It’s a new season with plenty of new faces now part of the Oregon men’s basketball program. But in many ways, much remains the same in Eugene as the 13th-ranked Ducks get set to open the 2021-22 season Tuesday at home against Texas Southern.
Back for his 12th season at the helm is head coach Dana Altman, who took his team to the Sweet 16 last season for the fourth time in six years and continues to win year after year. Under Altman, the sometimes have started slowly but have heated up by February and March as tournament time approaches. Consider that the Ducks have been either the regular-season Pac-12 champions, conference tournament champions, or NCAA Tournament participants, or all three, in eight of Altman’s last nine seasons.
The only exception in that span was when Oregon settled for the NIT in 2017-2018 and finished 23-13.
Guard Will Richardson is back to lead the team after averaging 11.3 points last season. Richardson missed the first 12 games of last season with a thumb injury, and his return made a difference.
Altman has annually brought in transfers from other programs that have been critical to the team’s success. This season, the big names are forward Quincy Guerrier (13.7 points, 8.4 rebounds per game last season) from Syracuse, guard Jacob Young (14.1 points) from Rutgers and guard De’Vion Harmon (12.9 points) from Oklahoma.
Oregon also has something it hasn’t had much of in years past: size. The Ducks have a pair of experienced 6-11 centers in Franck Kepnang and N’Faly Dante, plus a pair of 7-foot freshmen in Nate Bittle and Isaac Johnson.
Dante has dealt with two major knee injuries in each of the past two seasons, limiting the former five-star recruit to only 18 total games.
“We can go with some bigger lineups, and really gives us some flexibility on what we do with some of our matchups that we didn’t have a year ago,” Altman told The Oregonian. “You like to be able to change it up if something’s not working. Those four guys give us the flexibility to do that.”
Texas Southern returns four starters from last year’s NCAA Tournament and SWAC Tournament Championship team. One is forward John Walker III, a second team all-conference selection who averaged 12.1 points per game last season while shooting 59 percent from the field. He also averaged 5.5 rebounds per game while blocking 26 shots.
The Tigers, 17-9 last season and winners of the SWAC Tournament that got them a berth in the NCAA Tournament, open the season with 13 games away from Houston. They have a grueling nine-day West Coast swing to start, with games at Oregon, Saint Mary’s (Calif.), Washington and Air Force over a nine-day span.
The Tigers added 6-8 transfer Brison Gresham from the University of Houston in the offseason.
“He’s going to bring a much-needed presence to our team in the paint on both ends of the court,” Tigers head coach Johnny Jones told the school’s athletics website. “He has the athletic ability to guard on the perimeter and his ability to block shots on the inside and rebound will be something we’ll certainly welcome.”
–Field Level Media