1. No. 21 Oregon Ducks
Oregon’s stop in New York was supposed to be a statement – not only for freshman phenom Bol Bol, but for the Pac-12 on the national stage.
Instead, the Ducks finished 1-1 in the 2K Empire Classic, falling to then-unranked Iowa in the semifinal before handling No. 15 Syracuse in the consolation game.
After holding their first two opponents under 60 points and 30 percent shooting, Dana Altman’s halfcourt defense experienced some struggles, as the Ducks allowed the Hawkeyes to shoot 34.5 percent from 3-point range and connect 78 percent (26) of their 33 free throw attempts.
Outside of Bol and senior guard Ehab Amin, the offense was out of sorts. Reigning All Pac-12 Second Team honoree Payton Prtichard, senior Paul White and defensive anchor Kenny Wooten shot a combined 5 of 26 from the field, disallowing the Ducks from overcoming a 15-point first-half deficit in an eventual 77-69 defeat to the Hawkeyes.
Against Syracuse, the Ducks had the kryptonite for Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone, as Bol finished with 26 points and nine rebounds on 65 percent shooting in a 80-65 win.
With Prtichard back in rhythm, OU refound their strengths, forcing 17 Syracuse turnovers and scoring 34 points in the paint. The Ducks’ size advantage also gave way to 19 second chance points and six blocks.
If this tournament showed anything, it’s that the Ducks are at their best when Pritchard is involved. He’s the team’s anchor on both ends, and with him engaged, OU turns from a good team into a great team.
Entering a new week, Oregon returned home and ran away late to defeat Green Bay last night. The Ducks will face defending SWAC champion Texas Southern next Monday.