Dana Altman is 5-0 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Oregon.
The Ducks have advanced out of the first round during each of the past six trips to the Pac-12 Tournament.
Basketball tournaments in November have been a different story.
The Ducks dropped their opener at the PK Invitational last year and Maui Invitational in 2016 to fall into the consolation bracket at both events. Altman’s last trip to New York ended with an 0-2 record at the Legends Classic in 2014. The Ducks combined to go 3-5 on those three road trips.
The 13th-ranked Ducks packed up for New York once again to play two games in two nights at the 2K Empire Classic in Madison Square Garden. Oregon (2-0) opens against Iowa (2-0) at 6 p.m. Thursday, followed by a matchup with No. 15 Syracuse (2-0) or Connecticut (2-0) on Friday.
“We have not played well in these opportunities,” Altman said. “We are going to have to do a better job. We can come up with a number of excuses, but the bottom line is that we just haven’t played well.”
A large local fan base is expected for the opening game when the Orange and Huskies renew their rivalry from the Big East, but the Ducks and Hawkeyes should have a neutral crowd before feeling like the visitor regardless of which team they face Friday.
Altman last coached at Madison Square Garden on March 30, 1994 when the final game of his four-year tenure at Kansas State ended with a loss to Siena in the consolation game of the National Invitation Tournament. Oregon senior Paul White played three games at Madison Square Garden in 2014-15 when he was a freshman at Georgetown.
“It is a great opportunity for our guys to go play in that type of venue,” Altman said. “Playing in a venue that has got a lot of history against a very experienced Iowa team will be a big adjustment for everybody.”
The Hawkeyes return all five starters from last year when they finished 14-19. Iowa brings back players who combined for 94.9 percent of its offense last year when it averaged 79.7 points per game.
“They are a good offensive team and have everyone back,” Oregon senior guard Ehab Amin said. “Hopefully, our defense will pick up a little bit on our rotations.”
Tyler Cook, a 6-foot-9 junior, leads the Hawkeyes with 14.5 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. Luke Garza, a 6-11 sophomore, averages 12.5 points and 4.0 rebounds.
“Cook is a real physical inside player,” Altman said. “They are solid inside. We might be a little longer, but I don’t know if we can match their physicality.”
Oregon opened the season with blowout wins over Big Sky foes Portland State and Eastern Washington by a combined score of 165-104.
“We worked hard the last couple weeks to prepare for these kind of games so we are excited to see where we are against a high-level team,” Amin said. “Other Top 25 teams have already had big opponents and big games. We got lucky to get two games under our belt to see where we are at.”
The game will not be a homecoming for freshman Louis King, a New Jersey native who remains out with a knee injury. Oregon is also unlikely to use freshman Miles Norris, who may sit out a redshirt season.
That leaves the Ducks with nine scholarship players, including freshman Will Richardson, who has played 20 minutes in two games after returning from a foot injury.
“The hope is that playing eight or nine guys will help us,” Altman said of facing back-to-back games. “Our conditioning has progressed, it’s good but not great. Early in the year, this first trip shouldn’t bother us.”