2003 Pac-10 BB Preview: No 4, Oregon

<p class=txt>A program that finished one step from the Final Four in 2002 had high expectations for the 2003 season. The Ducks retained the best 1-2 combo on the west coast in juniors Luke Ridnour and Luke Jackson, a duo that had propelled the 2002 team to their first outright conference title in 63 years. Yet somehow the 'Luke &amp; Luke' show ended 2003 on a dismal note. Despite a Pac-10 Tournament title, many observers were left wondering what had changed so drastically in just one year.

Head Coach: Ernie Kent (7th Year)
Assistants: John Cooper, Scott Duncan, Fred Litzenberger
Website: www.goducks.com

2002-03 Pac-10 record: 10-8 (finished fifth, fifth seed); 3-0 in the Pac-10 Tournament
2002-03 Overall record: 23-10; 1st Round loss in the NCAA Tournament to Utah, 60-58
2002-03 Highlight: Oregon's 2003 season was highlighted by an early December 'revenge' win over powerhouse Kansas and their first Pac-10 Tournament Championship. The Jayhawks had eliminated the Ducks from the NCAA Tournament in the Elite 8 round the previous March. The Pac-10 Tournament Championship was achieved by beating 4-seed Arizona State, 8-seed UCLA and 7-seed USC in the finale.

Best Oregon quote in 2002:

" Guys are starting to feel like we did last year. We're starting to play our best basketball at the end of the season. We feel we can go on a run in the NCAA tournament."

- Luke Ridnour, Oregon's junior point guard and Pac-10 Player of the Year after Oregon's 74-66 win over USC to win the 2003 Pac-10 Tournament in Los Angeles. Less than a week later, the Ducks would lose 60-58 to Utah in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Key Losses:
Luke Ridnour 6'2 175 (19.7 ppg, 6.6 apg, 38% 3-Ptr's) - Pac-10 Player of Year; first round NBA DP
Robert Johnson 6'8 245 (7.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.0 apg) - departing senior

Recruiting Class:
PG - Aaron Brooks 6'0 160 Fr - Franklin HS, Seattle WA - Prep All-American; 24 ppg as a senior
C - Ray Schafer 7'0 230 Fr - Wasilla HS, Wasilla, AK - Gatorade Alaska Player of the Year
C - Mitch Platt 6'10 270 Fr - Green Valley HS, Henderson NV - Las Vegas Sun All-State 1st team

Projected Starting Five (returning starters in Bold):
PG - Aaron Brooks 6'0 160 Fr - Franklin HS, Seattle WA - Prep All-American; 24 ppg as a senior
SG - James Davis 5'10 175 Sr (10.5 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 2.3 apg, 43% 3-Ptr's) - Team-high 90 3-Ptr's
SF - Luke Jackson 6'7 215 Sr (16.0 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 3.6 apg, 36% 3-Ptr's) -2nd in scoring in 2002-03
PF - Ian Crosswhite 6'11 250 So (9.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg) - Pac-10 All-Freshman honorable mention
C - Matt Short 7'0 235 So (10.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 37% 3-Ptr's) - 8 starts in 2002-03; 63% FG shooter

Key Returning Reserves:
SG - Andre Joseph 6'3 185 Sr (9.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.8 apg, 35% 3-Ptr's) - 47 trey's in 2002-03
PF - Jay Anderson 6'9 220 Sr (2.3 ppg, 1.6 rpg) - Played in all 33 games
PG - Brandon Lincoln 6'4 200 So (2.4 ppg, 0.8 rpg, 0.5 apg, 47% 3-Ptr's) - 26 games as a freshman
PF - Adam Zahn 6'8 225 Fr (Red-shirt in 2002-03) - Did not play
SG - Jordan Kent 6'5 200 Fr (Red-shirt in 2002-03) - Did not play

Inconsistencies played a large part in Oregon's letdown year. After avenging an NCAA Tournament loss to the Kansas Jayhawks in the fifth game of the season, many in Eugene felt the Ducks had an NCAA Championship caliber squad. The Ducks were not only 5-0, but ranked as the fifth best team in the nation.

