not bashful around the rim - the 6'7'' Louisiana Tech transfer had five dunks against Washington State as part of a 23-point, ten-rebound performance.  And these aren't stiff dunks that you see from a lot of forwards. They are these kinds of dunks: Dunk #1, Dunk #2, Dunk #3.  As the last clip shows, he doesn't have to get the ball on the block to be effective. He appeared to injure his finger in the latter stages of the Washington game, but he should be good to go.

Woods is the guy I enjoy watching play most - an all-hustle big man who does the little things so damn well: boxes out, contests shots without fouling by going straight up, and knows his role on offense (screen and otherwise stay out of the way unless the easy dunk is there). Plus, big surprise for a guy on Altman's squad - he's a transfer (Wake Forest), one of seven overall, with this transfer situation being a little different, and not in a good way.

It has been two years in a row for the Cardinal in getting a victory in Eugene. Last year, it was in great thanks to Josh Owens' best collegiate performance to date with 31 points and 11 rebounds.  It's going to be tougher on Owens this year now that he has to go up against a 6'11'' Woods, Ashaolu, or Tyrone Nared, who should be back from a knee injury. But if the Card can get him the ball consistently, Josh will have his looks. Owens has been able to mix up his post moves very well these past few games, and it's going to take that same approach to keep the Ducks' bigs honest.

In a conference where every home game feels like a must-win and every road trip needs at least a split, the Ducks will come out firing after their loss at Cal on Thursday. Hopefully, the Cardinal will be ready for the challenge as they look to improve their postseason resume.
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