Bets aside, Ducks say win is in reach
On College Hoops
Bryce Taylor hasn't seen any NCAA Tournament brackets that have Oregon beating Mississippi State today and advancing to play No. 1 seed Memphis on Sunday - except those filled out by him and his teammates.
It isn't like the Ducks will be using such things as motivation, though. Taylor, one of five Oregon seniors, understands that his team has been spotty and, when the Ducks can impose their will on teams with fast pace, 3-point shooting and defense, they usually succeed.
Against MSU, Oregon will have to lock down on guard Jamont Gordon, hope that 6-9 Charles Rhodes doesn't go off inside, get 15 to 20 open 3s against the Bulldogs' .368 field-goal defense and avoid the swats of 6-9 NCAA shot block leader Jarvis Varnado (4.68 per game).
The teams tip off the South Regional first-round game at 4:25 p.m. PT today at the Alltel Arena in North Little Rock, Ark.
'When it comes down to us playing well, we can compete with any top team,' Taylor says. 'But we've been inconsistent this year. We played well and had teams like UCLA down for the majority of the game, but when we broke down defensively or took bad shots other teams would come back on us.'
Coach Ernie Kent says not many teams can keep up with Oregon's Phoenix Suns-type offense. He doesn't worry about offense as much as defense.
So how do the Ducks look defensively compared with last March?
'I don't think we've gotten there, but we do it in spurts,' guard Malik Hairston says. 'We're not where we want to be going into the tournament. But we're an athletic basketball team, and we have all the components - we just have to buckle down and do it.'
The keys will be Taylor on the 6-4 Gordon and either Joevan Catron or Maarty Leunen (or both) on Rhodes.
In recent games, 'we're getting back to where we're playing our best defense of the year,' Taylor says. 'Even if guys get beat, we have each other's backs, and we're talking, making sure assignments are covered.'
• Another key will be beating MSU's defense, including the lanky Varnado. The Ducks pass the ball well when playing their best basketball, with the 6-6 Catron crafty at dishing the ball on the interior.
'We have to get the defense moving, and hopefully catch them off balance as much as possible,' Catron says.
• Kent says he won't look at any Memphis videotape until after the Mississippi State game - if the Ducks win.
'We know who they are. They're going to be a tough matchup - big, athletic, can score, can pressure,' he says. 'We'll be able to see them live, and it's better to see a team live than on tape.'
The Tigers like to pressure and dribble-drive with point guard Derrick Rose and guard/forward Chris Douglas-Roberts, and bang teams inside with 6-9 Joey Dorsey and Robert Dozier.
• The Ducks utilized their bench more as the Pac-10 season progressed, getting minutes from guard/forwards Churchill Odia, Drew Viney and LeKendric Longmire, and using point guard Kamyron Brown and post Mitch Platt for spot minutes only.
Kent says the 6-8 Frantz Dorsainvil still 'doesn't understand everything we need to do; he has really, really struggled. Hopefully, he'll be more comfortable next year.'
The 6-10 Platt simply has outperformed 7-footer Ray Schafer. 'He understands it and comes ready to play, and his energy and spirit have stayed in the right place,' Kent says of Platt.
The coach defends his small lineups - with the 6-9 Leunen the big man - simply because Platt, Schafer and Dorsainvil have not been good enough to deserve more minutes.
'You look at your eight or nine best players, regardless of how big or small they are, and you adapt your style to them,' Kent says. 'They're the ones with the most confidence and courage and play with the most passion, and can shoot it.
'We went with a smaller lineup and started playing like the Phoenix Suns, because our best players are smaller guys. That's going to change next year.'
• Indeed, things will change with the arrival of the 6-9, 250-pound Michael Dunigan, a McDonald's All-American post from Farragut High in Chicago. He's a true 5 who could command a double team and open up the offense.
'A really strong finisher around the basket,' says Taylor, who saw Dunigan and fellow top recruit Matthew Humphrey play on their recruiting visit.
Taylor says Dunigan needs to adjust to Division I basketball - 'it's really tough for young players to know what it takes right away to be successful … like making the right decisions at the end of the game,' he says.
Catron says Dunigan has a good work ethic to go with athleticism and hands. Catron played with Dunigan, Humphrey and recruit Josh Crittle, all from Chicago, on the Mean Streets AAU team. (Rose, the Memphis star, also played on Mean Streets.)
The 6-5 Humphrey 'is a lights-out shooter,' Catron says. 'He can knock down five in a row from 3. And he's a penetrator and works hard.'
Kent expects Dunigan and Humphrey, and maybe 6-4 guard Teondre Williams from Norcross, Ga., to play roles next year. The 6-8 Crittle, a good passer, has size and strength, 'but he has to come in and understand the work ethic needed,' Kent says.
Another incoming freshman is 6-7 Drew Wiley, a shooting guard who played at Thurston High in Springfield.
'He will need some strength; he's skilled enough,' Kent says.
• Losing five seniors and gaining five freshmen - six, if Oregon City guard Brad Tinsley commits - will cast Oregon into a bit of a rebuilding mode next season. Kent says point guard Tajuan Porter, Catron and Longmire will be the best players, with many questions elsewhere. 'It'll be their team,' Kent says. 'They understand it and have a passion for it.'
Brown and Viney 'need to realize how hard they need to work at this level,' Kent says.
As for Dorsainvil, 'I would expect him to improve, but I don't know yet,' the coach says. 'We want him to be great. He has to want to be great.'