No. 18 Oregon Ducks: What can Dana Altman do with a roster full of young, raw talent?

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Beginning in September and running up until November 6th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2018-2019 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Every day at Noon ET, we will be releasing an in-depth preview of one member of our Preseason Top 25.

Today we dive into No. 18 Oregon.


You know that you’ve hit the sweet spot as a recruiter when, coming off of a 13-loss season and a trip to the NIT, you lose three of your top four scorers and still manage to find a way to crack the top 20 of the preseason polls.

That’s where we are right now with the Oregon Ducks.

Dana Altman’s program saw a trio of one-and-dones — two grad transfers and one first round pick — pass through last season, a disappointing follow-up to 2017’s trip to the Final Four, but it laid the foundation for what should be a team that will push for a Pac-12 regular season title in 2019.

Payton Pritchard is back and one of the most underrated point guards in the country. A pair of sophomores are in line for big years, while a pair of redshirt senior transfers will provide a veteran presence on the roster. Throw in what may be Altman’s best recruiting class since he took over in Eugene, and you have the makings of a team that will contend for the Pac-12 title.

But that’s not the most interesting dynamic with this team.

How they will decide to utilize their top five prospect is, and it may be the single-most intriguing story line in college basketball this season.

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OREGON WILL BE GOOD BECAUSE …

Dana Altman is a helluva basketball coach.

I think it really is that simple.

Over the course of Altman’s tenure at Oregon, we’ve seen him repeatedly find a way to get a team that doesn’t have all that much experience playing together to gel, find their roles within his system and win more games than their talent says they should on paper.

Why would we expect anything less this season?

And, frankly, this roster has a makeup that is quite similar to Altman’s best teams in Eugene: Talented lead guards, a defensive presence at the rim and a slew of athletic and versatile wings.

Pritchard is underrated at the point guard spot. He’s not a typical Altman lead guard — he’s not the scorer that Joseph Young or Tyler Dorsey was — but he did average 14.5 points last season, he is a very good three-point shooter and he’s a better playmaker than either of those two were. He also started as a freshman for a team that reached the Final Four. You can trust him.

Up front, Bol Bol and Kenny Wooten will give the Ducks the best pair of shot-blockers in the country (more on them and the interesting dynamic at play below) with enough depth behind them that the Ducks shouldn’t really have to worry about foul trouble. And on the wings, Altman has plenty of depth and talent at his disposal. Paul White and Ehab Amin are both fifth-year seniors that are in line for starting spots, and they will be pushed by a trio of talented youngsters — sophomore Victor Bailey Jr. and freshmen Louis King, a five-star prospect, and Will Richardson, who might actually be better-suited to playing the role that Dorsey played for this program.

I’m not quite sure how it is all going to come together this season, but I’m going to bet that Altman figures out how to make it happen.

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Bol Bol (Jon Lopez, Nike)

BUT OREGON IS GOING TO STRUGGLE BECAUSE …

This is the youngest team that Altman has coached during his time at Oregon.

Half of his rotation is going to end up being freshman. There are just three scholarship players on the roster that are upper-classmen, and one of those three — Ehab Amin — is a grad tranfer that was planning on enrolling at Nevada until the Martin twins announced that they were returning to school in late-May.

That’s not to say that Altman hasn’t coached freshmen before. Tyler Dorsey started as a freshman on a team that won the Pac-12 and made it to the Elite 8. Dillon Brooks and Jordan Bell started as freshmen for a team that won 26 games and earned themselves a trip to the NCAA tournament.

Those rosters were made up differently, however. They had bonafide stars to lean on, veterans that had spent time in Altman’s system that would be able to carry the bulk of the load, particularly on the offensive end of the floor. I think Pritchard will be able to be that guy for the Ducks this season, but the way that he handles the lead guard spot is very different from the way that Joseph Young and Tyler Dorsey played it. Amin scored a lot of points last season and White is a veteran that has been in the college ranks for four years, but neither of them have proven themselves as elite contributors at this level yet.

