Alex Shoemaker, Sports Editor
On Thursday night the 22-9 (13-5) Oregon men’s basketball team fell 63-62 to an inferior Colorado Buffaloes squad who limped its way into the Pac-12 Tournament losing three of their last by four games in blowouts.
The loss, for all intents and purposes, crushed any chance of Oregon’s NCAA Tournament hopes, leaving them to the verdict of a panel of voters who have likely seen less than a game’s worth of Ducks ‘ basketball all season long.
I’m not bashing the system; there’s no way to expect the tournament committee to watch every game of all 300+ D1 college basketball teams. With a poor strength of schedule, the Pac-12 being one of the worst major conferences in college basketball, only a few schools are likely to make it into the NCAA Tournament.
With this loss though, disappointment should not be the feeling that Ducks fans have. Let’s look back at how we got here…
The common belief is that coaches get three seasons to prove their merit. We’ve seen it before in programs across the country from football to basketball. Winning fixes everything.
With the firing of Ernie Kent, Oregon alumni and coach for 13 seasons, most Ducks fans figured that former Oregon Athletic Director Mike Bellotti and the rest of the University of Oregon athletic department had some kind of plan in place for Kent’s eventual successor; that was not the case.
Tom Izzo of Michigan State and Brad Stevens of Butler were rumored as Kent’s successor. Could it really be that the Ducks could land a big-name coach? Could Oregon be a university giant the likes of Texas or Ohio State who dominate at both basketball and football?
As it is well known now, the Ducks did not land a nationally recognized coach. We got the guy from the University of Creighton who in his 16 seasons as head basketball coach had the Bluejays, who did not miss a post-season tournament in each of the last 13 seasons.
The name sounded familiar, but I had no idea who this Altman guy was. ESPN had me believing that this program was on the verge of a monumental hiring. Little did I know, that’s exactly what they did in hiring Altman.
Most people, myself included, have moved on from the Kent era and trust completely that Altman is the man to lead the program back into post-season relevance.
In his first season as head coach, the change in the program was felt immediately. The team, depleted from transfers, battled throughout their rebuilding season winning games on pure will.
With a losing record, Oregon somehow snuck a spot into CBI (College Basketball Invitational) emerging as champions with three straight wins over Weber State, Duquense and Boise State before defeating Altman’s former team in Creighton in a best-of-three finals matchup.
Only a season as head coach and Altman had nearly every Oregon fan believing in this program’s revival.
In season two of the Altman era, starting the season at just 11-5 (2-2) with all five of their losses coming by double digits, I did not believe that this team had any chance of making a run into the NCAA tournament. I mean, who in their right mind really believed this team could?
With everything stacked against them from their best player, Jabari Brown, and heralded savior of the program transferring just two games into his collegiate career, it looked like another year of mediocrity for Ducks basketball.
It took one of the strongest finishes in Oregon basketball history to change that, winning six of their final seven games entering the Pac-12 tournament. Getting to the NIT is in no way a disappointment. For the fans, this might actually be a best-case scenario.
From the CBI a season ago and the NIT this season, signs of continued improvement are being shown. Remember, this is just year two into a completely new system.
Oregon now has the potential to host games that fans can go down the road to see with the potential for national recognition if they happen to make a run and reach the final four or deeper.
Earning multiple game experience will pay greater dividends than a first round knockout in a more prestigious tournament. With this team still in the rebuilding stages, experience is the best thing for long-term success.
The next step is recruiting, which Altman is reportedly working on this weekend by travelling to recruits homes.
Altman has shown he can bring in big name recruits (Brown); the next step is to actually keep them here for more than two games. This postseason and offseason could be another transition from middle of the pack to top consistent competition for the conference championship.
With Altman, anything is possible. Let us hope the rumors of him considering a return back to Nebraska as just that, rumors. Haven’t we had enough scares these past two months of coaches leaving us already?