Oregon is the perfect candidate. All of the pre-season hype is going to Arizona, a team that lost their star player and second-leading scorer, but bring in a hefty recruiting class to replace him. UCLA has a tremendous frontcourt, but lost their two biggest playmakers to the NBA. Washington, the two-time defending conference tournament champions must replace four starters and 58.5 percent of their high-octane offense. Toss in a couple of losses to USC and Washington State via the Draft and injury and you get to Oregon, winners of 21 games overall, but just 7 of 18 in conference play. Even that figure was surprising for Oregon as their basketball team was publically shunned by about a half-a-dozen coaches and expected to finish in dead-last of the conference. So why not? Oregon is our sleeper pick of the Pac-12.
Things are different this year. Coach Dana Altman brought this Oregon team together down the stretch, winning seven of their final nine games, including a win over UCLA and two wins over Creighton to win the College Basketball Invitational. And players actually want to come and play for the Ducks. Louisiana Tech forward Olu Ashaolu picked Oregon over Texas and will be eligible to play and start immediately. Ashaolu, a 14.2 point and 9.4 rebound per game performer, will replace the void left behind by senior Joevan Catron. Another transfer eligible to play right after is former prep-All-American and Wake Forest center Tony Woods. After two difficult and troubled years with the Deamon Deacons, Altman will give Woods a second-chance at becoming the basketball star he could be. A third transfer, Devoe Joseph of Minnesota, will have to sit out the fall semester, but will bring a boost to the guard play when he returns for conference play.
There are more talented, deeper teams, sure, but Dana Altman brings back three starters, including E.J. Singler and Malcolm Armstead and a rare high school all-american talent to run the team. Singler, the younger brother of former Duke All-American, is a budding talent, while Armstead, the undersized point guard, is looking for a bounce-back year after his scoring and shooting numbers took a dip across the board. The real talent that will make this team go is West Coast scoring guard, Jabari Brown; he is one of the best shooters in his freshman class and can really score in bunch, as he not only showed night-in and night-out in high school, but also on the team's summer trip to Italy. The 2-3 record on this trip wasn't promising, highlighted by numerous turnovers, but Brown's play was. He averaged 15.4 points to lead the team, to go along with five rebounds a game as well.
The Ducks struggled mightily early-on in the 2010-11 season, but dramatically improved as the year went on. If the chemistry is there, this Oregon team could shock quite a few and make the first NCAA Tournament since 2008.