If anything, I think this issue will manifest itself more as a learning curve then as a hindrance come March, but it should be something that we keep an eye on.

Kenny Wooten (Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

THE X-FACTOR

There may not be a player in the country this season who is going to be more fascinating to follow than Bol Bol.

He is and will be one of the most divisive prospects when it comes to NBA potential that I can ever remember. The physical tools are there for him to thrive in college and pay off the risk that comes with drafting him in the top five. He’s 7-foot-2 with a 7-foot-6 wingspan and, when engaged, can be an absolutely devastating force around the rim. There are times where you watch him play and it just feels like no one on the other team is going to get a shot off inside the foul line. Bol is also a terrific shooter for someone his size, knocking down better than 46 percent of his threes during his last year on the EYBL circuit while firing up more than four threes per game. He’s not just a catch-and-shoot guy, either. He does have some perimeter skill and he is capable of burying step-in threes in transition.

Three-and-D bigs aren’t quite as valuable as they were a couple of years ago, but being able to space the floor on one end and protect the rim on the other is still something that few players can do, particularly at the college level.

The issue with Bol is and always has been his motor. He can spend 10 minutes looking totally dominant and then totally disappear, failing to box out, unable to hold position in the paint, barely bothering to try and change a shot at the rim. When he isn’t engaged he can be a downright liability, particularly given some of his issues as a screener and as a switchable big man.

Speaking strictly about Bol as a player, there are plenty of red flags mixed in with his obvious and significant upside. You can ask ten scouts what they think of him and you’ll probably end up with ten different opinions.

And all of that is before we get into what will be the most interesting dynamic for this Oregon team: Kenny Wooten vs. Bol Bol.

Two years ago, Altman had this very same issue to deal with. He had a team that featured two of the nation’s best shot-blockers in Chris Boucher and Jordan Bell. Boucher was the golden boy that year, coming off of a season where he averaged 12.1 points, 7.4 boards and 2.9 blocks while shooting 33.9 percent from three. But by the start of Pac-12 play, Bell had taken over as the program’s starting center, all-american Dillon Brooks was playing the four and, come tournament time, Oregon was able to make a run to the Final Four despite the fact that Boucher was out of the lineup with a torn ACL.

Bell’s ability as an all-around defender — someone that could protect the rim and switch onto perimeter players — allowed Altman to play the small-ball style that he prefers. Oregon, quite simply, was a better team with Bell on the floor than with Boucher.

And Wooten is the guy that can play the Bell role this year. As a freshman, the 6-foot-9 Wooten averaged 2.6 blocks in less 20 minutes a night. He can defend on the perimeter. He can operate as the screen-and-dive rim-runner and lob target that, in theory, takes advantage of all the space in the paint that would be created by having four guards on the floor around him.

The guard play on this team is not at the level it was for that Final Four team, which could end up meaning that the optimal lineup for Oregon is to play bigger, but that doesn’t change the fact that the most interesting part of this Oregon season is going to end up being Bol, both in whether or not he shows up to play and how his head coach opts to utilize the pieces on his roster.

Payton Pritchard (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

2018-19 OUTLOOK

Oregon is going to be good. The simple fact of the matter is that Dana Altman is a really good basketball coach that has a roster at his disposal that features talented players at the positions he prioritizes.

It’s not that hard to envision the Ducks winning a watered down Pac-12 this season.

I also don’t think this is going to be the easiest coaching job he’s ever had. Bol Bol’s inconsistency is enough to drive any coach insane, and while I think Pritchard is a very good player, he’s not exactly the perfect fit as the lead guard in Altman’s offense. Throw in the fact that he has a number of options on the wings that are talented but have yet to prove themselves at this level and you get a team that could feasibly limp into the NCAA tournament as a No. 10 seed.

And let me be clear: I think Oregon is heading to the NCAA tournament.

