College basketball is back! After seven-plus months of
ennui off-season story lines, we're finally back to watching and yammering about real hoops. And what a start! For the second straight season, Georgetown is tipping off in a high-profile game against a top-tier opponent in a venue honoring the troops. This time, they may even finish the game, having wisely abandoned last year's ship of fools for the less slippery, albeit more distant, confines of Camp Humphreys in South Korea.
Get to Know Oregon.
The big picture. After axing Ernie Kent in 2010, Oregon shelled out
the change in Phil Knight's couch $2 million annually to hire Altman away from Creighton. And the investment seems to be paying off: Altman's Duck teams have improved each season, from winning the championship of something called the CBI in year one (over his old Creighton team, no less) to 28 wins and a semi-surprise Sweet Sixteen run last season. Altman even won the Jim Phelan National Coach of the Year award for his efforts. Oregon lost four of its top five scorers from that season but still finds itself ranked in the preseason thanks to a remarkable influx of transfer talent.
What I learned from Wikipedia. You probably knew that Oregon won the first NCAA Tournament, in 1939. (Who could forget?) But did you also know that the Ducks that year were bestowed the nickname the Tall Firs? I'm pretty sure this awesome moniker also is the name of a beard-folk outfit from Portland. See if you can figure out which of these names did not belong to a Tall Fir: Wally, Red, Dutch, Slim, and Lauren. In related news, the jump shot was popularized just three years earlier.
Scandal! Turns out two Oregon sophomores--lead guard Dominic Artis (8.5 ppg, 3.2 apg, 2.4 TO pg) and big man Ben Carter (2.4 ppg, 2.3 rpg)--not only received lots of casual Nike gear, but also sold some of that gear. So, Oregon suspended them indefinitely. Artis started at the point for Oregon last season, and makes an impact primarily with his quickness. Carter played less than Artis, logging 10 minutes per game in reserve, but the Ducks' deep back court and thin front court may mean that they miss Carter more than Artis.
Roster rundown. Most of Oregon's roster this year is imported: if a player transferred in the past year, there's a 87.2* percent chance he ended up at Oregon. (*All figures approximate.)
Back court. Even shorthanded, Oregon has a stable of guards. Without Artis, the only returning starter is sophomore wing Damyean Dotson (11.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg). Dotson is a high-level athlete and an effective finisher around the rim with a developing perimeter touch. Junior guard Joseph Young (18.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.5 apg, 42 3FG% at Houston last season), a lethal perimeter shooter who also can score going to the basket, is the best of three transfer guards.
In Artis's absence, senior back-up Johnathan Loyd (5.0 ppg, 2.9 apg) probably will start at the point, as he did last year, when Artis missed time with injury. Loyd is pint-sized at just 5'8", but like Artis causes problems with his quickness. Graduate transfer guard Jason Calliste (14.4 ppg, 3.3 apg, 36.5 3FG% at Detroit) started both of Oregon's exhibition games, can provide ball-handling and outside shooting, and should see heavy minutes. Junior college import Jalil Abdul-Bassit (13 ppg, 38.5 3FG% in junior college) is an additional outside shooter off the pine.
Front court. Without Carter, Oregon's big-man rotation will be entirely comprised of transfers, having arrived this year or last. The biggest name up front is Mike Moser (7.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg) who somehow began his career at UCLA the year before Josh Smith arrived, then transferred to UNLV, where he graduated, making him immediately eligible for still another transfer, to Oregon. Moser averaged a double-double in his first year at UNLV before struggling through injuries last year. He will be counted on to protect the glass for Oregon. Flanking him likely will be center Waverly Austin (3.1 ppg, 2.7 rpg), a lightly used junior college transfer from last season who figures to take on a bigger role this year. Austin should be pushed for minutes by Richard Amardi, a junior college transfer (duh!). Still another juco import, wing Elgin Cook rounds out Ducks' rotation.
Oregon on twitter.
Oregon is the six foot two kid in your under 14 basketball league who nobody remembers going to elementary school with.— sir broosk (@celebrityhottub) September 29, 2013
Reason not to hate Oregon to the depths of your soul. Playing Oregon provides a really convenient excuse for super timely Mighty Ducks references. (Aside: as a native Minnesotan, I am always dumbfounded by the Hawks' coach's semi-Southern accent. I guess he gets a pass because he also was great in My Cousin Vinny.)
What to watch when the Ducks have the ball.
- Duck: Young. Young was a lights-out player for Houston, posting an offensive rating of 124.1 last season. That's top-30 nationally, about 70 spots ahead of Otto Porter's 118.8 figure. Then again, his Cougars played just three top-100 opponents all year, and played at a fast pace that often gave Young easier looks. Can he put up similar numbers against top-flight competition in a grind-it-out affair?
