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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

N.C. State forward Jericole Hellems released from hospital

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina State says sophomore forward Jericole Hellems has been released from a hospital and is in “good spirits” after an injury in Saturday’s win at Wake Forest.

The team announced the news Sunday on Twitter. Hellems had fallen on a rebound attempt and banged the back of his head on the court with 28 seconds left. He was alert but had to be carried from the court on a stretcher. Then he was taken to a hospital for precautionary reasons to rule out a possible lower back injury as well as to be evaluated for a possible concussion.

The team says Hellems will meet with NC State doctors in the coming days, while coach Kevin Keatts will address his status later in the week.

NC State travels to UNC Greensboro next Sunday.

AP Poll: Louisville remains No. 1, Ohio State jumps to No. 3

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Louisville and Kansas finally provided some consistency to what has been a volatile Top 25 poll this season, while perennial bluebloods Michigan State and North Carolina continued to tumble after another wave of defeats.

The Cardinals solidified thier place at No. 1 in the AP Top 25 released Monday by routing then-No. 4 Michigan in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and breezing past Pittsburgh over the past week. The Jayhawks stayed at No. 2 after returning from their Maui Invitaitonal title to thump former Big 12 member Colorado.

“I think it’s two games in a row, where we got stops,” Louisville coach Chris Mack said. “We didn’t allow second shots. We ran the clock on offense. We got great looks. We got layups, and that’s a killer.”

Ohio State jumped from sixth to third following its 74-49 rout of then-No. 7 North Carolina and a Big Ten blowout of Penn State. Maryland dropped one spot to fourth despite continuing to pile up wins, while Michigan slid one spot to round out the top five after Juwan Howard’s bunch ran into the Louisville buzzsaw for their first loss of the season.

The Spartans continued their fall from preseason No. 1 after losing to Duke, this time dropping from 11th to No. 16. The Tar Heels tumbled 10 spots to No. 17 after getting crushed by Ohio State and losing to No. 9 Virginia.

San Diego State joined the rankings at No. 25.

1. Louisville (55)

2. Kansas (4)

3. Ohio St. (5)

4. Maryland

5. Michigan

6. Gonzaga

7. Duke

8. Kentucky

9. Virginia

10. Oregon

11. Baylor

12. Auburn

13. Memphis

14. Dayton

15. Arizona

16. Michigan St.

17. North Carolina

18. Butler

19. Tennessee

20. Villanova

21. Florida St.

22. Seton Hall

23. Xavier

24. Colorado

25. San Diego St.

Others receiving votes: Utah St. 160, Washington 144, Purdue 130, Indiana 13, Marquette 11, Liberty 9, Saint Mary’s (Cal) 8, Texas 6, Florida 5, Penn St. 5, Georgetown 4, West Virginia 3, Richmond 3, LSU 2, Duquesne 1, DePaul 1, VCU 1.

Monday’s Overreactions: Naji Marshall owns Cincinnati, Ohio State is No. 1, Joel Ayayi

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Naji Marshall, Xavier

Marshall has lived up to the hype through the first month of the season, but the biggest and best game that he has played in 2019 happened on Saturday. Squaring off with archrival Cincinnati, Marshall went off for 31 points, eight boards, five steals and three assists, hitting four threes and totally outplaying his Bearcat counterpart, Jarron Cumberland.

As a team, Xavier has been a little bit up and down this season. Their issues shooting the ball have been prevalent all season long, and as good as the likes of Tyrique Jones, Quentin Goodin and Paul Scruggs – hell, and Marshall himself – can be, there has been some inconsistency to date.

There was not any on Saturday.

Marshall took over and led Xavier to their biggest win of the season.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Ohio State Buckeyes

Can we even consider anyone else?

On Wednesday, the Buckeyes went into Chapel Hill and ran North Carolina out of their own gym, leaving with a 74-49 win. On Saturday, Chris Holtmann’s club hosted Penn State, and that did not go well for the Nittany Lions, who lost by 32 points while giving up 106.

This team is starting to look scary, and there’s a valid argument to make that they should be sitting at No. 1 in the AP poll this morning.

