This was supposed to be the year for Oregon basketball. The Ducks were pegged as the preseason favorite to win the Pac-12, receiving 16 of the 25 first-place votes.
Oregon returned a pair of starters, including All-Pac-12 Second Team guard Payton Pritchard joined alongside a top-5 recruiting class with five-star recruits Bol Bol and Louis King looking to make an immediate impact.
While the Ducks looked like a top team in the nation, including being voted the No. 13 team in the nation in week 2, the dream season quickly began to unravel in Eugene.
An early-season loss to Iowa in the 2K Empire Classic was the beginning of what would be a rough patch for the team that had three losses in a five-game stretch to the likes of Texas Southern, Houston and aforementioned Iowa.
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Oregon’s string of bad luck continued as injuries began to plague the team, beginning with the team’s twin towers in the 7-foot-2 inch Bol and 6-foot-9 inch Wooten.
The worse injury came to the team’s leader in points, rebounds, blocks, and 3-point percentage in freshman sensation Bol. A foot injury combined with the freshman’s pro potential quickly ended the season after Bol averaged 21 points and 9.6 rebounds per game while also leading the team in blocks in nine games.
If the injury to the team’s leading rim protector and an offensive threat wasn’t enough, the Ducks have also dealt with the absence of the second of the towers in Wooten who broke his jaw causing him to miss four games.
Picking up the majority of the work has been one of three upperclassmen in Pritchard. The 6-foot-2 inch guard has played the most minutes on average for the team at nearly 35 minutes per game while also leading the team in assists with 77.
Pritchard’s 77 assists doubles the next closest Duck as second closest in assists comes in at a mere 36 assists on the season. The junior also currently leads active players on the roster at 11.5 points per game while averaging only five minutes per game on the bench.
The combination of injuries to the team’s primary rim protectors and early season struggles put the team in a situation they did not expect to be in, as they sat at the middle of the Pac-12 heading into conference play.
The struggles from early in the season seemed to be a microcosm for what was to come in conference play after a 0-2 start by a combined eight points had the Ducks sitting at the bottom of the Pac-12.
Back-to-back losses to Oregon State and UCLA by five and three points, respectively, put the preseason favorites to win the conference in a situation that was not foreseen by anyone.
While the 0-2 start was not ideal for Oregon, the team responded in the following two games with two big conference victories over USC and Arizona. The 81-60 and 59-54 victories would showcase the Ducks’ ability to compete on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball while also showing their ability to still be a top team in the conference.
Oregon was graced by the return of Wooten in the team’s most recent matchup up against Arizona where the sophomore wore a protective mask. The masked man provided five points and seven boards while also giving the Ducks added rim protection, a luxury the team had been lacking since the injuries to the twin towers.
The Ducks will look to use the duo of Pritchard and the return of Wooten once again as they will look to continue their season turnaround against the Arizona State Sun Devils. Both teams have had levels of inconsistency with losses coming on both sides in games the team was projected to win.