Now comes the real test.
After a 28-point blowout of ASU to open the Pac-12 season, the No. 24 Arizona Wildcats (11-3, 1-0) will hit the road Thursday to take on the No. 9 Oregon Ducks (12-3, 1-1).
The Ducks are coming off a road split against Colorado and Utah, but are still regarded by most as the favorite in the Pac-12.
Tip-off in Eugene is at 7 p.m. MST on ESPN.
We wanted to know more about the Ducks before then, so we caught up with Adam Chimeo of AddictedToQuack.com for more insight.
Here’s our Q&A.
After experiencing so much roster turnover, what were the expectations for Oregon this season, and how have they lived up to them so far?
It’s true Oregon lost a ton of talent from last season: Louis King, Ehab Amin, Kenny Wooten Victor Bailey Jr., Paul White. Abu Kigab, and Bol Bol (though we unfortunately didn’t get to see much of Bol due to injury.) However, Duck fans have been stoked about how quickly this team has seemingly gelled. Unlike last year, where Oregon looked lost for most of the season before heating up in the Pac-12 Tournament, this squad appears to be ahead of the learning curve and are outperforming expectations early . We’ll see if that continues or turns out to be fool’s gold.
Oregon has the No. 6 offense in the country, per KenPom. What makes it so dangerous?
Payton Pritchard. He is playing out of his mind right now and when he finds his rhythm he’s hard to stop when he goes for the layup. Chris Duarte and Anthony Mathis have helped at times from downtown and once a team has to defend the whole court, Pritchard excels at taking it to the bucket or finding the open man.
At the same time, the Ducks’ defense is 67th in the country. What have been the issues there?
We no longer have a Kenny Wooten, Jordan Bell or Chris Boucher, meaning we don’t have an elite shot-blocker on the court. I think that has made our defense less effective in the paint. Our size has helped us against some of the smaller rosters we’ve faced, but an elite shooting team can take advantage of our, at times, lax coverage.
Do the Ducks play man or zone or both?
Both. Altman’s best teams have been elite at both zone defense and man, and have also excelled at knowing when to switch from one to the other.
What have transfers Anthony Mathis and Shakur Juiston added to the Ducks?
Shakur Juiston missed five games due to injury, but in his short time it’s clear that he is a much needed presence on the boards (6.2 per game) and we’re hoping that with increased playing time he’ll become more of a leader both on offense and defense. Anthony Mathis and Payton Pritchard have a long history playing together, and at times their chemistry has played dividends, like against Boise State when the redshirt senior hit nine triples. Mathis hasn’t been the most consistent player, but he’s a talented 3-point shooter.
How has 7-footer N’Faly Dante changed the dynamic of the team since becoming eligible?
He’s been a breath of fresh air since losing Bol Bol. He’s a big man that moves like a guard, and I’ve got a feeling as the season progresses he’ll be the main man that opponents are gameplanning for.
Payton Pritchard is still around somehow. What has his senior season been like so far and how much has he improved over the years?
He was last Pac-12 Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player and has not taken a step back from that elite level. His 3-point accuracy in general could use some improvement, but he’s hit some big-time shots already and is Oregon’s best weapon when he cuts to the basket. As always, his assist to turnover ratio is a huge boost to the team (89 to 38 on the season). The season all comes down to whether the rest of the team plays up to his level.
What are the keys to Thursday’s game for Oregon?
Oregon has been at their worst when they can’t hit a triple, and things could look ugly if Arizona gets a slew of second-chance points, so they need to hit at least eight 3-pointers and win the boards.
I think Matt Knight Arena will be a pretty chaotic environment for the Wildcats. After our annual loss in Boulder, I think Dana Altman has this team focused and ready to get back to work. I think it’ll be a close one, but the homer in me says Ducks 65, Wildcats 58.