In the Golden Era of Oregon football, the men’s basketball team has played second fiddle, although they opened up a brand new state-of-the-art venue in 2011.
That’s about to change.
The success window for football might close temporarily in Eugene, but the basketball team is about to smash right through the glass and this season could be just the beginning.
Ever since coach Dana Altman came to Oregon from Creighton five years ago, the Duck program has enjoyed post-season play in every season, including going to the Big Dance in each of the last two years.
While that might not seem to be a big deal for most programs in the Pac-12, for Oregon, it is a big deal. Although the Ducks won the very first NCAA tournament in 1939, going to the Big Dance is far from being an annual event. This isn’t Duke. Oregon has only been to the NCAA tournament 13 times in its history.
Three of those appearances have come in last three seasons under Altman where he has built his program with scotch tape and glue with transfers and journeymen. For the most part, it’s worked, but every coach will tell you that isn’t the ideal way to build a program.
Altman was forced to go this route at first when hired because of the timing when he was brought on and the mass exodus of players when former coach Ernie Kent was unceremoniously shown the door. Oregon went to winning the CBI to losing in the NIT quarters before going to the Big Dance three years in a row for the first time in school history.
He started to veer away from using the transfers to be the rock to using them to fill in the pieces with last season’s team. Oregon’s best player was Joe Young, a transfer from Houston, but a lot of the Ducks’ success can be attributed to freshmen like Dillon Brooks, Jordan Bell and Casey Benson.
Altman followed up with a recruiting class that has been ranked as high as 15th in the country with such players like guards Tyler Dorsey and Kendall Small as well as forward Trevor Manuel. But Altman wasn’t satisfied. The 2016 class has been ranked as high as ninth in the country.
When the 35-year coaching veteran came to Oregon, he was heralded as a guy who’s specialty was the X’s and O’s of the game. Once Altman got the talent to match his coaching, the Ducks were going to be a powerhouse.
He has that kind of talent now.
Oregon will have to find someone or someones to fill in for Young’s production, but the talent level on the roster up and down is the deepest it’s been in a long time. You have to think with Altman’s coaching skills, they’ll find a way to compete not only in games, but perhaps a conference title and a deep run in the NCAA tourney.
And it couldn’t have come at a better time.
With football experiencing a minor dip, fans can focus on basketball and for the first time, the Duck athletic department is making it affordable to go to games inside Matthew Knight.
For the first five seasons of his existence, ticket prices have been a lot higher than they were when the team played at Mac Court. The hike was necessary because the arena, with a $230 million price tag on it, had to be partly paid for.
Now the extra funds have been eliminated from the price of a ticket and the athletic department has put together some specials in order to draw more families out to games. Even though the Ducks had a 20-plus win team and played an exciting brand of basketball, the attendance dipped to a 20-year low. Oregon averaged just 6,200 fans per contest in an arena that seats 12,500.
One would think that with the specials and a winning product on the floor, that attendance figure would go up significantly. Oregon has missed having an A+ atmosphere to help out when the Ducks left Mac Court, a place that featured a shaking scoreboard and baskets and a crowd that would be intimidating. Opponents dreaded to face the Ducks in a packed Mac Court.
That hasn’t quite translated with the move to Matt Knight. The Ducks have played some big games inside the new arena and it has captured the Mac Court ambiance, albeit very briefly. But it is possible. Oregon now will feature a winning team on the floor, a winning coach on the bench and a winning atmosphere to intimidate other Pac-12 rivals.
It might not be Duke right now, but it’s possible to become that sooner rather than later.