But I think this group is more likely to be in the mix for the Pac-12 title and a trip to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament than they are destined for a return trip to the Final Four.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

No. 19 Syracuse
No. 20 LSU
No. 21 Mississippi State
No. 22 Clemson
No. 23 Michigan
No. 24 N.C. State
No. 25 Marquette

Gardner, No. 3 Virginia rally for 70-68 win at Michigan

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Tony Bennett’s team passed all its tests in the opening month of the season.

Jayden Gardner made a go-ahead jumper with 39.9 seconds left and blocked Jett Howard’s 3-point shot just before the buzzer, allowing No. 3 Virginia to stay undefeated with a 70-68 win over Michigan in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Tuesday night.

The Cavaliers (6-0) won their first true road game against a team that was ranked in the first two polls this season, a little more than a week after beating then-No. 5 Baylor and then-No. 19 Illinois in Las Vegas.

“It got pretty intense in here,” Bennett said.

Virginia trailed by 11 points at halftime, rallied to go ahead with 7:25 left and built a five-point lead that didn’t last.

The Wolverines (5-2) went ahead 66-65 at the 1:42 mark when Hunter Dickinson made one of two free throws.

Michigan missed chances to stay or go ahead when Dickinson missed a hook shot with 1:01 to go and Princeton transfer Jaelin Llewellyn turned the ball over with 16 seconds left.

“Hunter has made that running hook before,” coach Juwan Howard said. “The turnover, yes, down the stretch, it hurt, but overall that’s not the reason we lost the ballgame.

“We could’ve easily put our heads down when they came out in the second half and made a run.”

Reece Beekman, who finished with 18 points, stepped in front of Llewellyn’s pass in the final minute and made one of two free throws.

Virginia’s Armaan Franklin missed two free throws with 5.7 seconds left, giving Michigan a chance to extend or win the game. Howard took a contested shot beyond the 3-point arc on the right wing – near his father, Michigan’s coach – and Gardner came up with the block against the freshman guard while Wolverines coaches and players screamed for a foul call.

It appeared that Gardner got all ball on the block.

Kihei Clark scored 16 points, Gardner had 12, Kadin Shedrick fouled out with 12 points and Ben Vander Plas added 10 for the balanced Cavaliers.

“You need different guys, and that’s what it takes, to make plays offensively and defensively,” Bennett said.

Dickinson scored 23 points, Jett Howard had 11 of his 15 in the first half and Kobe Bufkin added 11 points for Michigan.

“Jett is a gamer, he’s going to compete no matter what,” Juwan Howard said. “He’s loved basketball since he was a little baby boy.

“He’s going to help us win a lot of games this year.”

The Wolverines started slowly, trailing 9-2 in the opening minutes, before Howard scored eight points to lead a 13-2 run. Michigan led 45-34 at halftime when Bufkin made a layup after a steal.

“We can’t be sloppy like that on the defensive end, but we did battle hard in the second half,” Bennett said.

Vander Plas scored nine points during an 11-2 run that put Virginia ahead 65-60. The Cavaliers then went 4 1/2 minutes without a basket before Gardner’s big shot.

THE TAKEAWAY

Virginia: The Cavaliers have their highest ranking since the 2018-19 season – which ended with a national title – and are off to their best start since being 7-0 three years ago. The team continues to honor the memory of three football players who were fatally shot on campus earlier this month, wearing warmup jerseys with their names.

Michigan: Juwan Howard’s team matched up well in its first game against a ranked opponent this season.

“When we come out with the effort like we did today for 40 minutes, I love our chances against any college team in the country,” he said.

UP NEXT

Virginia: Hosts Florida State (1-7) on Saturday.

Michigan: Plays No. 19 Kentucky (5-2) on Sunday in London.

Marquette’s defense overwhelms No. 6 Baylor in 96-70 win

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MILWAUKEE – Marquette has developed a habit under Shaka Smart of saving its top performances for the best opponents on its schedule.