" I'd like to call it a statement game," said coach Ernie Kent after his program's thrilling win against Kansas. "It felt like a postseason atmosphere."

Ernie garnered his 100th win at Oregon in the following game against Pepperdine to push the Ducks to 6-0. But then the wheels of Oregon's high-octane offense fell off, and without the maestro of the offense (former assistant coach Greg Graham who had left for Boise State), the Ducks were left with no one to answer their defense-to-offense breakdowns. Lapses on secondary fast breaks and defensive rebounding resulted in confused team chemistry. The signs started showing after the 6-0 start, as the Cincinnati Bearcats published a road-map on how to beat the Ducks.

" We had to make this game a fist fight," Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins said after his Bearcats beat up the Ducks 77-52. "We had to get back fast and go 5-on-5. We couldn't let them play in transition. We had to try and be as physical as we possibly could."

Ernie Kent chimed in the obvious: "They dominated our team in every aspect of the game. They were tougher than we were."

From that point on, the Ducks spiraled down out of the AP's Top 10 and eventually out of the Top 25. During the course of Oregon's first four Pac-10 games, Arizona, Stanford, and Cal each hammered home the fact that the Ducks weren't as tough as they had been in 2002. Even Arizona State, the only team the Ducks defeated in their 1-3 conference start, had them down at the end of 20 minutes.

Ridnour and Jackson did get Oregon back upright by reeling off 4-straight Pac-10 victories, but then the team fell hard on the road against USC. That sequence told the season's tale: up and down. The Ducks went on to the win the Pac-10 Tournament, thanks in part to some sensational upsets by other teams, but were then out-muscled (in the NCAA tourney) by a Utah team operating without their best player. In the end, it was a season that left more questions than answers, made worse by Pac-10 Player of the Year Luke Ridnour's decision to forgo his senior year at Oregon.

With Ridnour now a Seattle Supersonic, back in his home state, leadership of the Ducks falls to Luke Jackson. The senior from Creswell, Oregon, is a major asset; statistically he is the best all-around player in the Pac-10 with his ability to pass, rebound, and score. In half-court sets, Jackson has made a living off Oregon's screen and roll. He can hit the 12-footer consistently, pass off a screen, or even drive and draw contact. He can step back behind the line, or hit a turn-around jumper from the baseline. Last year, it appeared that Jackson struggled with either his conditioning or perhaps just knowing where to be on the court at a time when the Ducks were increasing their game tempo. Some even suggested an unreported injury. Still, Luke's numbers were there even if his buckets weren't as timely as they had been 002. Nevertheless, Jackson, one of the strongest competitors in the Pac-10, will come back with a vengeance. He'll play 35 minutes a game in 2003-04.

Replacing a Pac-10 Player of the Year is never an easy chore for a freshman, but that's the task facing Aaron Brooks. A McDonald's All-American, Brooks fell a few votes shy of being the unanimous selection as the Washington State HS Player of the Year. He led his Franklin HS squad to the 4A state title and pulled in the prestigious Gatorade HS Player of the Year award. An ultra-quick performer who has excellent ball-handling skills, Brooks joins Arizona's Mustafa Shakur, Cal's Ayinde Ubaka, and USC's Rodrick Stewart as the Pac-10's top-flight freshmen point guard class. Aaron excels in the open court and is adept at pushing the ball at high speed. He has to work on not using his hands so much on defense, but Brooks will be a solid first year player for Ernie Kent.

" Aaron will bring an element to the conference that I don't think we've seen since (UCLA's) Tyus Edney," Kent said recently to the Seattle Times.

If Brooks starts slowly, sophomore Brandon Lincoln will split time with him. A prep star in the Portland area, Lincoln has both a steady jumper and quality size at 6'4. More of a two-guard than a true point, Lincoln has good dribbling skills but lacks the zip of a Ridnour. Some have suggested that Lincoln is playing "out-of-system" in Oregon's high-tempo offense. In 26 games last year, Brandon averaged just over 8 minutes. He should see that bumped up to 10 or 12 minutes a game in 2003-04.

