I begin my look at the Pac-12 with the Oregon Ducks, not because they're the most significant team in the conference but because I just watched my DVR'd broadcast of their game against the UConn Huskies on New Year's Eve.
It was excruciating to watch, not because the outcome was hardly in doubt halfway through the first half but because of the way they lost the game.
As most basketball fans - men's and womens, college and pro - probably know, fourth-year Ducks coach Paul Westhead likes to run. Mary Murphy emphasized the point during the first half after a Ducks player fired up a three when she commented, "That's his style - that's the way he wants to win basketball games. He's not going to go away from it."
The problem is that, statistically at least, there's reason to question whether that style is working, injuries notwithstanding.
Four Factors numbers for the Oregon Ducks during non-conference play.
Efficiency numbers for the Oregon Ducks during non-conference play.
Narrative description: Oregon is a team that likes to run, but they're not scoring efficiently and are turning the ball over at a higher rate than their opponents. As long as they struggle to stop opponents while imposing their pace on the game, they're going to find it difficult
SOS: .552 (#63)
Upset wins: vs. Fresno State
Upset losses: N/A
MVP: Jillian Alleyne, F (6'3", Fr)
- The biggest bright spot for the team this year has been Alleyne who has the tools to become a dominant rebounder in the Pac-12 by the end of her career. Like the rest of her team, she's a not a particularly efficient scorer, but she can do one thing that's particularly valuable in Westhead's system: get down the floor faster than most post players. It's a huge asset and one thing that could help them stay in games this season; in their upset win against Fresno State, Alleyne had 23 points on 10-for-16 shooting, 8 rebounds, and 3 blocks. Not bad for a freshman.
- Unfortunately, opponents have out produced them in each of the Four Factors, but their rebounding has been their strongest point so far this season. A lot of that is due to the play of freshman Jillian Alleyne who has been a dominant rebounder on both ends of the floor, including a 14.31% offensive rebounding percentage. That's a good thing for a team that puts up a lot of shots and doesn't make all that many.
- It's hard not to say that their pace is a strength: they force teams to play faster than they'd like, which can keep opponents off-balance.
- Their biggest weakness is actually not listed above; it's that they haven't been a good 3-point shooting team. In fact, their 28% 3-point percentage is the third-lowest in the conference. The reason that it's a problem is simple: they like to run and shoot a lot of threes, as per Murphy's quote above. And even against UConn they got great looks. The thing is that they only have one reliable 3-point shooter in Danielle Love (36.8%, 8th in the conference).
- Otherwise, turnovers are a major problem for the Ducks and that's not a combination you want for a run and gun team: the best running teams do commit a high number of turnovers but can do so at a lower rate than their opponents, who aren't used to playing at that speed. Right now, they're turning the ball over and missing shots while their opponents are adjusting to the pace and doing the opposite.
- In non-conference play, they were extremely one-dimensional: freshman Alleyne accounted for 39.13% of the team's overall statistical production (PVC). If an opponent can neutralize her - UConn attempted to do so with double teams and there's no question other teams will try that - the Ducks could have an extremely difficult time winning games.
X-Factor: Liz Brenner
Brenner was a member of the Ducks' national championship volleyball team, joined the basketball team late, and therefore was not yet in basketball shape when they played UConn. Not that a 100% Brenner would've changed that outcome, but she's clearly an athlete capable of making a contribution in Westhead's fast paced system. If she can help them on the boards - keeping their opponents' second chance shots to a minimum - she could make Oregon a much more competitive team.
Key question: What will keep them out of last place?
The RealTimeRPI power rankings has Oregon last in the conference and ranked 285th in the nation. Granted, they had a stronger SOS than their fellow Pac-12 teams, but their specific weaknesses given their coach's system makes it hard to see who they have an advantage on.
Statistically, two things come to mind:
1. Shoot less threes, simply because they're not making them, and find ways to make the extra pass for higher percentage shots.
2. Get rapid development from Alleyne and Brenner, who could create matchup problems as bigger, slower players try to guard them.
Otherwise, they're not starting from a particularly positive place this season.