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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

Miami lands Florida grad-transfer Keith Stone

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Keith Stone is leaving the SEC but not the state of Florida.

The former Gator will finish his career at Miami as a graduate transfer, he announced Monday via social media.

The 6-foot-8 Stone is from Deerfield, Fla., less than an hour’s ride from Miami Beach. He averaged 6.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per game last season before tearing his ACL in January. With Dewan Hernandez, Ebuka Izundu, and Anthony Lawrence all gone from the Canes, Stone could be in line for a major role right from the jump if his knee gets back to full strength.

Miami went 14-18 last season to finish under .500 for the first time in Jim Larranaga’s eight seasons, and it was just the second time the Canes failed to win at least 20 games.

Kyle Guy says he’s staying in the draft, will not return to Virginia

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Kyle Guy is off to the professional ranks.

The Virginia junior had already declared for the NBA draft, but announced Monday that he plans to stay in the draft and not return to the Cavaliers next season, as he would be allowed to under NCAA rules.

“I am officially keeping my name in the draft. I know it’s the right step after much prayer and thought with my family,” Guy wrote on social media.

Players retain the option to return to school up until the end of next month, but Guy’s announcement makes it clear he has no intention of utilizing that avenue as he plows ahead toward a professional career after being named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player as Virginia won its first-ever national championship earlier this month in Minneapolis.

The 6-foot-2 guard averaged 15.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game in Virginia’s slow-paced offense while shooting 49.5 percent from 3-point range. Right now, Guy’s draft ceiling would appear to be in the second round with going undrafted a possibility as well. If he does make it at the next level, it’s pretty clear it’ll be the 3-point shooting that gets and keeps him there in a league that covets that skill now more than ever.

For Virginia, Guy’s decision simply crystalizes what was likely the reality already – they’re going to have a completely remade roster, which certainly isn’t uncommon for national championship winners. There’s a reason no one since Florida in 2006 and 2007 has repeated as champions. With Guy gone and Ty Jerome, De’Andre Hunter and Mamadi Diakite all having declared, Tony Bennett and Co. could be looking at more modest expectations following the greatest season in program history.

Duke adds to 2019 class with top-30 guard Cassius Stanley

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Duke’s already monster 2019 class got even stronger Monday.

Cassius Stanley, a four-star guard from California, pledged to the Blue Devils to give them their fifth recruit rated in the top-35 nationally in the class.

“I’ll be joining the brotherhood. Go Duke,” Stanley said in his announcement video posted to social media.

“He wants to come in and start or contribute as a starter on a highly competitive team,” Jerome Stanley, Cassius’ father, told 247Sports. “He’s used to winning and he plans to come in there and win. He doesn’t plan to be a project, he wants to step on the floor immediately and help them win.”

Stanley’s commitment only further reinforces how strong Duke is on the recruiting trail as it now has five-stars Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt and Wendell Moore signed along with top-40 Boogie Ellis of San Diego.

The Blue Devils may have lost their high-profile trio of Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, but with these major additions along with Tre Jones, Marques Bolden and Alex O’Connell slated to return, they’ll be looking at another top-10 (and maybe higher) preseason ranking after a disappointing Elite Eight departure from the NCAA tournament last month.

Udoka Azubuike returning to Kansas for senior season

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Injuries have robbed Kansas center Udoka Azubuike of nearly two full seasons of college basketball. They also likely played a major part on while he’ll be back for his fourth year on campus.

The 7-footer will return to Lawrence and the Jayhawks for his senior season rather than declare for the NBA draft, the school announced Monday.

“We’re all very excited about Udoka making the decision not to enter the draft,” Kansas coach Bill Self said in a statement released by the school. “Unfortunately for him, injury is the reason as he still cannot participate (at) what would be the NBA combine or workouts for the NBA teams. We really anticipated that this would be the year he would enter the draft but that was also based on him having an injury-free year.”

Azubuike was averaging 13.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 70.5 percent from the field before a wrist injury cut his season short in January after just nine games. He also played just 11 games as a freshman due to injury.

In his lone full healthy season, Azubuike averaged 13 points and 7 rebounds per game as he made 77 percent of his shots from the field, making him nearly an unstoppable force for teams across the Big 12. His return makes Kansas, the 10th-ranked team in our preseason Top 25, an even stronger favorite to regain its Big 12 crown after Texas Tech and Kansas State shared the league title last year to deprive Kansas of its spot atop the league for the first time in 14 years as it battled injuries, suspensions and lackluster play.

