No. 17 Oregon entered Pac-12 play undefeated and had the look of a team capable of big things both within the conference and nationally. With their surplus of quick guards and productive front court players Dana Altman’s squad was threatening triple digits on a consistent basis, and when that happens the defensive end tends to be overlooked. But with the Ducks losing three of their first four league games, including an 82-80 home loss to Stanford on Sunday, it’s clear that Oregon has some serious issues to address on that end of the floor.
Most notably, their difficulty to defend bigger guards in their last three outings. After getting torched by Cal freshman Jordan Mathews on Wednesday night (and Colorado’s Askia Booker, who isn’t a big guard by any means, and Spencer Dinwiddie last Sunday), slowing the tandem of Anthony Brown and Chasson Randle proved to be problematic for the Ducks.
Brown, who scored just seven points on 1-for-10 shooting in the Cardinal’s loss at Oregon State, scored 24 points on 10-for-12 shooting to lead the way. Randle added 23 points on 8-for-14 shooting, and for as hard as the Ducks may have tried to keep those two from getting to their preferred areas on the floor their guards had little success in doing so.
Oregon’s four-guard attack of Dominic Artis, Jason Calliste, Johnathan Loyd and Joseph Young is more than capable of putting points on the board, but who’s their defensive stopper when it comes to dealing with the bigger guards of the Pac-12? Loyd’s the best defender but he stands at just 5-foot-8, and none of the other three are taller than 6-foot-2. Is this where a Damyean Dotson comes into play? That’s certainly an option, but he wasn’t too effective defensively on Sunday afternoon either. With this being the case Oregon even tried some zone looks against Stanford, who shot 52% from the field.
After allowing less than a point per possession in their Pac-12 opener at Utah (0.89 points/possession), Oregon’s opponents have scored at least 1.19 points per possession in each of the last three games. Stanford scored 1.23 points per possession on Sunday, not as bad as what Colorado averaged (1.3) but slightly worse than the figure Cal posted (1.19) on Wednesday. For all of the scorers that the Ducks have on the roster, defending in that manner is not going to get the job done when it comes to contending for a Pac-12 title.
And with a game against Oregon State and high-scoring guard Roberto Nelson next on the schedule, Oregon needs to find a quick answer to its perimeter defensive issues.
The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 10.3 points per game, while shooting 42 percent from three, as a freshman. He, along with Malcolm Hill and Michael Thorne Jr., is one of three returning players who averaged double figures last season.
This could prove to be a make-or-break year for John Groce, who enters his fifth season at the helm. He guided the Illini to an NCAA Tournament in his first season, but hasn’t been back since.
The key for the Illini is health. Abrams gives them experience and leadership, but it won’t be a surprise if there’s some rust in his game after spending the past two seasons on the sideline. Having a healthy Coleman-Lands will help stabilize the backcourt, while Hill, an all-conference caliber forward, and Thorne anchor the frontcourt.
Like Alkins, Jones was a sought-after scorer. The 6-foot-4 two-guard was rated No. 69 overall in the Class of 2016 by Rivals. He picked Indiana over offers from Cal, Cincinnati, Georgetown and more than a dozen other high-major programs.
Jeter, the 6-foot-10, played in a reserve role as a freshman, averaging 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game last season. He will be part of a loaded frontline that includes heralded freshmen Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, as well as redshirt senior Amile Jefferson, who returns to the lineup following a foot injury.