With two senior shooting guards at his beck and call, Ernie Kent has quality backcourt depth. The diminutive James Davis started nearly every game last year and is one of the more underrated players in the conference. Savvy and usually clutch, Davis made more three-pointers than anyone else in the Pac-10, 90 to be precise. He also shot over 90% from the free-throw line. Unfortunately, Davis plays outside the arc more than most. He shot twelve less free throws (21) than games played (33), which diminished his potential contribution to the team. Davis missed two end-of-the-game shots against Utah in Oregon's first round NCAA Tournament loss last year, but he is expected to have a fine senior season. His lack of size creates some liabilities on the defensive end.

Andre Joseph will play behind Davis. This 6'3 junior from Texas had the middling year that is typical for a JC-transfer. After getting 20 games under his belt, he began to play with more confidence and was one of the keys to Oregon's Pac-10 Tournament Championship. With his size and athleticism, Joseph takes the ball to the hoop more than Davis. AJ, as he is called, will contribute more this year, which makes him a solid sleeper candidate. Playing behind Davis and Joseph is Coach Kent's son, Jordan, a sprinter who red-shirted last season. His court time will be limited this year due to playing behind two seniors.

Sixty-four years ago, Oregon became the first team to win the newly inaugurated NCAA Championship. Some might remember the 'Tall Firs' moniker that was applied to those 1939 Ducks by L.H. Gregory, a sportswriter for the Oregonian. Belying that label, 6'8 center Urgel 'Slim' Wintermute was the tallest man on the roster while 6'4 guard Lauren 'Laddie Gale was the team's leading player.

In comparison, the Ducks start the 2003-04 season with six players who are 6'8 and taller. The starters will likely be Ian Crosswhite and Matt Short, a sophomore tandem who are interchangeable at the four and five slots. Crosswhite is an intriguing post player due to his activity, creativity, and aggressive shooting habits, both inside and out. This Australian native from Castlecrag has very good form and outstanding size. His 22-point, 12-rebound performance against UCLA last year showcased his skills. His weaknesses are rebounding and playing defense, and his aggressive shooting has sometimes pulled the Ducks out of sync; this did not go over well with his teammates. Ian spent some time last year focused on maturing, learning to play smarter.

"The only thing holding him back is the consistency of pushing himself every day in practice and in every game," UO coach Ernie Kent said. "He can become such a force in there, but the problem is we want that now. Ian can be a very good player, and he understands that, but there's a difference between understanding it and doing it. He knows it, he does it, and then you want it every time."

Crosswhite, who has a sister who plays for the University of Virginia, could mature into a prominent scoring option for the Ducks as early as this season.

Matt Short is a steady 7-footer who is very mobile. He surprised the conference with his toughness and quick dribble moves around the basket, and should continue to improve. A red-shirt sophomore from Yreka, CA, Short became the starter last season when Crosswhite found himself in Coach Kent's doghouse.

Jay Anderson is an older but shorter version of Matt Short. This senior who transferred out of the troubled Minnesota program will be one of the first men off the bench. An underrated shooter, Anderson can step out and hit the long-range jumper. Unlike his predecessor Brian Helquist, Anderson is not "brawn off the bench". When he is not just being aggressive, Anderson struggles with his match-ups because he doesn't have very good defensive skills.

Behind Anderson is a trio of freshmen: Ray Schafer, Mitch Platt, and Adam Zahn. Schafer has a big upside and is already adept at keeping the ball above his head. The winner of the Gatorade Alaska HS Player of the Year award, Schafer played under the national recruiting radar most of the year because his home state is not widely covered in the press. He could surprise, especially if Crosswhite goes south again. Platt is one of the better passers on the Duck's squad, and Zahn is a red-shirt freshman who will play if Anderson doesn't display the needed aggressiveness. Zahn's name might be familiar to Pac-10 fans because his older brother Andrew attended Arizona for a short period.

