Dana Altman

Is Oregon ready to contend in the Pac-12?

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The Pac-12 power structure has been a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma (myrinigma?) for the past three seasons. Last year, the league sent Cal to the First Four, where the Bears promptly lost to the USF Bulls, and new member Colorado to an 11 seed and a single upset win over UNLV. Next year is anyone’s guess.

So why not Oregon? The school struggled, flopped and flailed after firing Ernie Kent a couple of years back, and somehow still ended up with an excellent coach in Dana Altman. The resourceful former Creighton and Kansas State honcho put his first small-ball team together with spit and duct tape and proceeded to a 21-18 record and a CBI title. The next season, he upped the ante with a 24-10 record and a trip to the NIT. If the pattern holds, the NCAA tournament is next, right?

Of course, it doesn’t work that way. Altman lost top recruit Jabari Brown to Missouri after just two games as a Duck, and top scorer Devoe Joseph has graduated, along with four other seniors. On the plus side of the ledger, E.J. Singler (younger brother of former Dukie Kyle) will be stepping into a senior leadership role, and Altman has brought in top prep point guard Dominic Artis to compete for a starting spot right out of the gate. Power forward Ben Carter will team with slasher Damyean Dotson and junior college shooter Devon Branch to fill out a quartet of new players in Eugene. Rivals.com has moved the Ducks up to 30th in the recruiting rankings for next season.

Oregon bloggers Addicted to Quack make a fair point that Altman must recruit and retain top in-state talent if he expects his team to continue to climb the mountain. Kentucky’s 2012 title run was partly fueled by Oregonians Kyle Wiltjer and Terrence Jones, and runner-up Kansas claimed Landen Lucas from the state’s recruiting class of 2012.

Altman is pushing the Ducks in the right direction, and his early results — back-to-back 20-win seasons — are encouraging. Next season may be a struggle, or it might bring a return relevance for the Ducks. Altman seems like the right coach to bring about a change in culture in Eugene, so it will be interesting to find out if he gets enough latitude to make things happen.

VIDEO: Duke’s Grayson Allen beats No. 7 Virginia at the buzzer

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Notre Dame’s Steve Vasturia sparks come-from-behind win over No. 13 Louisville

Notre Dame’s Steve Vasturia (32) goes up for a shot over Boston College’s Idy Diallo (4) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
(AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
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Demetrius Jackson scored 20 of his 25 points in the first half and Steve Vasturia scored 15 of his 20 points in the final 20 minutes as Notre Dame landed a 71-66 win over No. 13 Louisville on Saturday afternoon.

The Fighting Irish trailed by as many as 11 points early in the second half, but Vasturia’s hot shooting combined with Notre Dame holding Louisville to just 15 points in the final 15 minutes made all the difference.

The Fighting Irish are not as good as they were last season, but they are built in a similar mold. Jackson, as we expected, as become one of the nation’s most dynamic point guards, impossible to slow-down in isolation and ball-screen actions. Steve Vasturia emerging as a legitimate secondary option offensively and Zach Auguste is one of the nation’s most underrated big men and one of the most dangerous as the roll-man in ball-screens.

Combine all of that with a handful of shooters creating space and Bonzie Colson’s emergence as a force on the offensive glass, and Mike Brey once again has one of the nation’s most lethal offensive attacks.

Where they struggle is on the defensive end of the floor, which is what makes the end of Saturday’s win so meaningful. The Irish entered the day ranked 232nd in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, which more or less means they’re as good as a bad mid-major program at keeping their opponents from scoring.

But they don’t have to be great to be able to win games.

They have to be good enough and they have to get important stops.

That’s precisely what happened on Saturday.

Whether or not that actually becomes a trend for this group will be something to monitor — it happened for Duke during last year’s NCAA tournament — but the bottom-line is this: Notre Dame does something better than just about anyone else in college basketball, and that’s score the ball.

On the nights they are able to gets some stops, they are going to be able to win some games. In the last eight days, they’ve proven that, beating North Carolina, Clemson on the road and Louisville.

And that makes them dangerous in March.