Men's BasketballSports

Kim: This Oregon team has overachieved and it’s also for real

Back in late October, I wrote about my early impressions of this season’s Oregon men’s basketball team.

As I sat courtside, watching the team go through routine drills, I saw a talented team that had a mixture of athleticism, seasoned returners and a highly touted freshman in Tyler Dorsey.

Even after losing reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year Joseph Young, it really didn’t feel like this team, which was projected to finish fourth in the conference by the media, was going to take a step backwards.

Villanova graduate transfer Dylan Ennis confirmed that sentiment, saying, “People should be excited about Oregon basketball this season,” before the season began.

Fast forward to now.

It’s early February and Oregon is ranked No. 11 in the country, has sole possession of the Pac-12 conference standings lead, is third on ESPN’s RPI rankings and is currently projected as a No. 2 seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament.

Like Ennis predicted, there was good reason to believe this team would be exciting to watch.

I have to admit though, that even I wasn’t this sold on the Ducks, especially after losing Ennis to a season-ending injury in January. But all this team has done is win games with its unforgiving defense and step up when the pressure is highest.

Currently, Oregon ranks second in the Pac-12 in points allowed at 67.4 and scoring margin at plus-10.7 per game.

You can question the early season road losses to UNLV (80-69), Boise State (74-72) and Oregon State (70-57), but don’t forget that Oregon snapped Arizona’s 49-game home winning streak at the McKale Center on national television, swept both the Wildcats and Arizona State on a road trip for the third time in program history and beat an NCAA tournament-caliber Utah team twice.

If it wasn’t already apparent, this team is for real.

What makes this Oregon team special is quite simple: Its defense consistently takes opponents out of their element and they feed the hot hand. Most nights that’s sophomore Dillon Brooks (16.9 ppg), and others it’s Elgin Cook (13.6 ppg) or junior college transfer Chris Boucher (12.7 ppg). Every night though, Oregon head coach Dana Altman has managed to get this talent-littered team to share the ball and play harder than its opponents.

Since Altman arrived in 2010, he’s done nothing but succeed. He has coached the Ducks to six straight 20-plus win seasons, a school-best three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and one Pac-12 title. He’s elevated this program to national heights that only former head coach Ernie Kent could rival.

Regardless of whether Oregon goes on to the win the Pac-12 tournament, regardless of how it fares in March, this team has exceeded expectations. So, with just seven games remaining on the conference schedule, enjoy what this team has to offer because teams with this type of talent don’t come around often.

“This year [has been] fun,” Altman said. “I’ve really enjoyed the group. We’ve got a long ways to go, but it’s a good group.”

Follow Hayden Kim on Twitter @HayDayKim

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Hayden Kim

Hayden Kim