Oregon's frontcourt players are very young: 3 freshmen, 2 sophomores, and 1 senior. As a group they run the court very well, a good match with the design of the Oregon offense. Ernie Kent has been recruiting post players that have both height and speed ever since he and his staff took the helm in Eugene six years ago. Though many of his frontcourt players were lightly recruited, Kent feels he has his best inside group yet.

"It's the first time in a long time that we've had big guys who can get things done inside on a consistent basis," Kent said.

the Ducks have a very fluid offensive system when things are clicking. The worry in Eugene is that the loss of trigger man and fire-starter Luke Ridnour will throw a wrench into the Ducks timing, but that won't be much of a factor if Brooks runs the court like his potential says he can. The keys for this Ducks team are to get a consistent effort from senior Luke Jackson, play defense as they did two years ago, and develop a tougher attitude. Last year the Ducks often just played to outscore their opponents, and they did that well. They finished as the fifth best offensive team in the nation, and they led the Pac-10 with a 39% clip from beyond the three-point arc. If the Ducks play defense well, they'll win a ton of games, because they will have no difficulty scoring.

What makes a team 'tough'? Some people say it's physical, while others say it starts with an attitude. One thing is sure: being tough emerges comes in close games. It becomes evident in how a team plays defense, how a team fouls. It can also show in the way a team practices and how they carry themselves on the court. Tough teams don't want to lose; you can call it a swagger or whatever, but the bottom line is that you have to have it to win.

In 2001-02, Oregon had that swagger and it carried the Ducks to their best season in over a half-century. Last year, the Ducks lost it after a few early disappointing games. This year, they'll try to regain it through a renewed commitment to defense and rebounding. In 2002, Oregon gave up more rebounds than any other Pac-10 team a year ago (977), and consequently more points than any other team (2145). Unlike some other Pac-10 teams, the Ducks know exactly what they need to do to improve.

I believe the Ducks will improve one level from last year as a result of having better chemistry. A summer spent working on shot-selection will help Oregon's transition game, as will freshman-star Aaron Brooks. Luke Jackson might well be the best player in the Pac-10, and Oregon can score as well as any other team in the conference. Just a touch of defense will propel the Ducks to a top 4 finish.

©Copyright November 2003, GoCyberBears.com and The Insiders. All rights reserved.

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Head Coach: Ernie Kent (7th Year)
Assistants: John Cooper, Scott Duncan, Fred Litzenberger
Website: www.goducks.com

2002-03 Pac-10 record: 10-8 (finished fifth, fifth seed); 3-0 in the Pac-10 Tournament
2002-03 Overall record: 23-10; 1st Round loss in the NCAA Tournament to Utah, 60-58
2002-03 Highlight: Oregon's 2003 season was highlighted by an early December 'revenge' win over powerhouse Kansas and their first Pac-10 Tournament Championship. The Jayhawks had eliminated the Ducks from the NCAA Tournament in the Elite 8 round the previous March. The Pac-10 Tournament Championship was achieved by beating 4-seed Arizona State, 8-seed UCLA and 7-seed USC in the finale.

Best Oregon quote in 2002:

" Guys are starting to feel like we did last year. We're starting to play our best basketball at the end of the season. We feel we can go on a run in the NCAA tournament."

- Luke Ridnour, Oregon's junior point guard and Pac-10 Player of the Year after Oregon's 74-66 win over USC to win the 2003 Pac-10 Tournament in Los Angeles. Less than a week later, the Ducks would lose 60-58 to Utah in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Key Losses:
Luke Ridnour 6'2 175 (19.7 ppg, 6.6 apg, 38% 3-Ptr's) - Pac-10 Player of Year; first round NBA DP
Robert Johnson 6'8 245 (7.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.0 apg) - departing senior

Recruiting Class:
PG - Aaron Brooks 6'0 160 Fr - Franklin HS, Seattle WA - Prep All-American; 24 ppg as a senior
C - Ray Schafer 7'0 230 Fr - Wasilla HS, Wasilla, AK - Gatorade Alaska Player of the Year
C - Mitch Platt 6'10 270 Fr - Green Valley HS, Henderson NV - Las Vegas Sun All-State 1st team

