Despite having a talented group of players up in Eugene, Oregon men’s basketball never seemed to mesh last season. In a matter of a year, the Ducks went from the Final Four to missing the tournament altogether, but with a retooled roster, the inhabitants of Niketown, USA, are projected to make some noise in the Pac-12 once again.
Oregon lost Troy Brown Jr. to the draft and Elijah Brown and MiKyle McIntosh to graduation, but the program has a solid group of players returning to the program.
The Ducks will welcome back five rotation players from last year’s team in redshirt senior Paul White, junior Payton Pritchard and sophomores Victor Bailey Jr., Kenny Wooten and Abu Kigab.
Pritchard returns to the Ducks coming off of a career year and an All-Pac-12 Second Team nomination.
The 6’1” junior is the prototypical point guard — someone who can run the offense, minimize turnovers and knock down key 3-pointers. As a sophomore, Pritchard averaged 14.5 points, 4.8 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game while hitting 41.3 percent of his shots from deep.
Down in the paint, Wooten may not be a double-double machine, but he gives the Ducks a very promising rim protector.
While that’s a solid group of returners, the reason Oregon is projected to finish first in the Pac-12 is primarily because of its recruiting class — one that ranks behind only Kentucky and Duke.
The hype surrounding this incoming group of freshmen centers around Bol Bol, a top-five prospect and can’t-miss freshman who, in his case, is literally impossible to miss.
Remember all the hype surrounding Tacko Fall, the 7’6” center who commited to the University of Central Florida? Take that excitement and amplify it tenfold, because Bol has the makings of an NBA prospect.
If the last name sounds familiar, that’s because he’s the son of former NBA player Manute Bol. At 7’7”, the elder Bol was the tallest player in league history and, given that height, a prolific shot blocker.
At 7’2” with a 7’8” wingspan to boot, the younger Bol has inherited some of that acclaimed height and length. Unlike his father, he’s more than just a shot blocker.
Bol is a guard trapped in a big man’s body. While he can utilize his tree-trunk frame to protect the rim, he also possesses a promising handle and shot for his size.
Oregon most likely won’t be calling on Bol to play the role of point forward, but as the college game begins to follow in the footsteps of the NBA and embrace positionless basketball, that skill set is an invaluable asset.
Not only does Bol’s height catch the eye, but his rather frail frame does as well. At only 235 pounds, his weight has yet to catch up to his height. He’ll need to fill out if he’s going to have a chance at consistently hanging with the trees down in the paint.
Bol alone doesn’t make Oregon’s incoming class one of the best in the country. Fellow five-star prospect Louis King transforms this crop of freshman from great to elite.
King’s body is already built for the association; standing at 6’9”, 205 pounds with a 7’0” wingspan, the freshman epitomizes positionless basketball with his ability to guard and play multiple positions.
Whether it be scoring in the paint or showcasing his range, the McDonald’s All-American is projected to do a little bit of everything for the Ducks. That is, when he returns from injury.
King is still recovering from a knee injury he sustained during his senior year of high school and may not return to play for the Ducks until December.
While King may not be in the picture until the final days of nonconference play, Oregon has the luxury of leaning on four-star prospects Will Richardson and Francis Okoro, as well as redshirt senior Ehab Amin, who transferred from Texas A&M–Corpus Christi.
Many pundits project Oregon to be the team to beat in the Pac-12. With Pritchard and Bol, candidates for Pac-12 Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year, respectively, this year is as good as any for the Ducks to make another deep run in the tournament.
Although there are plenty of offensive weapons up and down this roster, the defense will be what really defines this Oregon team.
Bol and Wooten have the potential to be Chris Boucher and Jordan Bell 2.0 — a pair of Oregon rim protectors who can make life difficult for any player who tries to live in the paint.
Throw Amin into the mix, who averaged 3.4 steals per game last season, and Oregon has the potential to be one of the best defensive teams in the conference, if not the country.