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Can the Ducks live up to early rave reviews?

It's too easy to believe that the Oregon Ducks will defend their Pacific-10 Conference title, make the NCAA Tournament, return to the Elite Eight and maybe make the Final Four.

The Ducks are ranked in the top 10 already Ñ ninth by the coaches, 10th by The Associated Press. Everybody loves the Lukes (Ridnour, Jackson) and Ernie Kent's freewheeling, 3-point-shooting team. It's hip to like the Ducks.

Let's be cynical for a moment and give some reasons why Duck hoops might follow the lead of Duck football and flop Ñ or be good, but not the best.

Consider:

The Ducks lost Freddie Jones to the NBA. And they didn't bring in a Diaper Dandy to replace him, as most big-time programs do. They got Brandon Lincoln, a good player from Jefferson but somebody who will be watching James Davis and Andre Joseph get Jones' minutes.

Davis can shoot the lights out from long range, but can he score in other ways like Jones did? And how many teams will post up the 5-10 guard? Joseph is bigger than Davis but must lose his JC mentality of score first. He will, but it'll take time. He defends decently enough.

The Ducks not only lost Jones, a great on-the-ball defender, but they lost 7 feet, 2 inches of big boy inside Ñ Chris Christoffersen took up space.

The departure of these two defensive elements will hurt.

Christoffersen wasn't exactly Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but he skied over smaller players and could be an offensive threat. Right now, the Ducks are average offensively in the post, at best, with Brian Helquist and Matt Short. Maybe Ian Crosswhite will emerge as an effective low-post player, but the 6-11 Aussie now tends to drift outside. And there are questions about how he will defend.

Can Oregon torch opponents again with the outside shot? All year?

No doubt, Ridnour and Jackson will be among the premier players in the conference, if not the country. My goodness, how much would the Ducks struggle should either one get injured?

An injury to Ridnour would be catastrophic because he'll play 38 to 40 minutes in every game, at least until Lincoln gets up to speed to back up at the point. Davis, a natural off-guard, spells Ridnour now.

Kent tried to temper expectations himself after the Ducks squeezed by Cal-Northridge last week.

'This is not the only game you'll see us just pull out,' he says. 'This is not a team that will destroy every opponent.'

River City rivalry

Game 1 between Portland and Portland State takes place at 7 p.m. Saturday in the Chiles Center; the next meeting will be Dec. 23 at PSU's Stott Center. Last year, the Vikings edged the Pilots 77-75 in overtime.

'They have the ability to shoot the ball and stretch a team out defensively,' PSU coach Heath Schroyer says of the Pilots.

Indeed, with the addition of Donald Wilson and Dustin Geddis, the 2-0 Pilots should score more and be more efficient on offense. Geddis had 12 points, 11 rebounds, two assists, three blocks and four steals in 25 minutes in his debut, a 70-42 win over Pacific.

Can the Pilots stop teams? The same can be asked about Portland State, although Schroyer has seen improvement in the first two games, a 21-point comeback win against Cal-Northridge and a loss at Nevada-Las Vegas. The Viks forced 38 turnovers in the two games.

'It's obviously a brand-new (defensive) system, and it takes time to learn,' Schroyer says. 'It takes time for people to trust each other and trust the system.'

Brooks off the bench

Point guard Brandon Brooks, expected to compete for the starting job at USC, has started the season on the bench. He played in 12 minutes against Cal-Riverside, notching two points, six assists, two rebounds, one steal and two turnovers. He played 12 minutes against Rhode Island with no points, one assist, no rebounds, one steal and four turnovers.

Brooks played 11 minutes in the first exhibition game and got suspended for the second because he skipped a class. Last year, the Jefferson grad concentrated on academics at Compton (Calif.) College; he had spent the previous year at Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, Iowa.

Pilots connect

The Portland women's team brought in 5,225 fans last year, an average of 373. That ranked 264th out of 321 college teams and eighth in the West Coast Conference. The university recently pointed out those figures, obviously, to tell people there are plenty of good seats available for games at the Chiles Center.

Whoever showed up Tuesday (announced attendance: 240) saw the Pilots stun Oregon State for the third consecutive time. Portland hit 10 of 19 3-point shots and made 11 free throws in the final minute of an 83-70 win. The Pilots got 35 points from their bench, including 17 from 5-8 sophomore guard Hanna Seltzer, and they outrebounded the Beavs 48-27.

NOTES: The PSU women have one of the Northwest's top players in 5-10 senior guard Nikki Petticrew, who scored 24 and 23 points in her first two games. É Oregon State's best shooter, a guy who can make 3-pointers consistently? Vic Remmers, a Jesuit grad, but he doesn't move well enough offensively to get open or defensively to cover people. É Speaking of shooters, Marshal Hartman had 21 points in PSU's loss at UNLV. ... Lewis & Clark quarterback Trent Thompson has joined the basketball team. The Pioneers are playing until January without forward Colin Oriard, who is studying abroad.

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