Originally posted on FishDuck.com:
It’s the end of the basketball regular season, so the question is what now? But before that can be successfully answered, The Full Court Press has to catch everyone up on all that has taken place in the past month.
First was the interesting and eyebrow-raising off the court news that slithered its way through twitter in the hopes that no one would notice. Well guess what? I noticed it. First, it was good to see and made for an interesting read that Matthew Knight Arena made the Bleacher Report’s “College Basketball's 13 Most Unique Gym Floors” list for 2012. That should come to no surprise since well..there really is no other floor in basketball like it, period.
The second bit of news that hit twitter came from the Nebraska Huskers buzz feed. I know, “why should I be concerned about Nebraska?” Hold on. Back in early to mid-February I saw a tweet from the Huskers buzz feed that Nebraska has put Dana Altman’s name on their “short list” for interview candidates once they inevitably fire Doc Sadler. Oregonian Sports fired back with “that is not true.” Huskers buzz fired back with basically “that’s not what we’ve been told!” https://twitter.com/#!/nebraskabuzztap
As I left that alone, I discovered a tweet on Friday (3/2, after some digging) from an Indiana sports writer that said: https://twitter.com/#!/Deep_18_wheeler/status/175627948789989376 So this is something that is still very much alive and we’ll just have to wait and see.
However, putting all the rumors aside, the Ducks have done exactly what they’ve needed to do since the “referee-gate” game in Boulder. They’ve turned up the heat on the teams ahead of them in the standings by winning six of their final seven games. The Ducks swept the Washington schools, had a hiccup three point loss against Cal, rebounded to get the sweep of the Stanford series and most importantly got revenge in the Corvallis edition of the Civil War. The Ducks continued the streak against the Buffs back in Matthew Knight Arena.
Oregon finished out the season right with a season sweep of the “newbie” Utah Utes. With the remarkable 22-8 (13-5) finish, the Ducks enter the Pac-12 Tournament with the third best record in the conference. It’s uncertain what Dana Altman’s future plans are, but what is clear is that he is building one heck of a resume and Ducks basketball program, like a phoenix rising from the ashes of the inconsistency and malaise of the tail end of the previous regime, and the resulting attrition. The Ducks athletic department got this coaching choice right, that’s for sure.
Despite this minor (but not so minor) twitter distraction, the Ducks must now turn their attention to the Pac-12 Tournament beginning tomorrow in Los Angeles. Based on the current state of the Pac-12, the argument can be made that this tournament is more important for Oregon than the regular season to impress enough to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament. For the Ducks and Pac-12 executives, this year’s tournament is more important than in year’s past.
For the Ducks it is vital because of where they sit in terms of wins and losses. The Ducks currently are “on the bubble” for making the NCAA Tournament. This means that if this was the NBA, the Ducks currently sit in the ninth place spot and only the top eight make the playoffs and there is only a couple of games left to make a move. Oregon’s chances of making the NCAA Tournament are not dead because of a great finish to the regular season, but it will be challenging.
The Ducks will have to make it to the championship game of the conference tournament to make it and even then it may only be the team that wins the Pac-12 championship that makes the NCAA Tournament. This year’s Pac-12 Tournament is more like an evaluation tool for the conference and its executives, Larry Scott and others will have to take great notes this year. The Pac-12 is a weak basketball conference, hence why only one team may make the tournament.
Execs have to figure out a way to make an iron-clad marketing campaign to get the country’s best high school players to come to the west coast and more importantly find a way to keep great west coast players on the left coast to play ball. The “cream of the crop” ball players on our coast know the Pac-12 is not strong so they go somewhere that is. Take the great home-grown Portland product and basketball star Terrance Jones for example. Jones’ list consisted of Washington, Oregon, UCLA, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Kansas. Jones chose Kentucky in a heartbeat. The rumor was that he committed to Washington then changed his mind, but that was never confirmed. Jones snubbed the Pac-12 because he knew how weak Pac-12 competition is compared to other conferences. In this case it was the SEC, yes, they’re great even in basketball.
If the Pac-12 and the basketball coaches in it cannot figure out a way to get great national products in the conference, the “one team to the tournament” scenario will become a regular expectation and the pack of twelve may become smaller because of these two important issues. Despite all of the questions the Pac-12 conference is facing, the Ducks have found solutions to their problems, and who knew they’d come from up north. A while back I reached out to the Toronto Star (Toronto’s biggest paper) and asked to do a piece on the two Ducks from maple leaf country. The response I got is still causing me to scratch my head. They turned my idea down and the editor said it was because “they aren’t a huge national name and Oregon is not a very good program.” I think Olu Ashaolu and Devoe Joseph’s numbers and the Ducks record would disagree, wouldn’t you?
When Ashaolu and Joseph came down from Toronto, the Ducks were down in basketball. Both will leave the program this year on an upside, and not as the unpopular program it was before they arrived. The two seniors led the Ducks over their in-state rivals with 16 points a-piece in the 74-73 Civil War victory in Corvallis during this impressive stretch run to close out the regular season. Though the senior transfers have only played one season as Ducks, they have certainly laid their mark on the final historic battle of the season and their short but sweet Oregon careers. In the combined 32-point performance from Ashaolu and Joseph, the two clearly left their hearts where they belong, on the basketball court.
If there is one thing that can be said about Olu Ashaolu and Devoe Joseph in their short careers as Ducks, it is that they are leaving the program much better than they found it only a few short months ago. Now if only their hometown of Toronto would realize that. Who knows, maybe the Ducks won’t be the same without leaders like Joseph, Ashaolu and Garrett Sim, but the trio have crafted a blueprint for leadership that players like E.J. Singler can use to lead Oregon next year. Sim, Ashaolu and Joseph will be dearly missed once this season comes to an end, that’s for sure. One thing is clear though; these three leaders will be equally successful outside of Eugene just as they were while residing in it. In the beginning I asked the question.
With the Ducks season and their senior’s careers coming to an end, what do we do now? Answer: The only thing that’s left to do; say our goodbyes to the seniors we’ve seen become just as memorable as Brooks, Leunen, Hairston, The Tall Firs and the Luke’s before them. The other is to get ready for the second season that lies ahead, the Pac-12 Tournament and potentially the NCAA Tournament. One thing is clear, with Dana Altman changing the culture and philosophy of this team with tender care and a bit of magic, basketball in Eugene is fun again. The quality of the Pac-12 is improving to the point where west coast kids will hopefully stay on the west coast to play basketball and east coast kids (like Ashaolu and Joseph) are recognizing that the Pac-12 is becoming serious about its brand of basketball. This isn't the ACC's Tobacco Road, but the Ducks and the Pac-12 are headed on the proper path. Wouldn’t you agree?