On Thursday night, K-State will take on Oregon at Bramlage Coliseum in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Challenge. Because Oregon is one of those fancy coastal schools that us Great Plains squares don't know much about, I posed a few questions to Dave over at Addicted to Quack, the SB Nation blog for the Oregon Ducks (love the name, by the way). Anyway, here's hoping Dave's insight gives you some good information about the Ducks in preparation for tomorrow night's contest.
1. First of all, we need to know: are you bringing the Duck mascot? We need to know so Willie can hit the punching bag if he's making the trip to Manhattan.
Duckie has been on his best behavior since the Houston game. He was suspended for a game after that, and told to watch himself. That said, Willie better not try and mess with him. Being a national TV game, I'm betting that the Duck will make the trip. And, while he has been tame lately, if Willie tries to start anything, the Duck will damn sure finish it.
2. Oregon is 5-1, just like K-State. How have the Ducks arrived at that record?
Two pretty good home wins vs. Pacific and Western Michigan, two meh home wins vs. Pepperdine and San Francisco, a road win at Portland, and a road loss at St. Mary's. St. Mary's is an NCAA tournament caliber team, so there is no shame in losing that game on the road, especially as Bryce Taylor did not play in that game. However, the defense has been really suspect thus far. St. Mary's basically outscored Oregon in a shootout, and that doesn't happen too often. The D has to get better.
3. Last year, Oregon went to the Elite Eight, and return some major contributors from that team. What is UO capable of this year?
I see no reason why the Ducks aren't capable of at least another Elite Eight run. They return four starters in Bryce Taylor, Malik Hairston, Tajuan Porter, and Maarty Leunen. Taylor is the best all around player. You often don't notice him a lot during the game, but then you look at the box score and realize that he has filled up the stat sheet. Leunen is one of the best rebounders in the conference. Everyone saw Porter during the NCAA Tourney last year. He is a scorer whose shooting range is limitless. And Malik is the guy who is capable of taking the game on his back and dominating.
There are really two keys to how far the Ducks go this year. One is replacing Aaron Brooks' leadership. When the team needed a bucket, Brooks was the man they went to last year, and he had more game winning shots than I can remember any other Duck ever having in a season. He was also clearly the vocal leader of the team. Who is going to take over this role? Malik Hairston is the natural choice, but actually doing it is another story. He took over the Portland game when needed, but disappeared in the St. Mary's game. That issue needs to be resolved before conference play.
The other issue is depth. It was a small rotation last year, and I'm not sure we can get away with that again. Replacing Aaron Brooks in the starting lineup has been Joevan Catron, giving Oregon two posts again. Catron is a hustler and a garbage man. Freshman Kamyron Brown has been very good backing up the guard spot. This is a tournament team as is. But two more players need to fill out the rotation for me to think that they are capable of a deep run. There are lots of candidates, we'll see by the end of the month who steps up.
4. Finally, some basics about Oregon: what kind of offensive system do they run? Do they play zone or man-to-man defense? Do they press and run, or do they prefer a half-court game?
Offensively, the Ducks are as run and gun as any team in the country. They always look to push the ball, even on made baskets. Getting into a track meet with the Ducks is not often a wise plan. They have been running the system for years, and few run it better. When they get into the half court, they don't run a traditional offense where you try to pound it into the post and play inside out from there. It's a guard oriented offense. The guards will penetrate, and if they can't get to the rim, they'll kick out for the open three, which they shoot as well as anyone in the country.
Defensively, the Ducks have struggled this year. They switch man-to-man and zone, although the matchup zone is their most effective defense.