Speaking of which …

OVERREACTIONS

1. OHIO STATE HAS THE MOST IMPRESSIVE RESUME IN THE COUNTRY

If we ranked teams solely based on resume at this point in the season, I don’t think there is any way to leave the Buckeyes out of the top spot.

They are undefeated. They have beaten Villanova by 25 at home. They have beaten North Carolina by 25 on the road. They have beaten Penn State by 32 at home. Those are three of the top 24 teams in the country, according to KenPom. No one else can match that. Hell, the Buckeyes are currently sitting at No. 1 in KenPom’s rankings.

To put those wins into context, consider this, via Jordan Sperber of Hoop Vision: There have been six instances this season of a top 50 KenPom team losing by 20 or more points. Ohio State is responsible for three of them.

To be honest, I’m not ready to actually call Ohio State the best team in college basketball – I explain why in the podcast below at the 11:20 mark – but they are certainly playing like it.

2. WE FINALLY SAW THE ANTHONY COWAN WE NEED TO SEE FOR MARYLAND TO REACH THEIR POTENTIAL

Look, I know how ridiculous this is going to sound.

Coming off of a performance where Anthony Cowan shot 6-for-14 from the floor in a game where Maryland needed something bordering on a miracle to erase a 15 point second half deficit at home against unranked Illinois, I’m finally convinced?

Well, kinda?

Here’s my logic: I am not sold on Mark Turgeon being the best coach in college basketball, and I am hardly alone in that sentiment. But he does have a roster with some talent, and it is always a good sign when a team’s talent takes over and wins a game where, frankly, they played like crap. That’s exactly what happened on Saturday. In the past, Cowan would not have taken over. In the past, he would not have put the team on his back, scored 20 points in the final 23 minutes and finished with seven boards, six assists and the game-tying and winning points in the final 20 seconds.

All-Americans bail their team out in games they are not supposed to win. Final Four teams win games where they don’t show up until they are getting thoroughly embarrassed. The Terps did both of those things.

Now, would I like to see them finally figure out how to win without sleepwalking through the first half of games?

Absolutely!

But it’s hardly a bad sign to be sitting at 10-0 as you’re still figuring things out.

3. BUTLER IS THE MOST UNDERRATED TEAM IN THE COUNTRY

After taking down Florida in Indianapolis on Saturday afternoon, Butler has a surprisingly impressive crop of wins this season. They beat Minnesota at home. They beat Missouri in Kansas City. They beat Stanford on a neutral. They won at Ole Miss. And now they have that win over the Gators, who we just can’t quite seem to quit.

Either way, the Bulldogs play at Baylor on Tuesday night and then take on Purdue in the Crossroads Classic next Saturday.

We’ll know more about them then, but for now, this is a team that we have to talk about.

That said …

4. … NO ONE HAS MADE US A BELIEVER IN MORE TEAMS THAN FLORIDA

Florida State beat Florida in Gainesville?

The Seminoles must be awesome!

UConn beat Florida in Storrs?

The Huskies are back, baby!

Butler knocks off the Gators in Hinkle?

The Bulldogs are the most underrated team in the country?

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5. JOEL AYAYI IS THE X-FACTOR THAT WILL MAKE GONZAGA A TITLE CONTENDER

Listen, I’m not saying that Ayayi is the best player on this Gonzaga roster.

I think that he’s probably their third-best player, and even that might be generous.

What he is, however, is a guy that fills a role that the Zags didn’t have anyone to fill. The issue with this Gonzaga team heading into the season was in their backcourt. We wondered if they had enough point guard play, perimeter shooting and playmaking to be able to compete with the best teams in the country. It’s one thing to have a great frontline with guards that can get them the rock where they need it. It’s another thing to have a great frontline and no one that an initiate offense or keep defenses honest.

Ayayi has done those things to date this season. He’s averaging 10.1 points, 6.6 boards and 3.8 assists, which is second on the team to Ryan Woolridge, who is quietly having a solid start to the season as well. He provides length, athleticism, floor-spacing, a second ball-handler and creator. He takes the pressure off of Woolridge to carry the lead guard load.