Projected Starting Five (returning starters in Bold):
PG - Aaron Brooks 6'0 160 Fr - Franklin HS, Seattle WA - Prep All-American; 24 ppg as a senior
SG - James Davis 5'10 175 Sr (10.5 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 2.3 apg, 43% 3-Ptr's) - Team-high 90 3-Ptr's
SF - Luke Jackson 6'7 215 Sr (16.0 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 3.6 apg, 36% 3-Ptr's) -2nd in scoring in 2002-03
PF - Ian Crosswhite 6'11 250 So (9.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg) - Pac-10 All-Freshman honorable mention
C - Matt Short 7'0 235 So (10.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 37% 3-Ptr's) - 8 starts in 2002-03; 63% FG shooter

Key Returning Reserves:
SG - Andre Joseph 6'3 185 Sr (9.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.8 apg, 35% 3-Ptr's) - 47 trey's in 2002-03
PF - Jay Anderson 6'9 220 Sr (2.3 ppg, 1.6 rpg) - Played in all 33 games
PG - Brandon Lincoln 6'4 200 So (2.4 ppg, 0.8 rpg, 0.5 apg, 47% 3-Ptr's) - 26 games as a freshman
PF - Adam Zahn 6'8 225 Fr (Red-shirt in 2002-03) - Did not play
SG - Jordan Kent 6'5 200 Fr (Red-shirt in 2002-03) - Did not play

Inconsistencies played a large part in Oregon's letdown year. After avenging an NCAA Tournament loss to the Kansas Jayhawks in the fifth game of the season, many in Eugene felt the Ducks had an NCAA Championship caliber squad. The Ducks were not only 5-0, but ranked as the fifth best team in the nation.

" I'd like to call it a statement game," said coach Ernie Kent after his program's thrilling win against Kansas. "It felt like a postseason atmosphere."

Ernie garnered his 100th win at Oregon in the following game against Pepperdine to push the Ducks to 6-0. But then the wheels of Oregon's high-octane offense fell off, and without the maestro of the offense (former assistant coach Greg Graham who had left for Boise State), the Ducks were left with no one to answer their defense-to-offense breakdowns. Lapses on secondary fast breaks and defensive rebounding resulted in confused team chemistry. The signs started showing after the 6-0 start, as the Cincinnati Bearcats published a road-map on how to beat the Ducks.

" We had to make this game a fist fight," Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins said after his Bearcats beat up the Ducks 77-52. "We had to get back fast and go 5-on-5. We couldn't let them play in transition. We had to try and be as physical as we possibly could."

Ernie Kent chimed in the obvious: "They dominated our team in every aspect of the game. They were tougher than we were."

From that point on, the Ducks spiraled down out of the AP's Top 10 and eventually out of the Top 25. During the course of Oregon's first four Pac-10 games, Arizona, Stanford, and Cal each hammered home the fact that the Ducks weren't as tough as they had been in 2002. Even Arizona State, the only team the Ducks defeated in their 1-3 conference start, had them down at the end of 20 minutes.

Ridnour and Jackson did get Oregon back upright by reeling off 4-straight Pac-10 victories, but then the team fell hard on the road against USC. That sequence told the season's tale: up and down. The Ducks went on to the win the Pac-10 Tournament, thanks in part to some sensational upsets by other teams, but were then out-muscled (in the NCAA tourney) by a Utah team operating without their best player. In the end, it was a season that left more questions than answers, made worse by Pac-10 Player of the Year Luke Ridnour's decision to forgo his senior year at Oregon.

With Ridnour now a Seattle Supersonic, back in his home state, leadership of the Ducks falls to Luke Jackson. The senior from Creswell, Oregon, is a major asset; statistically he is the best all-around player in the Pac-10 with his ability to pass, rebound, and score. In half-court sets, Jackson has made a living off Oregon's screen and roll. He can hit the 12-footer consistently, pass off a screen, or even drive and draw contact. He can step back behind the line, or hit a turn-around jumper from the baseline. Last year, it appeared that Jackson struggled with either his conditioning or perhaps just knowing where to be on the court at a time when the Ducks were increasing their game tempo. Some even suggested an unreported injury. Still, Luke's numbers were there even if his buckets weren't as timely as they had been 002. Nevertheless, Jackson, one of the strongest competitors in the Pac-10, will come back with a vengeance. He'll play 35 minutes a game in 2003-04.

