Oregon could face five ranked teams during the first month of the season.
The Ducks begin the second week of the schedule in Portland on Nov. 12 facing Memphis in the Phil Knight Invitational before hosting Houston on Nov. 22 at Matthew Knight Arena. Oregon heads to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis on Nov. 27-29 beginning with a matchup against Seton Hall. Gonzaga or Southern Mississippi awaits Oregon on the second day followed by Michigan, