Oregon's rise highlighted by top seed
EUGENE — In the preseason when questions swirled about how Oregon would replace guard Joseph Young, coach Dana Altman was asked how the Ducks could achieve the recognition enjoyed by the school's football team.
"We just have to do our part: We have to grow, we have to play an exciting brand of basketball, we have to win. We've got to continue to get better," Altman said at Pac-12 media day.
It certainly looks like Oregon has done its part this season. The Ducks (28-6) are the No. 1 seed in the West Region for the first time in school history.
On Friday they'll make their fourth straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament, opening with the winner of today's First Four game between Holy Cross (14-19) and Southern (22-12). If the Ducks win, they'll face either No. 8 seed Saint Joseph's or No. 9 seed Cincinnati.
"Let's go make something really special happen here guys," Altman told the team after the seeding was announced, "and have a lot of fun doing it."
The historic seeding follows a season of superlatives.
Oregon, which rose to No. 5 in Monday's final AP Top 25 poll, won both the Pac-12 regular season title and the Pac-12 Tournament championship, downing Utah 88-57 on Saturday.
The Ducks' regular-season record was the best in 77 years. The team went undefeated at home for the fifth time in school history and the first time since the 2001-02. Dating back to last season, Oregon's home winning streak has stretched to school-record 25 games.
The last time the Ducks broke into the top 10 was the 2006-7 season, when they were ranked as high as No. 7 and went on to win the Pac-12 Tournament and advance to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament.
Oregon popped into the rankings early in the season, but stumbled with losses to UNLV and Boise State in December. The team then opened conference play with a loss at rival Oregon State.
But the Ducks rebounded, with the highlight coming on Jan. 28 when they snapped Arizona's 49-game home winning streak with an 83-75 win in Tucson. Oregon finished 14-4 in conference.
It was Oregon's sixth straight season with at least 20 wins, coinciding with Altman's arrival in Eugene.
Going into the season, the Ducks were projected to finish fourth in the Pac-12's preseason poll. They were faced with replacing Young, who averaged 19.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists last season and was named the Pac-12 player of the year.
With Young, the league's top scorer, Oregon finished 26-10, and beat Oklahoma State to open the NCAA Tournament before falling to Wisconsin.
Altman said at the beginning of this season that he was looking for more balanced scoring. And, in a sense, that's what happened. Sophomore Dylan Brooks emerged to lead the team with an average of 16.7 points, including a 10-game stretch during conference play with 20 or more points a game.
But the Ducks also got key contributions from senior Elgin Cook, the Ducks' second-leading scorer at 14.3 points per game and with a team-high 44 steals, and promising freshman Tyler Dorsey, who averages 13.8 points.
The Ducks' claimed the conference season title for the first time in 14 years.
"They really battled all year, overcame any adversity they faced, and really have been unselfish," said Altman, named the repeat Pac-12 coach of the year. "When we're together, we're a great tough out for a lot of people. And I think we can continue to build on that."
At the watch party for Selection Sunday, Altman wouldn't make any "bold predictions" about Oregon's chances in the tournament.
"But we will play hard and we will work hard," he said. "These guys have been winning away all year, and I anticipate they will continue to do that and play as a team."