He is more or less everything that Gonzaga fans were hoping Admon Gilder would turn into.

We’ll see if this lasts, but his performance against Washington on Saturday was really promising. Ayayi didn’t play or shoot particularly well, but he stepped up with 20 seconds left and buried the biggest shot of the game, a three to give the Zags a 82-76 lead and bury U-Dub.

Mamukelashvili breaks wrist as No. 16 Seton Hall loses to Iowa State

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AMES, Iowa — No. 16 Seton Hall lost much more than a game in Ames, as starter Sandro Mamukelashvili broke his right wrist in the first half of a loss at Iowa State.

Tyrese Haliburton scored 17 points, George Conditt had a season-high 17 off the bench and the Cyclones knocked off Seton Hall 76-66 on Sunday for its second straight victory.

Rasir Bolton scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half to help the Cyclones avenge an 84-76 loss on Nov. 29 to the Pirates (6-3) in the Bahamas. The rematch was part of the Big East/Big 12 Alliance series.

Mamukelashvili, a 6-foot-11 forward and a facilitator who averaged 12.3 points and 5.3 rebounds a game entering play, went down hard with 15:14 to go in the first half and didn’t return.

Coach Kevin Willard said after the game that it was too soon to know how long Mamukelashvili might be out.

“I don’t know for sure. It’s definitely broken. But we … have to go get an MRI tomorrow and let our doctors and radiologists read it,” Willard said. “There’s definitely a break in there, it’s just that we don’t know where it is.”

Conditt’s free throws pushed Iowa State’s lead to 59-53 with 2:56 left. Haliburton then drew an offensive foul and freed himself for a wide-open 3 at the top of the key. Haliburton drilled it, making it a nine-point game at the 2:23 mark.

Seton Hall fouled Prentiss Nixon from beyond the arc with 1:27 left. Nixon hit all three from the line to push Iowa State back up by nine, and Conditt’s transition dunk sealed the win.

Iowa State won despite shooting just 4 of 19 on 3s.

“Every good team needs a signature win and this was the first one for us,” Iowa State coach Steve Prohm said. “It felt really good beat a ranked team, but also a team that beat us before.”

Myles Powell scored 19 points with eight rebounds for Seton Hall. But Powell was 7 of 20 shooting, had five turnovers and fouled out with 54.4 seconds to go on an offensive foul. The Pirates’ previous defeats came against Michigan State and Oregon by just five combined points.

Seton Hall committed 20 turnovers and was outrebounded 43-40 despite having a major size advantage. The Pirates also gave Iowa State 33 tries from the line, and Cyclones made 26 of them.

“We turned the ball over too much and we fouled,” Willard said. “You can’t go on the road against a good team and turn the basketball over and foul.”

THE BIG PICTURE

Seton Hall: On losing Mamukelashvili, Willard said that “it changes things a lot. But the good thing is, we have some guys that need to get comfortable in that role and step up in that role…we’re going to need everyone to step up.”

Iowa State: The Cyclones have been strangely awful at times this season shooting jump shots — even though they supposedly have enough shooters. It’s a problem that Iowa State will need to get sorted out before it threatens to sink their season. On the plus side, the Cyclones were active with their hands in forcing Seton Hall’s bigs to turn it over, and Haliburton delivered yet another signature performance.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Losing on the road to a Big 12 team that had the opportunity to play them 10 days ago shouldn’t cost the Pirates too much. Iowa State’s Hilton Coliseum can be a brutal place for opponents — especially one that didn’t necessarily know what it was walking into.

HE SAID IT

“It’s a hell of a win for us.” —- Prohm said.

UP NEXT

Seton Hall: At Rutgers on Saturday.

Iowa State: Hosts Iowa on Thursday night.

Monday Overreactions Podcast: Ohio State’s the best, Travis Steele’s the GOAT, is Anthony Cowan good?

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Rob Dauster and Bobby Reagan are back to walk through everything that happened in college basketball this weekend. Is Ohio State the best team in college basketball? Is it actually Maryland? Just how good is Anthony Cowan? Just how bad is Florida? And did Travis Steele do the greatest thing in the history of coaching on Saturday night? He might have.