- Hoya: Jabril Trawick. Georgetown's best perimeter defender may have several assignments Friday night. When the Hoyas go man, Trawick could be tasked with tracking Young all over the court, keeping tabs on the long, athletic Dotson, or stopping Loyd's penetration. In a zone, 'Bril will have to effectively close out on Duck shooters while also rotating into the lane when playing help defense.
- Number: fouls. Much has been said about new hand-checking standards, but Friday will be the first time teams see how the officials call a real game. Will physical defenders like Trawick be vulnerable to a couple of quick whistles? With a thin back-court and uncertain options at small forward, Georgetown can ill afford any foul trouble.
- Feeling delusional because...Georgetown's defense was awesome last season, and Porter wasn't the only reason. Collective commitment and communication were at least as responsible for the Hoyas' stifling of their opponents, as were the individual talents of Trawick, Nate Lubick, Mikael Hopkins, and many others. The Hoyas know one another, and will be facing an Oregon squad that might as well be wearing name tags.
- Feeling cynical because...Oregon might outrun Georgetown. Oregon has been faster each season under Altman, last year rating 49th in adjusted tempo nationally. Altman's deep, guard-heavy roster suggests that the Ducks should push the pace this year, especially Friday against the bigger, more deliberate Hoyas, who ranked just 301st in pace last year. After Hoya misses, can Georgetown get back in transition? Will Josh Smith's plodding size make him a liability if the Ducks get out and run?
In transition: Camo Watch! What sartorial splendor can we expect Friday night? No surprises here, but the Hoyas and Ducks each will be rocking some camo. Apparently the back of the uniforms will have Veteran's Day-appropriate substitutes for the players' last names. No truth to the rumor that rejected slogans for the Ducks' unis included "AS SEEN ON EBAY" and "$ NIKE." Those unis will be complemented by camo shoes and digi-camo socks.
What to watch when the Hoyas have the ball.
- Hoya: Smith. If Smith is relatively nimble and can stay on the floor for several minutes without tiring, he could provide post scoring Georgetown lacked last year. Smith has impressed over the summer, in practice, and in recent scrimmages, but Friday will be the first time we see him in game action. Smith's likely opponent is Austin, who is large (6'11", 250 pounds) but unproven. If Smith can own the post or draw a few early fouls, the Ducks could be scrambling inside.
- Duck: pesky Oregon guards. Calliste averaged 2 steals per game last season (naturally, not for Oregon), and Dotson and Young also are athletes that can be nuisances defensively. Oregon push the pace, extending its defense to try to wear out the Hoya guards. Georgetown's ball-handling and passing must be crisp to avoid a sloppy turnover fest that results in easy Duck buckets (duckets?).
- Number: offensive rebounds. Last year, Georgetown was a so-so offensive rebounding team, and Oregon dominated the defensive glass, allowing barely 27 percent of opponents' misses as second chances. But this is a new year: the Hoyas added Smith, a prolific offensive rebounder, while the Ducks lost their top four defensive rebounders, including Arsalan Kazemi, the nation's best defensive rebounder. A few Hoya second chances could lead to easy put-backs for Smith, Lubick, and Hopkins.
- Feeling delusional because...Georgetown's top three scoring options--Starks, DSR, and Smith--are a solid mix of inside and outside; shot-creation, shot-making, and rebounding; skill and force. If they mesh early, this trio, plus complementary parts in Lubick, Trawick, Hopkins, and maybe even Reggie Cameron, could comprise a skilled, balanced, well-rounded offensive machine.
- Feeling cynical because...The Hoya offense may take some time get reoriented. Georgetown struggled to score last year, and with Porter departed, possessions will be redistributed. Unless the Hoyas discover at least one more jump-shooter, spacing could be an issue again. Regardless, integrating Smith into the lineup will take some time. Meanwhile, Oregon will throw several looks at Georgetown, including full-court pressure and some zone looks Georgetown might struggle to crack.
Conclusion. This game is a study in contrasts. Even with a well-known newcomer, Georgetown has a very similar roster to the one that finished last season, while Oregon has six incoming transfers. The guard-heavy Ducks figure to push the pace both on defense and with the ball, while the Hoyas likely will play their typically deliberate style. While Oregon is ranked to begin the season, I expect Georgetown's comparative continuity will count for something, and the suspended Ducks diminish their depth advantage. Count on a close game, with the Hoyas turning to veteran leadership late. Georgetown 64, Oregon 60.