A day after the Ducks needed to rally just to keep the final score respectable in a loss to Georgetown, who were four days removed from a home loss to Arkansas State, No. 13 Oregon needed a three from the recently-returned Dillon Brooks in overtime to avoid succumbing to a Tennessee team picked to finish near the bottom of the SEC this season.
The final score was 69-65, which was unquestionably a better result than the 66-49 loss that the Ducks suffered at the hands of Baylor last week, but it wasn’t exactly the kind of performance that would remind people why Oregon entered the season as one of a handful of national title favorites.
It begs the question: What is wrong with Oregon? The way I see it, there are four problems that Dana Altman has to find a way to deal with:
1. Tyler Dorsey and Dana Altman aren’t on the same page: Dorsey entered the season as a guy a lot of people expected to have something close to a breakout season. He was a promising freshman, averaging over 13 points, that can be favorably compared to Joseph Young, who had so much success under Altman. With the pieces that the Ducks lost to graduation and without Brooks in the lineup for the first three games of the season, it only made sense that Dorsey would see a lot of shots and score a lot of points.
Only, it didn’t work out that way.
Dorsey had 21 in the season-opening win against Army, but he’s yet to break double-figures since then. In the last four games, he’s 10-for-37 from the floor (27.0%) and 2-for-13 from three (15.4%) while averaging just 6.5 points. Those two aren’t on the same page, and whether that’s a result of Dorsey being unhappy with his role in the offense or Altman being unable to find a way to utilize his ability, the bottom line is that Dorsey is not the player that we expected him to be.
That’s a problem because …
2. … we under estimated how much losing Dwayne Benjamin and Elgin Cook would hurt: Cook and Benjamin were seniors that stood 6-foot-6, were as athletic as anyone in the country and could guard – and play – multiple positions. They were so important in giving Altman the kind of lineup versatility that made Oregon so effective last season, and the Ducks simply don’t have anyone to fill that role this season.
The other part of it?
Cook was Oregon’s second-leading scorer last season at 14.8 points. Benjamin averaged 7.8 points off the bench. That’s more than 22 points per game that left, 28 percent of Oregon’s scoring from last season, which is why we have to ask …
3. … who is going to get buckets for Oregon?: We thought it was going to be Dorsey. We thought he was going to be the guy that buoyed Oregon’s offense early in the year, and that clearly hasn’t gone according to plan. Chris Boucher is an intriguing talent because of his unique skill-set, but offensively he’s a guy that needs to be set up, either for an open three-pointer or a dunk at the rim. Jordan Bell’s the same way, except he’s not knocking down many threes. Casey Benson isn’t a guy that looks to score, he’s a facilitator through and through. Payton Pritchard is a freshman that needs a year before he’s a focal point offensively. Dylan Ennis might be Oregon’s best offensive weapon right now and he’s a sixth-year senior that missed last season with a foot injury who has never averaged double-figures in his collegiate career.
Oregon is playing pretty good defense this season, much better than what they did last year. But they’re not scoring. Against Baylor, they mustered 49 points (0.817 PPP). Against Georgetown, they scored 61 points (0.859 PPP). Against Tennessee, they finished at 0.851 PPP. Those are the kind of numbers that Virginia’s record-setting defense would allow to good opponents, which should give you an idea of just how bad the Ducks have been.
An answer may be coming, however, because …
4. … Dillon Brooks isn’t right yet: This one is obvious, right?
Brooks missed the first two weeks of the season with a foot injury that had kept him out since July. He had eight points in 13 minutes against the Hoyas and went for 17 points in the win over Tennessee in 25 minutes. He looks a little rusty and a step slow, like he hasn’t played basketball in about four months. He should be back to his normal, all-american self in time.
The question for the Ducks is just how many of these question marks Brooks will answer.
He’ll make them more effective on the offensive end of the floor – that’s what happens when you plug in a guy that can get you 25 points on any given night – but is his presence the difference between a team that can win the Pac-12 and a team that was a possession away from playing Chaminade for last place in the Maui Invitational?