Olivier-Maxence Prosper scored 24 points and Marquette capitalized on a dominant start from its defense to roll past No. 6 Baylor 96-70 on Tuesday night in the Big 12-Big East Battle. This was the highest-ranked team Marquette (6-2) has beaten under Smart and the Golden Eagles improved to to 7-6 against AP Top 25 squads in his tenure.

“Most of the time against these great teams, they don’t have us winning that game,” said David Joplin, who scored 19 points. “We just come out, we want to go out and prove everybody wrong. And that feeling, that chip makes us play so much better.”

Marquette nearly produced its most lopsided victory against a Top 25 team. The Golden Eagles trounced No. 16 Providence 88-56 on Jan. 4 in Smart’s debut season.

“When you go into a game and the game is bigger in the minds of your players than anything else, to me that’s the best recipe for winning,” Smart said. “It should be that way all the time, but human nature sometimes messes with that.”

Marquette’s defense embarrassed a highly regarded Baylor backcourt.

The Golden Eagles raced to a 51-25 halftime lead thanks to a 24-0 edge in points off turnovers. Baylor (5-2) already had a season-high 16 turnovers by halftime.

Baylor entered Tuesday ranked third among Division I teams in assist-turnover margin. The Bears had 20 turnovers and 12 assists against Marquette.

“I didn’t see that coming,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “Credit the crowd. Credit them for building momentum. Credit Shaka for having them prepared and how hard they played. At the end of the day, we fed to the fire by turning it over and making some uncharacteristic mistakes.”

Prosper scored 10 points and sank two 3-pointers during a 23-2 run that turned an early 7-2 deficit into a 25-9 advantage. Chase Ross capped the spurt by getting a steal and throwing down a left-handed dunk.

Baylor never cut Marquette’s lead below 22 points in the second half.

Kam Jones had 20 points as Marquette shot 58.3% overall to win its third straight. The Golden Eagles shot 12 of 25 from 3-point range, with Jones going 4 of 7 and Prosper and Joplin each going 3 of 4.

Baylor’s LJ Cryer had 17 of his 19 points, in the second half. Adam Flagler had 16 and Keyonte George added 12 for the Bears.

BIG PICTURE

Baylor: The Bears shot 48.2% (27 of 56) but had no answers for Marquette’s defense and dug too deep a hole. Baylor rallied from a 25-deficit to force overtime in an NCAA Tournament loss to North Carolina last season, but the Bears never mounted any kind of comeback Tuesday.

Marquette: After losing to Purdue and Mississippi State earlier this season, the Golden Eagles delivered the kind of performance that showed they’re capable of beating anyone. Marquette will try to prove that again when it hosts Wisconsin on Saturday.

BIG 12 VS. BIG EAST

The Big 12-Big East Battle started Tuesday and runs through Sunday. Last season’s Big 12-Big East Battle ended in a 5-5 tie.

HONORING THOMPSON

Marquette came out of its locker room wearing shirts with No. 24 to honor George Thompson, who died in June of complications from diabetes. Thompson played for Marquette from 1967-69, and he was the school’s career scoring leader for 40 years.

Tuesday would have been Thompson’s 75th birthday. A No. 24 banner with Thompson’s name hangs from the Fiserv Forum rafters.

“I really felt like we needed to win tonight to honor George,” Smart said. “If you make it George Thompson Night, you couldn’t lose.”

UP NEXT

Baylor: Faces No. 14 Gonzaga on Friday in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Marquette: Hosts Wisconsin on Saturday.

Houston reaches No. 1 in AP poll for first time since 1983

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Make some room, Phi Slama Jama. Another Houston team has reached the top of men’s college basketball.

Nearly four decades after Clyde Drexler and Akeem Olajuwon took the Cougars to No. 1, the latest bunch led by Marcus Sasser and star freshman Jarace Walker took over the top spot in the AP Top 25. They received 45 of 63 first-place votes from the national media panel, easily outdistancing second-place Texas and third-place Virginia.

