GAMES NOTES: One of several teams from the Pac-12 looking for redemption, the Oregon Ducks tip off the regular season with a non-conference matchup with the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks of the Big Sky Conference at Matthew Knight Arena.
Northern Arizona came crashing down last season finishing just 5-24 overall after having had winning seasons in five of the previous six seasons. The five wins were the fewest by the Lumberjacks since 1991 and cost Mike Adras his job. Dave Brown took over but managed to push the team to only three wins in his 20 games. Enter Jack Murphy, an assistant at Memphis over the last three seasons, will be looked on to resurrect the Lumberjacks quickly.
A season that finished with 24 wins would largely be considered a success, but not for the Ducks last season. Despite the squad's impressive win total, the Ducks were snubbed from the NCAA Tournament. The Ducks did not help matters by exiting in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament, although it was to eventual champion Colorado. Oregon did get an NIT bid and won two games. It was the second straight season Oregon advanced to postseason play.
It has been a decade since these teams last met on the hardwood. In that contest Oregon blasted Northern Arizona 86-51, which increased its series lead to 5-1. Oregon is also 56-12 all-time against teams from the Big Sky.
Most of Northern Arizona's returning talent from the dreadful 2011-2012 campaign are grouped in the frontcourt. Chief among those returnees would have been Big Sky Freshman of the Year James Douglas (12.2), but he chose to transfer. That leaves players like Gabe Rogers (10.2 ppg), Stallon Saldivar (6.7 ppg, 4.9 apg) and Michael Dunn (6.8 ppg) to pick up the pieces. Up front has more questions than there are answers with very little depth or experience on the roster. Len Spring, a juco transfer that stands at 6-10 has the size to be effective, but needs to polish his game at both ends of the court.
The Ducks' roster was left mainly bare from its efforts last season with key contributors like Devoe Joseph (16.7 ppg), Garrett Sim (12.2 ppg) and Olu Ashaolu (9.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg) no longer residing in Eugene. That means E.J. Singler will be called on to be the team's go-to-guy. A senior with size at 6-6, Singler can score (13.6 ppg) and rebound (5.6 rpg), but is much more comfortable on the wings off the ball than banging inside or handling the ball. Freshman point guard Dominic Artis comes in with a great deal of hype, while Johnathan Loyd (3.3 ppg) will also get minutes in the retooled backcourt. Carlos Emory (6.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg) and Tony Woods (6.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg) were solid off the bench last season but will be pushed into starting roles this season. The Ducks got even stronger in the frontcourt with 6-7 Rice transfer Arsalan Kazemi (12.6 ppg, 10.1 rpg) added into the mix with Emory and Woods.
Losing your best player is no way to improve on a team that struggled as much as Northern Arizona did last season. Even with the Ducks needing to work out some kinks, they should have no problem getting a win.