It has been nearly five years since the Oregon Ducks basketball team was last ranked in the AP top-25. Not since the days of Ernie Kent, Marty Leunen and Malik Hairston have the Ducks been deemed good enough to be considered one of the country's top teams.
There have been a few bright spots in the abysmal five-year stretch, but an overall record of 87-81 (38-52) and a football program that has been flourishing over that same period has made basketball an afterthought in Eugene.
It's time to start paying attention to the Ducks' basketball team again.
The Ducks are off to a 5-1 start and are coming off a very successful appearance in the Global Sports Classic in Las Vegas this past weekend. The Ducks were able to take on two ranked teams during the tournament, upsetting #18 UNLV on Friday night before falling to #22 Cincinnati on Saturday.
The good showing in Vegas confirmed what those who had been following the Ducks season thus far already suspected; the Ducks have the potential to be a very good team this year. While they didn't quite break their way back into the AP top-25 this week, they are receiving votes, which is a start.
Senior E.J. Singler, who is the only player on the roster whom has been with the Ducks for four years, is Oregon’s most notable player as well as their leader. The locally grown forward hails from South Medford High School and is the team's heart and soul. Singler has averaged at least 24 minutes a game all four seasons at Oregon and has improved by leaps and bounds each season. The lifetime Oregonian has gone from being just the brother of that guy who went to Duke, to a full-fledged leader with a good shot at pro-basketball himself.
While his numbers have taken a very slight dip for the first time in his career this season, he is surrounded by more talent now than ever before. The Ducks also have three other seniors on the roster, all of which are products of the current transfer-happy era of college basketball. Tony Woods and Carlos Emory are both in their second season with the Ducks, while Arsalan Kazemi just transferred from Rice this year.
All four seniors are leading by example and have been huge contributors to the team's early success. Kazemi is averaging 9.5 rebounds per game in his four games with the Ducks, while Woods leads the team in FG percentage and blocks. Emory is also averaging 10.8 points per game and 5.6 rebounds.
For the first time in ages, the Ducks also have some young talent to go along with their transfer talent. Freshman, Daymean Dotson, leads the team in scoring with 11.8 PPG. While fellow freshman, Dominic Artis, has maybe the most complete stat line on the team (9.6 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 2.7 APG, 2.0 SPG). Artis is especially exciting, as he seems to be the most complete point guard Oregon has had since Aaron Brooks. Throw in freshman Ben Carter (5.3PPG and 4.2 RPG) and the Ducks arguably have their most talented freshman class in nearly a decade.
Third year Duck, Jonathan Loyd, is the team's spark plug off the bench and 6'11" junior transfer, Waverly Austin, is also giving the Ducks some depth at center.
With the deepest and most talented Ducks team in years, there is good reason for people to get excited about basketball in Eugene. Not to mention the progression the team has shown since head coach Dana Altman’s arrival at Oregon. The Ducks have drastically improved in both of Altman's previous seasons, winning the CBI tournament in his first season (2010-11) and reaching the NIT quarterfinals last year.
The Ducks have seven more out-of-conference games remaining before an improved Pac-12 conference schedule begins. With six of the seven remaining out-of-conference games at home, it's not crazy to think the Ducks could head into conference play with at least an 11-2 record. With that kind of preseason record and a Pac-12 conference that finally looks nationally relevant once again, being nationally ranked and earning a big-dance bid are definitely some goals the Ducks can strive for this season.