The 21 most important ‘stay-or-go’ NBA draft early entry decisions

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This single most important and influential decision when if came to this year’s NBA draft belonged to Cassius Winston.

The Grand Maester of the Michigan State offense, Winston put together an All-American season as he led Michigan State to the 2019 Big Ten regular season title, tournament title and a trip to the Final Four. Over the weekend, the 6-foot point guard announced that he will be returning to school for his senior season, immediately ensuring that the Spartans will be the No. 1 team in the NBC Sports preseason top 25 and locking them in as favorites to win next year’s national title.

But he is far from the only important decision that is left to be made in this year’s NBA draft process. At 11:59 p.m. on April 21st, the deadline to declare for the NBA draft came and went. The players who put there name into the mix — more than 130 that we know of — will have until May 29th to pull their names out of the draft.

Here are 21 decisions that will have the biggest impact on the 2019-2020 college basketball season.

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KERRY BLACKSHEAR

Blackshear might be the single-most influential player in all of college basketball, but to figure out where he is going to have influence, the 6-foot-10, 250 pound forward has a couple of decisions to make. For starters, he has declared for the NBA draft, and given that he is 22 years old and more or less fully developed as a player, now may be the best time for him to make the jump to the professional ranks. If he does decide to return to school, he’s going to have to decide where to play: He’s a redshirt junior and a graduate transfer, which means that the Virginia Tech big man may end up being a former Virginia Tech big man. Every school in college basketball will want to get involved. We’ll see where he ends up.

IGNAS BRAZDEIKIS and JORDAN POOLE, Michigan

Michigan essentially had two players on their roster last season that you could trust to be threats on the offensive end of the floor night in and night out: Poole and Brazdeikis. Now it looks like there is a real chance that both of them to could end following Charles Matthews lead and remain in the NBA draft despite the fact that neither look like they will be a first round pick.

That’s a major concern for John Beilein, because with Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske and Isaiah Livers all back, Michigan will have a case to be the preseason No. 1 team in the country if both Iggy and Swaggy Poole return. If both end up gone, the Wolverines may never break 60 points in a game next year.

DEVON DOTSON, QUENTIN GRIMES and UDOKA AZUBUIKE, Kansas

This one is tricky because we have yet to get official word on whether or not Azubuike has actually declared for the draft*; he did last season and ultimately opted to return to school. Of the three, I think Dotson is probably the most important, as the Jayhawks don’t have anyone nearly as good as he is at the point. If Azubuike opts to enter the draft, Bill Self does still have David McCormack on his roster, who will be an adequate replacement. Grimes is the x-factor here. A former top ten recruit, I think he’s probably the most likely to keep his name in the draft this year even if it’s as a second round pick. I’m not sure if that’s necessarily the best plan of action — I do think there is still a chance that he could come back to Kansas and play his way into the first round with a big sophomore year — but I get it. If he’s gone, the Jayhawks do have some perimeter pieces that will be able to fill the void in Ochai Agbaji and Marcus Garrett.

With all three back, we’re talking about Kansas as the surefire best team in the Big 12 and potentially as a top five team. If they’re all gone, then it is going to be a long, long season in Lawrence.

*(Since this posting, Azubuike has announced that he is returning to school.)

Grant Williams (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

GRANT WILLIAMS and JORDAN BONE, Tennessee

This may sound counterintuitive, but I think that it is true: Bone is the more likely of the two to leave school this year, but Williams would have a much bigger impact on the Tennessee program if he opts to return. Bone was a bit inconsistent as a junior, but when he was at his best, he was the best guard in the SEC. Losing that hurts, but the truth is that with Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden and Josiah James in the mix, there is enough backcourt talent in Knoxville to withstand his departure.

I’m not sure that is true with Williams. Tennessee does have some big bodies on their roster, but Williams would be in the conversation with Cassius Winston for preseason National Player of the Year if he opts to come back to Tennessee for another run at a national title. And with Williams back, they would very much be in that conversation. As it stands, Tennessee is No. 22 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

A source close to the situation told NBC Sports that they think there’s a “50-50” chance that Williams is back.

KYLE GUY and MAMADI DIAKITE, Virginia

I fully expect that both Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter will remain in the NBA draft for good. That leaves Guy and Diakite as the players who are up in the air. Everyone should know about Guy by now. The reigning Final Four MOP, Guy led Virginia in scoring last season and is one of the best shooters in all of college basketball. For a program that lacks perimeter depth, Guy’s return would obviously be enormous.

