1. Oregon went from winning the CBI two years to go, to being in the NIT, and then now being the favorite for winning the conference in the 3rd year of the Dana Altman regime. What has been the cause for improvement? How could the Bears hope for the same turnaround, if they only make the NIT or CBI this year?
ATQ: It’s been a pretty stunning transformation. Altman’s first year, the team was so ravaged by transfers that the roster didn’t belong in the upper half of the Big Sky, yet Altman somehow won 20 games. Last year, Oregon became truly respectable. This year, they’ve become elite. Altman has been very shrewd with his use of transfers (Tony Woods, Arsalan Kazemi, Devoe Joseph, Olu Ashaolu, and Jay-R Strowbridge over the years), and is starting to recruit freshmen at a very high level. But the crux of it is that Oregon plays outstanding defense and is never outcoached. That alone will win you a lot of ballgames.
2. Will the Ducks drop a conference game this regular season, with no more meeting against UCLA and Arizona? Who might pull off that upset(s)? [Ed. Note: This Q & A was done prior to Oregon losing to Furd on Wednesday]
ATQ: Of course Oregon will drop a regular season conference game this year. Oregon has been very impressive, but hasn’t exactly blown teams away, and it’s only a matter of time before a close game doesn’t go in your favor. That’s particularly true with the fact that starting point guard Dominic Artis is out for the next couple of weeks, and the players playing in his place are either turnover prone (Johnathan Loyd) or a guy who has barely played this season (Willie Moore). The Ducks have two games with Colorado, especially as the Buffaloes are playing well as of late. Also, Oregon hasn’t swept the Bay Area road trip since 1976, so there’s that.
3. Honestly, how much do you hate the Matthew Knight Arena floor?
ATQ: I really don’t. It actually looks really good in person. It doesn’t translate as well to TV, but after three years, I’m used to it.
4. With 5 players averaging double digit in points, but no one more than 12 ppg, who is the star of this team?
ATQ: I don’t think there is a "star" per se, but the best player is Rice transfer Arsalan Kazemi. He completely controls a game with his defense and rebounding, and would get my vote for Conference POY despite not even averaging ten points per game. The fact that they rebound and play defense at elite levels is what makes this team so good, and Kazemi is the catalyst for that.
5. What seed do you expect the Ducks to receive if they do hold on and win the Pac-12?
ATQ: Most bracketology reports have them as a No. 3 or No. 4, playing in San Jose. I’ll take that.
Dana Altman on Oregon's 81-76 Win Over Washington (via KEZI9TV)
6. With all the success this season, are the Oregon fans embracing this Duck team like the football team?
ATQ: Well, the die hards, sure. But, overall, it’s been slow to come around. The Ducks sold out the Washington game last Saturday, but it was the first sellout of the season. There is a definite uptake in interest as the season progresses. But all empirical evidence shows that attendance goes up for sports teams the year after they make the playoffs. For a team that hasn’t made the tourney in five seasons, a portion of the fanbase still hasn’t jumped aboard. Which is too bad, as they’re missing a terrific team.
7. Who is your #1 player on offense? How would you characterize your offense?
ATQ: Oregon doesn’t really have a #1 player on offense. Damyean Dotson is the leading scorer, albeit barely. E.J. Singler is the guy getting the ball at the end of the game. Carlos Emory can score. Tony Woods, Waverly Austin, and Arsalan Kazemi are all adept in the post. Five players average double-digits, so there is not really one single guy you can key in on. The Ducks run a high post offense, and have played a lot more inside out this year than in years past. They are also a really good transition team, and will look to run at every opportunity.
8. Who is your #1 player on D. What type of D do you like to play?
ATQ: Again, this team plays total team defense. They are switching up almost all game. They’ll start out in a man-to-man, go zone for a couple of possessions. You’ll call a timeout to adjust, so they’ll start full court pressing. Then its back to man-to-man, then a 3-4 court trap. They run about six different defenses throughout a single game, and run them all very well.
9. What is the team strength?
ATQ: This team is built on defense and rebounding. They win because they do both of those things at an elite level. Their depth allows them to rotate fresh bodies. They get more shots than most other teams because they are the best in the conference at both rebounding and forcing turnovers, and teams are so beat up that their will is sapped at the end.
10. What are the weaknesses of the team?
ATQ: While this team leads the conference in turnovers forced, they also lead it in turnovers committed, something that is more profound with Artis out. The Ducks, playing the backup point guards, had 23 turnovers against Washington on Saturday, a fact mitigated by UW committing 21 of their own. But the turnover numbers are going to catch up to this team, eventually.
11. What do you need to do to win the game?
ATQ: Beat Cal up on the boards and lock down Allen Crabbe defensively.
12. What does Cal do in order to beat you?
ATQ: Win the rebounding and turnover battles, and shoot a high percentage from three.