Kim: What’s next for Oregon men’s basketball?

Oregon head coach Dana Altman has a word with Damyean Dotson before the start of the basketball game. The Oregon Ducks play the Arizona Wildcats at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Ore., on March 8, 2014. (Ryan Kang/Emerald)

Oregon head coach Dana Altman has a word with Damyean Dotson before the start of the basketball game. The Oregon Ducks play the Arizona Wildcats at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Ore., on March 8, 2014. (Ryan Kang/Emerald)

Posted by Hayden Kim on Thursday, Mar. 27 at 5:00 pm.

The Oregon men’s basketball team (24-10, 10-8 Pac-12) has come a long way. Since bringing in Dana Altman from Creighton in 2010, the Ducks have experienced four straight 20-win seasons and two straight NCAA tournaments. And during these past four years, the Ducks have established themselves as a formidable — at times, elite — national team.

But for Altman and his players, this may not be enough.

Oregon, like many teams before them, has reached the crossroads between plateauing as an above average team and becoming a national powerhouse. Whether or not they will be able to cross these roads in the coming years will depend on a few key changes; some of which will be out of their control.

One forgettable second half was all that stood between the Ducks and a second straight trip to the Sweet 16. The Ducks dictated the pace and rhythm of the game against favored No. 2 seed Wisconsin in the first half in the third round of the West Regional and at the break, it looked like they were well on their way to the next round.

“We definitely knew (Wisconsin) was going to make a run,” Mike Moser said following the loss. “I thought we were going to handle it better.”

But they were simply overmatched in the paint when the game slowed down in the second half, a big reason why the Ducks failed to close out the game.

“Our defensive effort was just not good,” Altman said after the loss to the Badgers. “I was proud of the guys for getting back under control, fighting back and taking the lead there, but we just could not get a big rebound there.”

In many ways, this was a reflection of the program as a whole.

Similar to last season when the Ducks fell to the eventual champion Louisville in the Sweet 16, there was an empty feeling that resided — the possibility that they could have done more. For a program that is looking to steadily progress under Altman, there have been a few missing links that have held them back from reaching their full potential.

Recruiting has been Altman’s strong suit, but team chemistry and player development have lacked, especially this season. These two areas will have to improve if the Ducks truly want to take the next step.

With the potential jump to the NBA from junior guard Joseph Young, who led the team in scoring at 18.9 points per game, and the departures of seniors Moser (13.2 points per game) and Jason Calliste (12.7 points per game), the Ducks will need to look elsewhere for veteran leadership. These three players were vital in Oregon’s game-to-game success and it won’t be an easy task replacing them.

This is where Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson come in. Despite struggles that appeared to be caused by a mixture of sophomore slumps and suspensions, the two will be looked at — for better or for worse — to mold into the leaders they were recruited to be. These two have been among the few players that have been on the team for multiple years and they need show it next season.

In addition to team chemistry and player development, the Ducks will also be dealing with their issues in the paint. After losing Tony Woods and Arsalan Kazemi last year, the Ducks struggled to compete down low with opposing big men and that doesn’t look like it will change next season.

This upcoming season, Oregon’s fate in the paint will essentially rest on the shoulders of incoming players. Ray Kasongo, a highly touted 6-foot-9 Canadian, 6-foot-7 Jordan Bell, who’s known as a shot-blocker, and 6-10 Michael Chandler, who transferred from Northwest Florida State, all could provide low post help next season but they are unproven in Pac-12 play. If any one of these three can defend and rebound at a consistent rate, it would be a good first step towards competing at a high level game-in and game-out.

This next season will arguably be the most important for both Altman and the program as a whole in the past five years. There are certain variables that cannot be controlled such as injuries and suspensions, but under the current circumstances, the Ducks will need to execute at their highest level while they still have the personnel. Oregon has made steady improvements, but it’s time they make the leap from bubble team to automatic bid.

Follow Hayden Kim on Twitter @HayDayKim

  • Derek Thomas Harris

    I’m guessing Hayden was born in 90′s. B2B tourney appearances for Oregon bball is a big deal. Tbh, fan support and knowledge for bball in this town is below bad.