“It’s not like we went online and applied for it and waited for a response back. We’ve been working for this,” said Houston coach Kelvin Sampson, whose team is coming off a Final Four and Elite Eight trip the past two seasons. “But remember, it’s a rental. You don’t own it. You’re just renting it because someday somebody else is going to be No. 1.”

North Carolina had been No. 1 all season, but the Tar Heels lost to Iowa State and in a four-overtime thriller to Alabama at the Phil Knight Invitational to cede the top spot to Houston, which beat Kent State in its only game last week.

The last time the Cougars ascended to No. 1 was the final poll of the 1982-83 season, when “The Glide” and “The Dream” along with coach Guy Lewis were the favorites to win it all. They rolled through the NCAA Tournament before falling to Jim Valvano and North Carolina State in an iconic championship game in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“I’ve never been ranked No. 1,” said Sampson, now in his 34th season as a college basketball coach. “We were ranked all 12 years at Oklahoma. I’m sure we were ranked at Indiana. Then we’ve been ranked five or six straight years. We’re used to having a high level of success.”

Texas received eight first-place votes and Virginia received two. Arizona climbed from 14th to fourth after emerging from a stacked field to win the Maui Invitational. Purdue jumped from 24th all the way to fifth and scooped up eight first-place votes after beating West Virginia, Gonzaga and Duke at the Phil Knight Legacy tourney.

“Our guys are competitive. They’re fun to coach. They get along. They’re out there playing with purpose and that’s what you have to have,” said Boilermakers coach Matt Painter, whose team was briefly No. 1 about this time last season.

“Early in the season, very few teams play with the purpose collectively,” he said. “I thought our guys played with a purpose.”

Baylor was sixth, Creighton seventh and U Conn climbed from 20th to eighth after beating Oregon, Alabama and Iowa State to win the Phil Knight Invitational. Kansas fell from third to ninth after losing to Tennessee in the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis, while Indiana rounded out the top 10.

There was a tie for 11th between SEC rivals Alabama and Arkansas with the Volunteers, another conference foe, right behind them. Gonzaga dropped from sixth to 14th, its first time outside the top 10 since Feb. 5, 2018, and Auburn was 15th.

Illinois was next followed by Duke and North Carolina in a tough week for Tobacco Road. The Blue Devils fell from eighth after their 75-56 loss to the Boilermakers.

Kentucky and Michigan State joined UCLA, Maryland, Iowa State, San Diego State and Ohio State in rounding out the poll.

RISING AND FALLING

Purdue made a rare 19-spot jump as the poll underwent a massive shakeup. UConn climbed 12 spots, Arizona moved up 10, Tennessee climbed nine and Alabama seven. On the flip side, the Tar Heels tumbled 17 spots, Duke dropped nine, Gonzaga fell eight and San Diego State fell seven.

IN AND OUT

Despite all the movement, Iowa State was the only newcomer this week, checking in at No. 23 after beating Villanova and North Carolina before falling to UConn. The Cyclones replaced Iowa, which dropped out after a one-week stay following its loss to TCU in the title game of the Emerald Coast Classic.

CONFERENCE WATCH

There are six difference conferences represented in the first seven teams in the poll. The Big Ten leads the way with six in the Top 25 while the SEC has five and the Big 12 has four, though three of them are in the top 10.

South Carolina tops women’s AP Top 25; Stanford, UConn next

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South Carolina remained the unanimous No. 1 choice in The Associated Press women’s poll, as the Gamecocks keep close watch on the foot injury of reigning Player of the Year Aliyah Boston.

The Gamecocks received all 29 first-place votes in the poll, a day after Boston left a game with her injury. Coach Dawn Staley said Boston was “questionable” going forward but added that the “team doctor wasn’t too, too concerned.”

South Carolina’s next game is at home against No. 15 UCLA.

Stanford remained No. 2 after cruising through a tournament in Hawaii. It’s the 618th appearance for Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer, tying the late Pat Summitt for most all-time. Summitt’s teams only missed being in the poll 14 times during her Hall of Fame career at Tennessee.

UConn, Ohio State and Indiana rounded out the top five.