But Diakite’s return is just as impactful. He’s such a monster on the defensive end of the floor, and I’m not sure people realize just how good he is. His offensive game is coming along, but the value is that he would be a perfect pairing next to Jay Huff if Virginia wants to play big and that he is versatile enough to defend on the perimeter if needed when Virginia plays small. It’s not a coincidence that the most productive six-game stretch of Diakite’s career came during the run to the NCAA title, when he averaged 10.5 points, 8.2 boards and 2.7 blocks.

Kyle Guy (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

JORDAN NWORA, Louisville

There are a few Louisville players that have declared for the NBA draft, but for my money, Nwora is the one that matters the most, and it is not close. One of college basketball’s most improved players, Nwora is will be a first-team All-ACC player and a potential All-American if he comes back. He will be the veteran scorer that the Cardinals need as Chris Mack brings in a loaded, six-man recruiting class. With Nwora back, the Cards will be a top ten team.

KILLIAN TILLIE and ZACH NORVELL, Gonzaga

Assuming that Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke are both gone, Tillie becomes the most important player on Gonzaga’s frontcourt if he opts to return to school. And Norvell slides right in as the projected leading scorer. Frankly, with those two and Corey Kispert on the roster, I think the Zags will have more than enough scoring to keep things rolling as their talented six-man recruiting class gets some experience.

The reason they are as low on this list as they are is that I still think there is a ceiling to what Gonzaga can be because of their point guard situation. Right now, they are in a position where they’ll have to decide between freshman Brock Ravet and sophomores Greg Foster Jr. and Joel Ayayi. I would not be surprised if there was a grad transfer that was in the mix here at some point.

ANTHONY COWAN, Maryland

The Terps already got word that they are getting Jalen Smith back for his sophomore season. With the rest of last year’s promising recruiting class in the mix — Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala, Ricky Lindo — the only thing they need to ensure that they are a preseason top ten team is their star point guard. Cowan, if he returns, will be in the mix for preseason All-American honors.

MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall

This one isn’t difficult. Seton Hall returns basically everyone from last season if Powell comes back. They should still be relevant in the Big East if he doesn’t, but he was arguably the most dangerous scorer in college basketball this side of Markus Howard last year, and assuming he’s back in the fold, we have the Pirates at No. 12 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

Myles Powell (Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

PAYTON PRITCHARD and KENNY WOOTEN, Oregon

Assuming that Louis King ends up staying in the draft, Pritchard and Wooten are the two guys that will matter for Oregon next season. They are the two pieces that allow Dana Altman’s system to work the way that it is supposed to work — a high-scoring lead guard and an uber-athletic five that can protect the rim and finish lobs. With both of them back, I think Oregon is a top 10-15 team and the best team in the Pac-12.

E.J. MONTGOMERY, Kentucky

Montgomery is interesting here. He’s super-talented, and he plays a position for Kentucky where the Wildcats are going to really lack some depth this season, but we’ve yet to see him prove that he is anything more than ‘loaded with potential’ at the SEC level. I think Kentucky needs him because they need to keep bodies in their frontcourt, but I’m on a wait-and-see mode before I decide just how much of an impact I think that he is going to make.

CHUMA OKEKE and JARED HARPER, Auburn

I would make the argument that these two were the two most important players on Auburn’s team this past season. If I had to guess, I would say that Okeke is probably gone. He proved just how good he is this past season, and his recovery from the torn ACL he suffered in the NCAA tournament likely won’t be complete until December. If he returns to school, it might end up being a two-year decision, but if he comes back and is fully healthy, he is miles better than Danjel Purifoy, Anfernee McLemore and the other options the Tigers have in their frontcourt.

Harper is a bit more up in the air, and while he was terrific this past season, especially in March, I do think that J’Von McCormick’s emergence has given Bruce Pearl some breathing room. He can do a lot of the things that Harper does, just not quite as well.

NEEMIAS QUETA, Utah State

Utah State is currently the No. 16 team in the NBC Sports preseason top 25, and much of that has to do with the fact that we are assuming Queta ends up returning to school. His size, his ability to protect the rim and how well he finishes makes him extremely valuable in the Mountain West and helps the Aggies matchup with teams from bigger conferences.