Oregon men’s basketball was close last season. Close to a long-awaited return to March Madness and even closer in the games it failed to win to secure a bid to the big dance.
January 29, 2012. Down by three points at 73-70, with the ball, 45 seconds to play against Oregon State. Oregon had a chance but failed to come up big late, after squandering a halftime lead against its rival from Corvallis, eventually losing 76-71.
Less than a week later, after holding a lead at intermission against Colorado, Oregon was knotted with the Buffaloes at 71-71 in the final seconds, but a foul on E.J. Singler with a second left led to a successful free throw for the Buffs and a loss for Oregon 72-71.
Beginning to see a trend?
Twelve days later against Cal, after again leading at the half, the Ducks let their advantage slip away and, despite holding a one-point edge with 90 seconds remaining, the Ducks were forced into a do-or-die three-point attempt at the buzzer to tie, which didn’t fall.
That was the Ducks’ fifth conference loss of the season, putting them at 9-5 in Pac-12 play.
Three losses by a combined deficit of only nine points, all after leading at the half, and with missed late-game opportunities.
Oregon won its next four though, and finished the regular season schedule at 13-5 in the Pac-12, 22-8 overall. With selection for the March Madness field at stake, Oregon needed to make a deep run in the Pac-12 Tournament or win it to secure a bid to the “big dance.”
What happened? The pattern continued. In the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament, after trading the lead all game long with Colorado, Oregon allowed the Buffaloes to take a one-point lead with less than 15 seconds on the clock, which doomed the Ducks.
March Madness Bracket pundits slated Oregon as one of the top teams to miss the cut for the field of 68.
Eight months after being eliminated from the big bracket contention, the Ducks are in the infancy stages of their 2012-2013 campaign. What will the Ducks have to do this season to make that jump into meaningful March competition? There is more than one answer. But the Ducks can start with nixing the trend of losing close games. If Oregon is to succeed in conference play and put together a resume worthy of tourney selection, the Ducks have to start coming up clutch when it counts.
To do this, the Ducks will have to rely on veteran leadership and play, which resides primarily in the frontcourt.
The Ducks lost their top scorer from last season in guard Devoe Joseph, a senior guard who played in just 28 games for the Ducks after transferring from Minnesota. Another top guard for them is gone to graduation, as Garrett Sim and his 12.2 points per game (third on the team last season) further depletes Oregon’s scorers and perimeter play.
Forwards E.J. Singler and Carlos Emory, along with center Tony Woods, all return to Oregon’s frontcourt as major contributors in minutes, points and rebounds.
Singler, the only senior on the team who has spent the duration of his college career at Oregon, will be expected to continue his yearly improvement and serve as the Ducks’ top threat as well as face of the team.
To accompany what the Ducks hope to be a formidable frontcourt, the Ducks will need a playmaker to replace Joseph at guard. The best prospect is freshman Dominic Artis out of basketball powerhouse Findlay Prep. Originally committed to UCLA, Artis switched his choice to Oregon. He is small at just 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds but is a good scorer and skilled ball handler.
Oregon head coach Dana Altman has seen his Ducks improve in each of his three years at the University of Oregon, and if the development continues the Ducks’ next step is the NCAA Tournament.