Replacing a Pac-10 Player of the Year is never an easy chore for a freshman, but that's the task facing Aaron Brooks. A McDonald's All-American, Brooks fell a few votes shy of being the unanimous selection as the Washington State HS Player of the Year. He led his Franklin HS squad to the 4A state title and pulled in the prestigious Gatorade HS Player of the Year award. An ultra-quick performer who has excellent ball-handling skills, Brooks joins Arizona's Mustafa Shakur, Cal's Ayinde Ubaka, and USC's Rodrick Stewart as the Pac-10's top-flight freshmen point guard class. Aaron excels in the open court and is adept at pushing the ball at high speed. He has to work on not using his hands so much on defense, but Brooks will be a solid first year player for Ernie Kent.

" Aaron will bring an element to the conference that I don't think we've seen since (UCLA's) Tyus Edney," Kent said recently to the Seattle Times.

If Brooks starts slowly, sophomore Brandon Lincoln will split time with him. A prep star in the Portland area, Lincoln has both a steady jumper and quality size at 6'4. More of a two-guard than a true point, Lincoln has good dribbling skills but lacks the zip of a Ridnour. Some have suggested that Lincoln is playing "out-of-system" in Oregon's high-tempo offense. In 26 games last year, Brandon averaged just over 8 minutes. He should see that bumped up to 10 or 12 minutes a game in 2003-04.

With two senior shooting guards at his beck and call, Ernie Kent has quality backcourt depth. The diminutive James Davis started nearly every game last year and is one of the more underrated players in the conference. Savvy and usually clutch, Davis made more three-pointers than anyone else in the Pac-10, 90 to be precise. He also shot over 90% from the free-throw line. Unfortunately, Davis plays outside the arc more than most. He shot twelve less free throws (21) than games played (33), which diminished his potential contribution to the team. Davis missed two end-of-the-game shots against Utah in Oregon's first round NCAA Tournament loss last year, but he is expected to have a fine senior season. His lack of size creates some liabilities on the defensive end.

Andre Joseph will play behind Davis. This 6'3 junior from Texas had the middling year that is typical for a JC-transfer. After getting 20 games under his belt, he began to play with more confidence and was one of the keys to Oregon's Pac-10 Tournament Championship. With his size and athleticism, Joseph takes the ball to the hoop more than Davis. AJ, as he is called, will contribute more this year, which makes him a solid sleeper candidate. Playing behind Davis and Joseph is Coach Kent's son, Jordan, a sprinter who red-shirted last season. His court time will be limited this year due to playing behind two seniors.

Sixty-four years ago, Oregon became the first team to win the newly inaugurated NCAA Championship. Some might remember the 'Tall Firs' moniker that was applied to those 1939 Ducks by L.H. Gregory, a sportswriter for the Oregonian. Belying that label, 6'8 center Urgel 'Slim' Wintermute was the tallest man on the roster while 6'4 guard Lauren 'Laddie Gale was the team's leading player.

In comparison, the Ducks start the 2003-04 season with six players who are 6'8 and taller. The starters will likely be Ian Crosswhite and Matt Short, a sophomore tandem who are interchangeable at the four and five slots. Crosswhite is an intriguing post player due to his activity, creativity, and aggressive shooting habits, both inside and out. This Australian native from Castlecrag has very good form and outstanding size. His 22-point, 12-rebound performance against UCLA last year showcased his skills. His weaknesses are rebounding and playing defense, and his aggressive shooting has sometimes pulled the Ducks out of sync; this did not go over well with his teammates. Ian spent some time last year focused on maturing, learning to play smarter.

