Watch out Pac-12. Defending conference champion Oregon Ducks have found themselves after some lackluster performances early in the season. Last Wednesday, Dillon Brooks hit a game winning three with .8 seconds remaining to send No. 2 UCLA home with its first loss of the season. The Ducks followed up that huge victory two days later by blowing out USC 84-61, taking down another previously undefeated team. This was Oregon showing that it is still the team to beat in the Pac-12, and has the ability to compete with any team in the country.
This isn’t to say that Oregon should be preemptively crowned conference champions. Two regular season games at home against other top Pac-12 teams are important, but in the grand scheme of the season, they’re not as important as later season conference games. They’re especially not important when Oregon will have to take on UCLA and USC again on the road in February. This is just to say the Oregon should start to get more respect from the rest of the nation, instead of being ridiculed for underachieving.
Dillon Brooks has finally hit a stride that has shown the All-American potential he was praised for at the beginning of the season. After being plagued by some inconsistency since returning from his injury, he had his two best games of the season last week against UCLA and USC, showing how much he thrives in the big moments. While a player like Boucher has the do-it-all style of play, he can’t carry the load offensively the way Brooks does, and the Ducks’ ability to succeed in March will fall on Dillon Brooks’ shoulders.
The major issue with Oregon’s season so far is its performance away from home. The Ducks lost their only true road game so far at Baylor (a loss that looked like a major upset at first, but Baylor’s track record since has made the loss less disappointing), and put together less than stellar performances in two of their three games on a neutral court. Oregon may be in the middle of an 11-game winning streak, but it will need to show improvement away from home before making any bold predictions about the team.
Oregon will have the opportunity to improve on its road record Wednesday against the Washington Huskies. The Huskies have possibly the best player in the nation in Markelle Fultz. Despite that, the Ducks will not likely have any trouble against the Huskies, as Fultz is really the only threat that Washington has. Of course, this means that someone as talented as Fultz could go off on any given night and potentially give Oregon some trouble — especially at home — but the Ducks will likely win handily.
After Wednesday’s game at Washington, Oregon travels to Pullman to take on the Washington State Cougars to finish the short road trip, and then will head home for a three game stand that begins against Oregon State. These are three games that Oregon needs to win. If the Ducks take care of the games they should win, they will have much more confidence heading into the bigger ones that come later in the season. The 2-2 start had many Ducks fans worried that the team was overrated, but the last week has gotten this (fair, but slightly biased) Oregon student excited for the rest of the season to come.