Pac-12 media members have narrowly voted the Oregon Ducks as the team to beat in the conference this season. There’s plenty of reasons to be high on them as Dana Altman is a great coach and always finds ways for his teams to success each season.
However, he and the Ducks are facing several tough obstacles this season. He has some eligibility issues with the jewel of his recruiting class in N’Faly Dante and will have some fresh faces he has to integrate into the team with transfers coming in as well.
Here are the three reasons why the Ducks won’t win the Pac-12 regular season as they did in 2016 and 2017.
3. The rest of the conference has drastically improved
The Pac-12 was very much a “down” conference last season, but it has done a considerably better job of recruiting for the 2019 cycle and should have some of its regular powerhouses back to full power.
Arizona brought in a superb recruiting class and they will definitely challenge Oregon for Pac-12 supremacy this season. Colorado also cannot be overlooked as they bring back a ton of talent that got hot at the end of last season. With another season of chemistry under their belts, these Buffs are primed to win the conference for the very first time.
Washington shouldn’t be overlooked either as they won the conference last year. They lost some talent in Matisse Thybulle, Noah Dickerson, David Crisp, Dominic Green and Jaylen Nowell to either graduation or the draft. However, they recruited a top-10 class for the 2019 cycle and bring in such talents as Isaiah Stewart, Jaden McDaniels and RaeQuan Battle who should all contribute immediately. They will also have former Kentucky point guard Quade Green available to them at the start of January since he transferred mid-season last year.
The USC Trojans also brought in an impressive recruiting class both by volume and quality. They landed two top-25 players in Isaiah Mobley and Onyeka Okongwu as well as four other recruits. They also landed two transfers who will be immediately eligible in Daniel Utimi from Akron and Quinton Adlesh from Columbia. While Arizona State might have lost Luguentz Dort to the NBA Draft and Zylan Cheatham to graduation, they bring back key players like Romello White, Remy Martin, Rob Edwards, Taeshon Cherry and Kimani Lawrence. They are also bringing in a top-40 recruiting class that could see some major minutes on the floor this season.
That is just the top half of the conference, but it should still look considerably better than last season when it became a race for second only a few weeks into conference play.
2. Early season struggles could derail rest of the year
It’s no secret that coach Dana Altman struggles with integrating new players into his system. He will be doing plenty of that this season with Chris Duarte transferring in from Northwest Florida State College where he was named the NJCAA Player of the Year and Anthony Mathis coming in from new Mexico as a graduate transfer. Altman will also have to work in freshmen C.J. Walker and Chandler Lawson.
That’s not even including N’Faly Dante who won’t be eligible for the first nine games due to NCAA eligibility issues. Once he gets back, his first game could be against Michigan and that’s not going to be a game to ease himself back into playing form.
While Altman has been great about getting all of his players to gel later in the season, this is the year he can afford for that to happen too late. The conference is just too good (as explained above) to try to come from behind in the standings and make a push in mid-February. If the Ducks take too long to harmonize, it could cost them too many games in the Pac-12 standings and put their chances at a first-place finish in jeopardy.
While this team will have plenty of offensive firepower, it will have to prove that it can play solid defense as well. With Kenny Wooten gone, there is no obvious successor to take over as an elite rim protector. While the Ducks will rely heavily on a zone defense — as they have done the last few seasons — there is no one quite big or agile enough to make up ground like Wooten or Bol Bol did (for the limited time he was available).
1. The Ducks lack major depth off the bench
As mentioned earlier, the Oregon Ducks are likely to play a ton of zone defense. This will be done to both prevent picking up bad fouls and to pace the game in their favor. By playing zone, the game will slow down and the offensive tempo for Altman’s teams has been steadily complementing that strategy.
Here is the correlation of adjusted tempo and defensive zone scheming for the Ducks since the 2013-14 season:
h/t Three Man Weave
As you can see, as the Ducks have gotten slower on offense, they have been spending more time in a zone too. This will help keep the rotation down to likely seven or eight players as they won’t be gasping for air in an uptempo system.
However, a loss to a starter or key rotation player will mean some freshmen have to step up and Altman is not likely going to be ready for that considering how much time he takes to get his teams to develop chemistry together.
Oregon’s recruiting class is solid, but there really aren’t any players ready to significantly contribute outside of N’Faly Dante.