"The only thing holding him back is the consistency of pushing himself every day in practice and in every game," UO coach Ernie Kent said. "He can become such a force in there, but the problem is we want that now. Ian can be a very good player, and he understands that, but there's a difference between understanding it and doing it. He knows it, he does it, and then you want it every time."

Crosswhite, who has a sister who plays for the University of Virginia, could mature into a prominent scoring option for the Ducks as early as this season.

Matt Short is a steady 7-footer who is very mobile. He surprised the conference with his toughness and quick dribble moves around the basket, and should continue to improve. A red-shirt sophomore from Yreka, CA, Short became the starter last season when Crosswhite found himself in Coach Kent's doghouse.

Jay Anderson is an older but shorter version of Matt Short. This senior who transferred out of the troubled Minnesota program will be one of the first men off the bench. An underrated shooter, Anderson can step out and hit the long-range jumper. Unlike his predecessor Brian Helquist, Anderson is not "brawn off the bench". When he is not just being aggressive, Anderson struggles with his match-ups because he doesn't have very good defensive skills.

Behind Anderson is a trio of freshmen: Ray Schafer, Mitch Platt, and Adam Zahn. Schafer has a big upside and is already adept at keeping the ball above his head. The winner of the Gatorade Alaska HS Player of the Year award, Schafer played under the national recruiting radar most of the year because his home state is not widely covered in the press. He could surprise, especially if Crosswhite goes south again. Platt is one of the better passers on the Duck's squad, and Zahn is a red-shirt freshman who will play if Anderson doesn't display the needed aggressiveness. Zahn's name might be familiar to Pac-10 fans because his older brother Andrew attended Arizona for a short period.

Oregon's frontcourt players are very young: 3 freshmen, 2 sophomores, and 1 senior. As a group they run the court very well, a good match with the design of the Oregon offense. Ernie Kent has been recruiting post players that have both height and speed ever since he and his staff took the helm in Eugene six years ago. Though many of his frontcourt players were lightly recruited, Kent feels he has his best inside group yet.

"It's the first time in a long time that we've had big guys who can get things done inside on a consistent basis," Kent said.

the Ducks have a very fluid offensive system when things are clicking. The worry in Eugene is that the loss of trigger man and fire-starter Luke Ridnour will throw a wrench into the Ducks timing, but that won't be much of a factor if Brooks runs the court like his potential says he can. The keys for this Ducks team are to get a consistent effort from senior Luke Jackson, play defense as they did two years ago, and develop a tougher attitude. Last year the Ducks often just played to outscore their opponents, and they did that well. They finished as the fifth best offensive team in the nation, and they led the Pac-10 with a 39% clip from beyond the three-point arc. If the Ducks play defense well, they'll win a ton of games, because they will have no difficulty scoring.

What makes a team 'tough'? Some people say it's physical, while others say it starts with an attitude. One thing is sure: being tough emerges comes in close games. It becomes evident in how a team plays defense, how a team fouls. It can also show in the way a team practices and how they carry themselves on the court. Tough teams don't want to lose; you can call it a swagger or whatever, but the bottom line is that you have to have it to win.

In 2001-02, Oregon had that swagger and it carried the Ducks to their best season in over a half-century. Last year, the Ducks lost it after a few early disappointing games. This year, they'll try to regain it through a renewed commitment to defense and rebounding. In 2002, Oregon gave up more rebounds than any other Pac-10 team a year ago (977), and consequently more points than any other team (2145). Unlike some other Pac-10 teams, the Ducks know exactly what they need to do to improve.

I believe the Ducks will improve one level from last year as a result of having better chemistry. A summer spent working on shot-selection will help Oregon's transition game, as will freshman-star Aaron Brooks. Luke Jackson might well be the best player in the Pac-10, and Oregon can score as well as any other team in the conference. Just a touch of defense will propel the Ducks to a top 4 finish.

©Copyright November 2003, GoCyberBears.com and The Insiders. All rights reserved.

============

CyberBear Staff Writers regularly visit the CyberBears Insider board, and are available to discuss questions you may have about this article or about Cal Athletics.

= GreyBear, Webmaster

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