Oregon Hoops Preview

Over the next several weeks DevilsDigest.com will bring you a comprehensive breakdown of the upcoming 2002-2003 basketball season in the Pacific-10 conference. Included in this analysis will be the projection of team records, and post-season individual awards. The eighth section of this multi-part series looks at the Oregon Ducks.

Oregon Ducks: (Eugene, Oregon)
2001-02 Record: 26-9
Postseason: NCAA Elite 8
Returning Starters: 3


Projected Starting Lineup: (Returning Starters in Bold)

PG-Luke Ridnour, 6'2, 175 Jr. (15.5 ppg, 5 apg, .486 FG%, .441 3pt%, .867FT)
SG-Andre Joseph, 6'3, 195 So. (JC transfer)
SF-Luke Jackson, 6'7, 210 Jr. (16.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 3.1 apg, .458 FG%, .400 3pt%, .864FT%)
PF-Robert Johnson, 6'8, 245 Sr. (7.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg.)
C-Brian Helquist, 6'9, 260 Sr. (3.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg, .537 FG%)
Key Returning Reserves:

James Davis, 5'10, 175 Jr. SG (6.0 ppg, .460FG%, .404 3pt%)
Jay Anderson, 6'9, 230 Sr. C (limited minutes)
Ian Crosswhite, 6'11, 245 Fr. F (redshirt after ankle injury)
Matt Short, 7', 235, Fr. C (redshirt)


Recruiting Class:

Andre Joseph, 6'3, 195, Jr. G (Lee JC, Houston, Texas)
Brandon Lincoln, 6'4, 195 Fr. G (Jefferson HS, Portland, Oregon)
Jordan Kent, 6'4, 200 Fr. G (Churchill HS, Eugene, Oregon)
Adam Zahn, 6'8, 225 Fr. F (Redondo Union HS, Redondo Beach, California)


The Oregon Ducks will begin the 2002-03 Season with a target on their backs after winning the conference regular season men's basketball championship outright for the first time in 63 years. Finishing undefeated and 16-0 at home, the Ducks went on to an impressive Elite Eight showing in the NCAA Tournament. With head coach Ernie Kent having been with the Ducks for only 5 seasons the program's resurgence has been remarkable to say the least, particularly when considering the fact that in Kent's first year the team had a losing mark of 13-14.

Kent played at Oregon in the 1970's and after a seven year stretch coaching in Saudi Arabia came back to the States to take an assistant coaching position with Colorado State and later a similar position at Stanford University under Mike Montgomery. He was named head coach of St. Mary's University in Moraga, California from 1991 through 1997 as which point in time he was hired to return to the University of Oregon as head coach. In his 5 years in Eugene he has led the Ducks to the post-season three times and amassed nearly 100 wins for an incredible average of almost 20 victories per season.

This season the Ducks have a reasonable chance of repeating as Pac-10 champions, but it will be a difficult task considering the pre-season #1 ranked team in the nation, the Arizona Wildcats, are also looming large in the conference. Leading the squad will be junior point guard Luke Ridnour and senior forward Luke Jackson. Both players were among the most improved in the league last year and are very likely headed for all Pac-10 individual honors at the end of the season. Ridnour is one of the best and most feared point guards in the nation, and a likely first-round NBA draft pick should he decide to forgo his senior season. Quick, athletic and tenacious, Ridnour is equally adept at distributing the ball on the break or stroking it from just about anywhere on the court. Jackson is a versatile outside-inside athlete who can play out on the wing or even in the paint. He shoots 40% from the 3 point line, and is also a solid defender and rebounder of the basketball.

The other three complimentary starters will likely be Andre Joseph at the shooting guard position, Robert Johnson at power forward and Brain Helquist at center, though several other players such as James Davis and Ian Crosswhite may make it into the starting lineup at times. Joseph is a JC transfer from Texas and will replace the dynamic Freddie Jones who was lost to graduation. Johnson is arguably the best returning rebounder in the league and should be a force on the glass at both ends of the floor as well as defensively in the post. Most of his shots will come from 10 feet and in, but he's not really needed as a scorer with all of the offensive components on this team. Helquist is a big, strong player who is not afraid to mix it up underneath and also has a remarkably soft touch around the hoop for a man his size. He has reportedly worked hard on getting into the best playing shape possible and has lost some weight in the process. Crosswhite could replace Helquist in the starting lineup, particularly late in the season or if the Ducks go with a more athletic, quicker team. The southpaw from Australia is true to the mold of an overseas player with excellent offensive fundamentals, a nice fluid stroke and a multi-faceted court game. Davis is a player who will provide an offensive spark, particularly with his long range shooting and zone breaking capabilities. Other players that may see court time in a more limited capacity include Jay Anderson and Matt Short.

Recruiting Class Grade: B

If you include the redshirted Crosswhite and Short with this crop of newcomers it would be a grade ‘A' class. As it is, this is a very nice group of newcomers, with Andre Joseph as the player likely to have the most immediate impact as he steps into the starting role formerly occupied by the highflying Freddie Jones. Joseph isn't the athlete Jones was (let's face it, who is?) but he's a better, more consistent shooter and someone who will score quite a bit, especially with a talented point guard like Ridnour running the break for the quick and athletic Ducks. Brandon Lincoln is a top 100 national high school recruit according to most experts and has the versatility to play either position in the backcourt and the athleticism to play at small forward despite being only 6'4. Jordan Kent is the son of Oregon's head coach and the brother of current walk-on Marcus. He's a track star and superb athlete who will play both sports in college, but is likely redshirt this year. At 200 pounds he's capable of playing either wing position. The last addition to the class is Adam Zahn, an athletic and versatile forward who signed in the spring period.

Noteworthy:

- Ernie Kent is also the head coach of the Junior USA national team that spent part of this summer in Venezuela. One of the benefits of the job is having more access to elite national recruits than most if not all other college head coaches around the country.

-Jordan Kent won high school state track championships in the 200 and 400 meters and long jump.

-Crosswhite was a reserve on the national 22 and under team in Australia for the 2001 World Championships.

-Zahn's older brother Andrew played at the University of Arizona before transferring.

-The Ducks have non-conference games against Kansas, Cincinnati and Minnesota.

Outlook:

The veteran leadership provided by the likes of Ridnour and Jackson, combined with the coaching excellence of Kent and the home court advantage enjoyed at McArthur court firmly cements this team's projected second place finish in the conference race behind Arizona. Replacing the lumbering Chris Christoffersen with either Helquist or Crosswhite will enable this team to be even quicker up and down the floor and provide Ridnour the type of breakneck pace he thrives the most at. The Ducks have reasonable depth at the positions they need it most and if the two Luke's can stay reasonably healthy, this team has a chance to make a return deep run into the NCAA tournament.

Pac-10 Prediction: 13-5
Postseason: NCAA

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