As tough as Oregon’s opponents are, the Oregon coaching team’s toughest job isn’t preparing for the teams the Ducks play. It ensures that a top 25 Oregon preseason team’s homegrown players remain confident in their abilities and not lose out on an anticipated promising season.
The Ducks are 2-3 in their first five games of the season, the second straight year they’ve had this start to the season. Life is only getting harder for Oregon, too. The Ducks will play against a top-25 opponent at either No. 18 Alabama or No. 12 Michigan State on Friday night, and the Ducks will be in the same situation as they did against No. 20 UCONN on Thursday. Additionally, Oregon has yet to play a third game against another top-flight opponent on the final day of PK85 on Sunday. Next week, league play begins with a home game against Washington State and then a road trip against No. 19 and preseason favorite UCLA.
Oregon is having to ride this wave of opponents with just seven healthy grantees, and losses are mounting. Keeping this team’s confidence high is almost as important as winning at the moment.
“It’s a big part. Our guys are down,” said Dana Altman after a 24-point loss to No. 20 UCONN. “We went into the season with great expectations. Brennan [Rigsby] gets hurt, keeshawn [Barthelemy] is now injured, and Jermaine [Couisnard] gets hurt. Guys we would count on. We haven’t adjusted well. We haven’t adapted well as a coaching staff.”
Heading into Friday night’s game, the Ducks will only have one healthy point guard in Will Richardson, two wings in Rivaldo Soares and Tyrone Williams – Williams was injured against UCONN and his status is still not fully known – forward Quincy Guerrier, and then centers N’Faly Dante, Nate Bittle and Kel’el Ware.
“We’re basically out there with four forwards, three forwards and a center,” Altman said. “We have to keep adapting and hope some guys get well.”
Oregon’s offensive numbers aren’t even average right now, they’re terrible.
UCONN after the game said they knew the Ducks were limited in what they could do offensively. Head coach Dan Hurley even admitted he didn’t care that the Huskies committed 25 fouls because it sped up the Ducks on both ends of the floor. Oregon knew they would see Richardson pressured since he is the only ball handler on the roster, and Oregon knew the Huskies would force the ball out of the sole playmakers’ hands. The problem is that Oregon doesn’t have many options to counter those moves due to injury-related roster limitations.
The Ducks shoot 43.2 percent from field but only 27.3 percent on 3-pointers. To make matters worse, the Ducks only shoot 59.6 percent of free throws. Their turnovers are up a lot this season, averaging 14 per game, and without that many guards available to play, their playmaking ability has dropped to just 12 assists per game and a nearly equal assist-to-turnover ratio.
“Our handling of the ball is really suspicious now; people know that; they’re attacking Will,” Altman said.
With Richardson facing double teams and ball pressure every time he touches him, and center N’Faly Dante receiving the same approach from opponents on the block, the Ducks are struggling to adapt. Teams will continue to work hard on their weak spots, and the Ducks will continue to have few options to counter them until this team recovers.
Someone Oregon needs to get going is senior forward Quincy Guerrier. He should be a key cog of Oregon’s system this year and has shown he can be great. Still, he had an inconsistent start to the season, averaging just 7 points per game. Thursday night, Guerrier played just 15 minutes against UCONN before fouling.
“He’s really fighting,” Altman said.
“I need him to break free and get going. He’s a little more comfortable with a bigger man. Playing the three was an adjustment for him. A little bit more ball handling, a little bit more defensive responsibility. We need him. We know that he can play, he fights and we have to make him work.”
The Ducks will be back in action Friday night at 9:30pm in the consolation side of the bracket for the PK85.