    • Hayden Kim

      First off, thanks to both of you for the reads. In regards to your comments, I just have a few thoughts. First, there is no doubt that both Altman and his players (especially this year) are constantly looking to take the next step for their program. Whether it be advancing to the Elite Eight or consistently competing for a Pac-12 title. The fact that both of you believe that is out of the question makes me wonder if you believe that the Ducks have reached their limit as a program. For a team that beat No. 2 ranked Arizona, UCLA, who reached the Sweet Sixteen this year and boasted a No. 10 ranking earlier this season shows there is definite room for the Ducks to become a regular top 25 team on a yearly basis under Altman. Add that with the fact that they kept it close with eventual champion Louisville last season and No. 2 seed Wisconsin this season, who are heading to the Elite Eight, and the Ducks have proven they are up there with any Pac-12 team in the last five years. The bottom line is that while the Ducks have made steady improvements since bringing in Altman, they are always looking to make improvements; in other words, the Ducks are in their own new era of basketball. If you don’t agree, then this program will remain where it currently is. With the amount of talent that has played for Oregon under Altman, making the NCAA tournament B2B years isn’t as big a deal as you think it is.

      • Jim

        So many factual errors in your piece. First, Joe Young has…ZERO chance of making the leap to the NBA. He’s 6′ 2″. Go count the number of guys in the NBA playing the 2 guard at that size. Go look. I’ll give you a year to find one. Second, they weren’t a bubble team. They were a 7 seed and were in the minute they beat ASU at home. Maybe even sooner. Third, they’re not at a crossroads as you say, they’re about to have the best talent they’ve ever had. YOu didn’t even mention Brandon Austin. A 4-star top 50 national player out of H.S., and 5-star point guard JaQuan Lyle. They’ll also both be joining the team. Not that you needed to, but it sure defeats your point that they might take a step back. With that much talent? And the talent they have returning? As for this comment, “With the amount of talent that has played for Oregon under Altman, making the NCAA tournament B2B years isn’t as big a deal as you think it is.” Maybe not to you. But…FOR THE FIRST TIME IN THE PROGRAM’S HISTORY, OREGON WON GAMES IN CONSECUTIVE YEARS. And they just increased the talent level.

        You don’t even know that Oregon’s best player and would be a tweener in the NBA and is therefore, almost useless to NBA teams. Who would he guard? Nobody. Not tall enough. And would be horrific against an NBA PG. If he leaves he has to go to Europe, Australia or China.

        Lastly, I didn’t see either of those guys say Oregon’s not always trying to improve, or that they’ve reached their limit as a program. Quite the contrary. Good job putting words in their mouth that fit your bad narrative. I’ll spell it out for you slowly. What they’re saying is, with UCLA and Arizona in the conference it’s not as easy as it looks to make the tourney, get a high seed, and win games. Those are 30 and 40 year basketball powers and Oregon’s not just going to go in there and knock them out with a few recruits and a nice arena. Even next year, as talented as Oergon will be, they’ll be way way below the talent level of UCLA and Arizona. Just look at their recruits.

        I agree that you must’ve been born in the 90′s. It took the football program 30 years to go from doormat to power. The basketball team is about 10 years into that arc right now. They’re going to have their big years. Sweet 16′s and Elite 8′s and maybe even a Final Four sometime soon, who knows. But to become a power? They need to get there repeatedly. A very very tough thing to do. Not that anyone’s asked, but you might want to learn a little about the nuance of the game before writing some more. Your article is riddled with incorrect assumptions.

  • Ted

    Oregon has made great improvements and advancements under Altman. Altman has taken an Oregon team in back to back years to the NCAA tournament. That had never been done before. Yet young Mr. Kim doesn’t think that’s good enough. Umm mr. Kim…we have basketball POWERS like Arizona and UCLA to contend with to get automatic bids…There is ONLY ONE automatic bid dumbass. To obtain that Auto bid once every 3-4 years is outstanding considering Oregon’s past basketball history. Even John Wooden did not make UCLA into a power house over night. And he had the corrupt and crooked booster Sam Gilbert helping him by paying recruits to come there.
    Mr. Kim you need a heavy dose of reality.