Like the rest of the Pac-12, the Oregon Ducks face the upcoming season with uncertainty — about nearly everything.
Some three weeks are left to go before the start of the season, and Oregon hasn't scrimmaged. The team is already behind with conditioning. Nonconference scheduling is still being sorted out, in part because of varied COVID-19 regulations and testing protocols among possible opponents, so a season opener hadn't been formalized.
The Ducks are also embarking on a season without star guard Payton Pritchard.
So Oregon is trying to stay nimble and healthy, more than anything else.
"'Control what you can control' has always been something I preach to the players. You know, we can’t control the officials, we can’t control what you guys write, we can’t control those things,” coach Dana Altman said. "Control what you can control, and your work ethic, your unselfishness. Those are things you can control. And and in this case, I tell them, 'You’ve got to control and be disciplined off the floor. I know you're college students and I know you want to get around, but we’ve all got to be somewhat disciplined.’”
Last season's Oregon team stumbled a bit in the November Battle 4 Atlantis tournament with losses to Gonzaga and North Carolina, both ranked at the time. But a road win over No. 5 Michigan propelled Oregon as high as No. 4 early in the Pac-12 season.
While losses to Stanford and Oregon State hurt the Ducks, they won four straight conference games heading into the Pac-12 tournament. With senior Pritchard leading the way, it appeared the Ducks were poised for a repeat Pac-12 title and another run in the NCAA Tournament. But the coronavirus pandemic stopped everything.
The Ducks finished 24–7 overall and 13–5 in the Pac-12. Heading into this season, Oregon was ranked No. 20 in The Associated Press preseason poll released Monday.
Pritchard, who averaged 20.5 points per game and was named the Pac-12's player of the year, is now awaiting the NBA draft.
Without a normal offseason, Altman said Oregon is behind in its preparations, although he’s been pleased with the team’s work ethic.
“We’re not anywhere near where we want to be. But, man, the guys have been great to work with,” Altman said. “The energy level, the focus, the competitiveness has been really good. The guys have done a good job. I always want to find something to complain about, but right now I can’t."
Junior college transfer Chris Duarte is back for his senior year. N’Faly Dante and Chandler Lawson are about to embark on their sophomore seasons, although Dante is limited by a knee injury.
Guard Will Richardson averaged 11 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists while shooting nearly 47% from 3-point range as a sophomore last season.
There's also graduate transfer Amauri Hardy, and Eugene Omoruyi, who transferred to Oregon before last season but sat out to recover from injury. New faces also include junior Eric Williams Jr. and freshman guard Jalen Terry.
Oregon is still waiting to hear about the status of guard LJ Figueroa, who last season led St. Johns with 14.5 points per game. He is awaiting an NCAA petition for eligibility this season.
In addition to Pritchard, Anthony Mathis, Shakur Juiston, Francis Okoro and C.J. Walker all moved on from last season's roster.
Normally, Oregon would bring in basketball recruits in the fall for a football game at Autzen Stadium, while showing off the Ducks' state-of-the-art athletic facilities. That's not happening this year, obviously.
“We recruit nationally, and so it’s hard sometimes to get guys to Eugene. But now that we’re a little bit more established over the 10 years, which I hope has taken a little pressure off those football weekends since we don’t have any of them," Altman said. "But there’s no doubt that Autzen Stadium on a sunny day, and with the students and the crowd, the hills behind the stadium, it was a great atmosphere. Walking through the parking lot and all the fans yelling at the guys to ‘Come to Oregon, we want you here.’ That makes an impression on 18-year-olds, and we’re going to miss that.”
Oregon was tentatively set to open its shortened season on Nov. 25 against Eastern Washington, but it was not official. Other that that, no games have been formalized except for conference play. The Ducks begin Pac-12 play on Dec. 12 at rival Washington, then return home for a game against UCLA on Dec. 23. Those are the only two games currently on the schedule set for December, although nonconference games are sure to be added. The conference tournament is set to open March 10 in Las Vegas.
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