It’s risky to make proclamations after the first of 18 Pac-12 basketball games, but based on what we saw Saturday, you can file Oregon’s status as a conference contender in the same historical dust bin with the college career of Bol Bol.
They both went one and done.
“One and done” is generous in the case of Bol, who played nine games before leaving the program. It’s not his fault he broke his foot. It’s not Dana Altman’s fault, either. But wow, the Ducks are in big trouble without him.
Oregon made that apparent by losing its Pac-12 opener 77-72 to Oregon State at Matthew Knight Arena. It wasn’t surprising to see the depleted Ducks struggling with a veteran OSU team, but when Oregon erased the last of an 18-point deficit with 3:49 to play, you figured that would be enough to survive the Beavers’ upset attempt.
Alas, nothing about this season has gone to form. Oregon came up empty on two late possessions and, just like that, the Ducks are 0-1 and bracing for harder times ahead.
In this year’s Pac-12, a flawed champion is the only real certainty. Someone is going emerge from this scrum holding a trophy, and even without Bol, you can make a case that Oregon’s talent stacks up with anyone’s.
And yet, even when Bol was on the floor, the Ducks never looked like a cohesive group capable of winning a conference title. They certainly don’t look that way now, with Bol rehabbing for an NBA career, Kenny Wooten sidelined by a broken jaw and Abu Kigab making a midseason move to Boise State.
“When you lose that kind of size, that kind of skill, that kind of shot-blocking, there’s some things you have to alter,” forward Paul White said. “You really don’t find a 7-2, 7-3 big man who can do what Bol does.”
I get that there’s no replacing a 7-2 lottery pick who averages 21 points and 10 rebounds. But still, how did Oregon go from playing in the Final Four two years ago to having its season derailed by a freshman’s foot injury?
That’s a question Altman and the Ducks will have to ponder. While winning back-to-back conference titles in 2016 and 2017, they made a choice to chase the pseudo-professionals who comprise college basketball’s one-and-done crowd.
So far, that’s gotten them entangled in some hazy off-court business but hasn’t delivered anything like the success they experienced with lower-profile players. Now the Ducks will have to decide whether to continue on the one-and-done carousel or reassess their recruiting approach.
“It’s not an easy question to answer,” Altman said. “We recruited Bol and definitely wouldn’t have turned him down. It wouldn’t change my mind if another talented player wanted to come in.”
The Ducks’ deficiencies become apparent when you watch them against a team like Oregon State. The Beavers also have their shortcomings, but experience isn’t one of them.
Tres Tinkle and Stephen Thompson Jr. played a bunch of Pac-12 games together before finally celebrating a win on Oregon’s home floor. They're tough. They compete. The Ducks don’t have that, and it shows.
Blaming the one-and-dones is easy to do, but there’s more to Oregon’s struggles than that. The Ducks also missed on some three- and four-star recruits, the guys who create the foundation that supports a one-and-done star.
Just look at Kigab. His departure received far less fanfare than Bol’s, but at the time Oregon was recruiting him, there was talk that he could be a player in the mold of Dillon Brooks, undersized but versatile and relentlessly competitive.
When that didn’t pan out, Kigab followed the path of Keith Smith, MJ Cage, Trevor Manuel and Kendall Small, recent recruits who could be helping the Ducks as upperclassmen but decided to leave the program.
The perfect college basketball player is not a one-and-done, but someone like Brooks: talented enough to leave early and get drafted, but not so overhyped that he’s determined to leave after one year. Those were the players who carried Oregon to the Final Four, and the Ducks haven’t found one since.
Don’t blame Bol for Oregon’s predicament. He was operating within the constraints of a flawed system, one that forces players to go through the motions of amateurism when they belong in the pros.
With Bol out of the picture, it’s even more glaring how the Ducks failed to secure their foundation in the wake of their Final Four run. Those flaws would have caught up with them eventually, but in a watered-down Pac-12, this Oregon team at full strength still might have pushed for the conference title.
It’s hard to see that happening now. Unless they prove me wrong, the Ducks’ Pac-12 title hopes just went one and done.