Oregon basketball played its most talented team in school history in 2017. The team had a unique blend of veteran leadership and players who complemented each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The Ducks were a difficult team to beat, and when they did suffer a loss, it was never by much. Oregon’s first loss of the season at Baylor was the only game that the team lost by double-digits, and that was their first test without Dillon Brooks in the lineup.
With the Ducks losing many of their key players, it’d be easy to think that this Final Four run was their peak. It very well could be, but events in the weeks to come could change people’s minds. There are a few things that can occur to keep Oregon a national title threat in 2018.
Two of the Three Key Non-Seniors Return
Seniors Chris Boucher and Dylan Ennis have played their last games in an Oregon uniform, but there’s a slight chance that they could be the only players the Ducks lose. It’d be a dream scenario if Tyler Dorsey, Dillon Brooks, and Jordan Bell all elected to return, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility for two of them to come back.
The most likely choice to return is Tyler Dorsey. The sophomore guard had a tremendous tournament, but his inconsistent play throughout the rest of the year has left him absent on most draft boards. After leading the Ducks offensively in the tournament, he has potential to be Oregon’s primary scorer in 2018. Dorsey would be wise to play his junior year to try to work his way onto some draft boards.
Dillon Brooks seems to be the most likely to leave. He may feel that after winning Pac-12 Player of the Year while also being in the conversation for National Player of the Year could be his peak. Brooks also had a nagging foot injury throughout the season. He might try to get into the NBA and try to make some money now and not risk injuring himself further and blowing his shot of ever getting drafted. However, Brooks is always a competitor, and might try to play himself into a late first-rounder in 2018.
Jordan Bell is probably the biggest toss-up of all these players. Like Dorsey, he had an outstanding tournament, and has already shown the ability to rebound and block at an NBA level. Bell is the only Ducks getting any first round conversation right now, but most still have him as a second round pick. If Bell chooses to return, he’ll likely have the best season of his college career and almost guarantee himself a spot in the first round, as the 2018 draft is projected to be much weaker than 2017.
It’s highly unlikely that all three of them return, but it’s not inconceivable to think that two might, especially Dorsey and Bell, as they seem to have the most room to improve their draft stock.
Improvement of Current Role-Players
Before Boucher’s injury, Dana Altman stuck with a group of seven players taking most of the minutes. With the team losing anywhere from two to five of these players, a lot of those minutes will be up for grabs.
Keith Smith and Kavell Bigby-Williams will likely be seeing more minutes next year, and each guy has potential to be a solid contributor. Bigby-Williams has great size and has shown a shot-blocking capability just a tier lower than that of Boucher and Bell’s. Keith Smith was inconsistent in his few minutes, but also has the potential to be a solid “three-and-d” guy if his shot improves.
The player who needs to improve the most is starting point guard Payton Pritchard. Pritchard was solid for most of the year, and even found himself as the primary or secondary scorer on some nights. But on others, he was virtually nowhere to be seen on the stat-sheet. One great thing about Pritchard was that he rarely made mistakes, and he was seen as talented enough to take the starting spot away from junior Casey Benson. Improvement by Payton Pritchard, and all of these other role players is key if the Ducks want to remain relevant in 2018.
Brandon McCoy Commits to the Ducks
Oregon already has a solid recruiting class for next season. It’s currently being headlined by 5-star forward Troy Brown with 4-stars Victor Bailey Jr. and Abu Kigab. The Ducks currently are in the running to make one of the biggest splashes in college basketball if Brandon McCoy chooses to sign with them.
McCoy is number six overall player and the number three center on the ESPN 100. McCoy is expected to commit to a school in the next few weeks, and Oregon is one of his top five schools.
In order to get McCoy, Oregon would actually have to hope that one of its current stars leaves to open up a roster spot for him. Signing one of the top five freshmen in the nation would help to ease the pain of losing one of last year’s stars.
Any one of these things occurring would at least keep Oregon in the conversation for a Pac-12 title and a solid tournament run. But if two or even all three events occur, Oregon fans have a lot to be excited about for the 2018 season.
Obviously anything right now is pure speculation, but the extreme optimist would hope that both Bell and Dorsey return with the role players improving their games to a point where they can be at least consistent contributors. Add Brandon McCoy to an already solid recruiting class, and Oregon would have the potential to not only return to the Final Four, but perhaps win it this time.