OREGON, USA — Oregon got away from its defensive discipline and rebounding last season, so that's the focus of this season's Ducks.
“We were a very inconsistent ball team last year,” said coach Dana Altman, who is embarking on his 13th season with the Ducks. “Part of that was our rebounding and our defense. Our defensive numbers weren’t good last year. Our rebounding numbers weren’t good last year. And all the nights we didn’t shoot it well, it really cost us.”
Oregon finished last season 20-15 overall and went 11-9 in Pac-12 play. The Ducks lost five of their last six regular-season games.
And indeed, one of the team's areas for improvement was defense. The Ducks gave up an average of 69.7 points per game last season, ranking them ninth in the Pac-12 for points allowed. They were 10th in defensive rebounds per game.
Oregon returns three starters, all seniors: Point guard Will Richardson, forward Quincy Guerrier, and center N’Faly Dante. Returning reserves include Rivaldo Soares, Nate Bittle, and Lok Wur. Jacob Young, who had 23 points and 11 assists in a victory over Oregon State in the Pac-12 tournament, graduated.
The Ducks scored 5-star prospect Kel’el Ware, a 7-foot center from Arkansas, and brought in transfers Jermaine Couisnard from South Carolina and Keeshawn Barthelemy from Colorado.
Richardson flirted with going pro last season but withdrew his name from the NBA draft in early June to instead use an extra year of eligibility with the Ducks this season.
That's good news for Oregon. Richardson led the team with 14.1 points and 3.6 assists last season.
Altman said he's counting on Richardson to lead the team.
“He knows what we’re trying to do. He’s seen both sides of it. I’m depending on that leadership," Altman said. "He’s been great to work with and I’m glad he’s back. It’s a team game. He has to bring his teammates along with him.”
Oregon went to Canada for a preseason exhibition series in August. Former Duck Chris Boucher, who plays for the Toronto Raptors, was on hand to watch Oregon play McGill University. The Ducks won handily 102-48.
The trip also took Oregon to Ottawa, Hamilton and Toronto. It was a treat for three Ducks who are from Canada: Ethan Butler of Toronto and Barthelemy and Guerrier, who are from Montreal.
“It helped us with just getting some guys together and the extra 10 days that we had. So those things helped, especially with our late start at school. The NCAA doesn’t let us start till Sept. 15. Guys that are in school in August get to start a lot quicker," Altman said.
There was one drawback. Center Nate Bittle sprained his left foot but was expected to be back for the regular season. Bittle averaged 1.7 points and 1.9 rebounds and seven minutes per game last season.
Oregon is among the teams playing in the star-studded Phil Knight Legacy and Phil Knight Invitational tournaments over Thanksgiving weekend, both honoring the Nike cofounder.
The tournaments include 16 men's teams and eight women's teams and will be played in Portland.
Oregon's men are included in the PKI field, along with Alabama, Iowa State, Michigan State, North Carolina, Portland, UConn and Villanova. The Phil Knight Legacy field includes Duke, Florida, Gonzaga, Oregon State, Portland State, Purdue, West Virginia and Xavier.
The tournament includes the top two teams in AP's Top 25, No. 1 North Carolina and No. 2 Gonzaga.
Oregon opens with UConn on Thanksgiving Day.
Oregon opens the season on Nov. 7 against Florida A&M to kick off a four-game homestand at Matthew Knight Arena before heading north to play in the Phil Knight Invitational.
The team's Pac-12 opener is on Dec. 1 at home against Washington State. But the conference slate begins in earnest on New Year's Eve against rival Oregon State.
The season concludes with a pair of games at home against Cal and Stanford before the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas March 8-11.