The Huskies are one of four Big East teams to be ranked this week as Marquette entered the poll at No. 24. It’s the first time the Big East has four ranked teams since the conference realigned in 2014. The league is 56-14 so far this season, including going 8-2 against ranked teams.

“We’ve been trying to earn a little more respect,” Marquette coach Megan Duffy said of the Big East. “Tried to schedule tougher non-conference (games). ‘Nova’s playing people. Us going to the Bahamas was great. Creighton’s doing what they’ve been doing since last season. Getting some of those quality wins is everything.”

North Carolina moved up two spots to No. 6 after rallying to beat then-No. 5 Iowa State in the Phil Knight tournament. The Cyclones fell to eighth.

The Tar Heels visit the Hoosiers on Tuesday in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Indiana returns home after winning two games in Las Vegas at a subpar venue that lacked basic necessities.

Notre Dame remained No. 7 while Virginia Tech and Iowa finished off the top 10. At No. 9, Virginia Tech has matched its best ranking ever and is in the top 10 for the first time since 1999.

Tennessee fell out of the poll this week marking the 56th time in the 827-week history of the poll that the Lady Vols weren’t ranked. Kansas State also fell out with Gonzaga moving in at No. 23.

FALLING CARDINALS

Louisville dropped to 18th in the poll this week after falling to South Dakota State in the fifth place game at the Battle 4 Atlantis last week. It’s the Cardinals lowest ranking since Jan. 11, 2016.

Louisville entered the top 10 in the preseason poll in 2017 and hadn’t been out since, a span of 98 consecutive weeks. It was the longest active streak.

“It’s a compliment to the consistency that we built here,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said of being ranked in the top 10 for so long. “Obviously are goal would have been to stay in the top 10, but it’s a new team and growing.”

Edey scores 21 as No. 24 Purdue beats No. 8 Duke 75-56

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Zach Edey and No. 24 Purdue shook off a slow start. When No. 8 Duke tried to rally in the second half, the Boilermakers finished strong.

Edey had 21 points and 12 rebounds, and Purdue beat Duke 75-56 on Sunday in the championship game of the Phil Knight Legacy men’s tournament.

Fletcher Loyer scored 18 points for Purdue (6-0), and reserve Caleb Furst finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

“I feel like we weren’t getting the looks we wanted early. As we settled into the game, we kept our poise and kept getting the shots that we wanted,” Edey said. “They were making some tough twos at the beginning of the game, shots we’re OK with all season.”

The 7-foot-4 Edey was 7 for 13 from the field and 7 for 8 at the line. He was named tournament MVP.

“They have the most unique player in the country,” Duke coach Jon Scheyer said of Edey. “He’s a hard guy to prepare for because there’s nobody else like him.”

Duke (6-2) shot 36.2% (21 for 58) from the field. Tyres Proctor scored 16 points for the Blue Devils. Kyle Filipowski and Jeremy Roach each had 14.

Ethan Morton had a steal and a dunk to help Purdue open a 58-41 lead with 15:37 left in the second half.

Duke countered with an 8-0 run, capped by two foul shots by Dariq Whitehead. But Furst made a layup and a jumper to help hold off the Blue Devils.

A hook by Edey and a 3-pointer by Loyer made it 68-56 with 5:03 remaining.

Duke got off to a 14-7 start before Purdue worked its way back into the game.

“I don’t feel like we came out bad today, but they matched our energy,” Edey said.

A 3-pointer by Brandon Newman pushed the Purdue lead to 46-28. A late run by Duke cut the Boilermakers’ lead to 46-35 at halftime.

BIG PICTURE

Duke: It looked as if Roach had an issue with his left foot at one point, but he went back into the game. Scheyer said Roach had hurt his toe.

Purdue: Although neither team had great offensive games, Purdue was the better team from range. Purdue made seven 3-pointers to just two for Duke.

UP NEXT

Duke: Hosts Ohio State on Wednesday.

Purdue: Visits Florida State on Wednesday.