Ever since the Associated Press Poll results came back after Oregon’s come-from-behind overtime win over Ole Miss, I’ve noticed something. Though the Ducks have been outperforming all pre-season expectations, and recently welcomed back stars Dominic Artis and Ben Carter from suspensions with the team unscathed by losses, there’s seemed to be an invisible barrier between Eugene’s Webfoots and the rest of the nation’s elite.
A glass ceiling, if you will.
Minus key players, the 11-0 Ducks have only failed to reach 80 or more points twice and never scored fewer than 69 in their first nine appearances. Now that they have Artis and Carter back in the roster, the only remaining question becomes how the team will reintroduce the two.
After all, there’s no question the team can put points on the board. Joseph Young has been called un-guardable by the Ducks’ do-everything forward Mike Moser. The two have been sheer forces within and outside of the 3-point line. Young’s greatest contribution will likely be thanks to a new rule this fall in the NCAA, which has greatly increased the rate of free throws in games this year.
Young’s ability to attack the interior on offense forces opposing defenders to handcheck his drives at the basket more forcefully — leading to him shooting 6.6 free throws per game this season. So far, that’s 1.6 more trips to the line per game than he earned a year ago when he played more minutes per game.
Moser’s scoring — seemingly more important when Young’s eligibility was in question — has taken a backseat to his rebounding. The Grant High (Portland, Ore.) alumnus leads the Ducks in rebounds with 7.6 per game.
These two will have a lot to say about the upcoming Pac-12 conference race; however, while they’ll command the headlines and attention, it’s Oregon’s overall scoring depth that commands respect. Six Ducks are scoring at least 10 points per game and the suddenly enhanced guard depth is looking good spacing the floor.
The AP voters corrected the original mistake of dropping an undefeated, surging and ultimately fun school two spots after winning a road game. Now, it’s time for the AP voters to correct one more time.
Hey mid-American AP voters. We haven’t talked in a while, I know, but I think you needed to hear from someone on the west coast. There’s enough of you giving Duke, Baylor and Wichita State high placements that Oregon is currently ranked 13th behind several teams with more losses and less depth.
Duke has more name recognition and a little guy named Jabari Parker. Baylor has shiny uniforms. But Oregon has looked like one of the best scoring teams in college basketball, and now adds to that.
I’m not arguing that Oregon is a top-5 team yet. The team needs to prove it can play good team defense and rebound at a higher level before that happens. Ben Carter will help with that. Just win the games you need to win, and you’ll be properly ranked; lose and none of this matters. I get that. There’s a lot of season left and a lot of this should sort itself out.
Should, though, that’s a fun word. What happens, for instance, if Oregon takes care of its business and ends the season with less than 3 wins, but so do 9 or 10 other teams? If the opinion of the majority stays as it is, the Ducks might get barred from the elite seeds in March Madness.
We’ve seen this happen before to a recent Oregon team. Last year’s team stumbled backward into the NCAA tournament; however, with a statement win in the Pac-12 tournament, the Ducks were seeded at No. 12 with some of the overachieving mid-major schools. It ended up being a blessing in disguise as the underrated Ducks ravaged their slightly overrated foes.
But that really shouldn’t happen this year. With Artis and Carter back on board, the team boasts two legit groups of five that could best many starters in the country.
1: Dominic Artis, Joseph Young, Damyean Dotson, Mike Moser, Ben Carter
2: Johnathan Loyd, Jason Calliste, Jalil Abdul-Bassit, Elgin Cook, Richard Amardi
Both groups have proven their mettle, both lines are full of rebounders, scorers and ball handlers. In short, the Ducks run ten-deep with strong tournament-ready talent. To not recognize this team’s place among the nation’s best now is to start putting them at a disadvantage.
Despite a handful of cupcakes on the schedule this year, the Ducks have played three 2013 NCAA tournament teams — all away from home. And they won all three in gritty, grinding affairs.
If the Ducks remain undefeated on January 12, 2014, having defeated No. 20 Colorado on the road, and both Cal and Stanford at home, there’s no justification for holding them out of the top 10.