Despite his success, Altman comes into the 2014-15 season facing the largest challenge of his coaching tenure with the Oregon Ducks. Since arriving in Eugene, Altman has dealt continuously with some sort of adversity with his club, whether it was injuries or suspensions. This season, he must address a whole different kind of adversity.
Altman will have to face down the attrition that has taken a toll on the Oregon roster. The Ducks lost five players to graduation, among them Johnathan Loyd and Jason Calliste. In addition, Arik Armstead decided to focus solely on football, Ben Carter transferred and Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson were dismissed in light of a sexual assault case.
This leaves Oregon with just three players on the roster that saw significant floor time a season ago. Joseph Young likely will shoulder the scoring load again this year, and it will be interesting to see how he manages without other proven scoring threats on the floor.
Alongside Young will be Elgin Cook and Jalil Abdul-Bassit. Last season, Cook was a prominent role player with the team, as he averaged 6.7 ppg in just less than 17 minutes of game time. Expect his load to increase, as he has the most experience of any player along the front line.
Abdul-Bassit played sparingly in half of Oregon’s games and shot 38.9% from 3-point range in his limited time on the court. He has the ability to stretch the floor, but needs to develop more of a game from inside the three-point line. When inside the arc, Abdul-Bassit shot a paltry 25% from the field. He simply has to be able to be more than one dimensional, or he will find himself run off of his shooting spot by tight defenses.
Bell, a 6-7 forward out of Long Beach, Calif., likely will shoulder the rebounding load and fill the role of inside presence. Oregon truly missed the combined presence of Arsalan Kazemi and Tony Woods last season, as the Ducks failed to make it back to the Sweet 16 for a second straight season.
Rorie is expected to pick up the slack left by the departure of Oregon’s point guards, and will look to be more of a scorer than Loyd did as a starter. Without Loyd as a consistent scoring threat, defenses packed in the paint, forcing Oregon to become a jump-shooting team and not allowing them to use the Young’s abilities to their full potential.
As a natural spot-up shooter, Rorie can allow the offense to run through Young. Defenses will not have the luxury of tightening a zone defense, unless they want to give Rorie easy looks from outside. The freshman’s presence on the court could serve to improve the flow of the offense and relieve some of the pressure on Young.
Junior transfers Michael Chandler and Dwayne Benjamin will be joining the Ducks as well this year. Chandler’s height will benefit the Ducks as he comes in at 6-10, but what is really going to help the team is his play around the rim.
Chandler has the strength to move bodies around under the hoop, but also demonstrates a soft touch amidst contact, often converting and getting to the free throw line. If Chandler and Bell can be productive together, the inside duo could give the Ducks an inside presence they haven’t had for some time.
In contrast, Benjamin is more flexible offensively. Able to be an outside shooter, he also attacks the rim with ferocity. Benjamin could prove to be a real X-factor and match-up problem, as his 6-7 frame will make him a tough cover on the perimeter for other forwards in the conference.
Oregon may be playing two freshmen, but don’t expect the Ducks’ schedule to be friendly. Road meetings with Illinois, UCLA, and Arizona loom large on the schedule, and the young players will have to grow up in a hurry if Oregon wants to have a successful season.
With the team in upheaval, the Ducks cannot afford to go into a tailspin as they did last year, losing eight of 10 Pac-12 games. An inexperienced team is less likely to rattle off eight straight wins, including sweeps in Los Angeles and sweeps at home of the Arizona and Washington schools.
If Altman fails to bring this team together or the freshmen and transfers struggle, Oregon could very easily occupying the bottom of the standings for much of the year, thus missing any opportunity at another postseason bid.
However, if the newcomers can make an impact from the beginning of the season and establish Altman’s system, it’s not unreasonable to see Oregon as a 5 or 6 seed going into the conference tournament, with an outside shot at making it into the big dance.
The reality for Oregon is likely somewhere in between those scenarios. While Oregon shouldn’t dismiss a shot at an NCAA tournament berth, it is wise to temper expectations and expect to see the Ducks in the NIT. Whether they host a game likely will depend on how they close the conference season, with a visit from the Rocky Mountain schools sandwiched between road trips to UCLA and USC as well as California and Stanford.
Despite these less lofty expectations, don’t expect Altman’s job to be in any sort of jeopardy, considering how well he already resurrected this program.
PLEASE NOTE: THIS STORY APPEARS IN THE WINTER 2014 ISSUE OF DUCK PLAYBOOK MAGAZINE