Fresh off a scintillating finish to last season in which the Ducks captured a Pac-12 Tournament crown and Sweet 16 berth, this year’s squad is loaded with talent and experience, but is once again facing massive roster turnover.
Out go five of the team’s top-six scorers from a year ago, and in come a talented mix of transfers and high school recruits. Despite the influx of new faces, the roster has plenty of college basketball experience and should be equipped to hit the ground running for its grueling November schedule.
Senior point guard Payton Pritchard will be running the show as the go-to scoring option and lead facilitator. He has two deep NCAA Tournament runs — including a Final Four appearance in 2017 — on his resume and is among the favorites for Pac-12 Player of the Year.
Starting beside Pritchard will most likely be 6-foot-4 wing and New Mexico transfer Anthony Mathis, who should step in right away and shoot it at a high clip — he shot 47% from three last season and 41% the year prior. Pritchard and Mathis were teammates and Oregon state champions together at West Linn High School.
“His shot has always been dynamic,” Pritchard said of Mathis. “One of the best shooters I’ve ever been around.”
Sophomore combo guard Will Richardson is back after a promising freshman season, and his scoring punch and playmaking should yield him plenty of minutes, whether it be off the bench or in a starting role. Beyond Richardson, some combination of junior college transfer Chris Duarte, four-star freshman Addison Patterson, UNLV transfer Shakur Juiston and freshman CJ Walker should comprise the majority of the rest of the minutes on the wing.
Juiston, in particular, was one of the prized grad-transfers on the market in the offseason and could become a do-it-all type of player in a similar mold to former Duck Dillon Brooks.
Walker could see minutes both on the wing and down low depending on lineups head coach Dana Altman uses, but his defensive versatility in both the pick-and-roll and rim protection should allow him to play both spots. Offensively, he’s uber-athletic and likes to put the ball on the floor; he’s a good-but-not-great shooter right now but has a smooth stroke and range that occasionally stretches to 3-point territory.
Up front, five-star center N’Faly Dante was the headliner of yet another top-five recruiting class for Altman. However, he’ll be ineligible until Dec. 14 due to the NCAA missing his admissions clearance date to the University of Oregon. He won’t be able to practice with the team until then but will be the team’s most dominating inside presence upon his return and could be a first-round NBA Draft pick in June.
In Dante’s absence, sophomore Francis Okoro returns after coming on strong at the end of last season. Kenny Wooten’s departure leaves a gaping rebounding and shot-blocking hole in the middle, and Okoro hopes to step into that role in his second year.
“Rebounding has got to be the No. 1 priority for me,” Okoro said. “I have to get more rebounds. I have to try to block shots.”
With one of the best players in the conference in Pritchard and long, athletic defenders up and down the roster, the No. 15 Ducks have all the pieces to once again compete for a Pac-12 Championship and deep run in March.
“I think we really got a good chance this year with the kind of guys we’ve got,” Okoro said. “Everybody’s trying to pick up from what we did last year.”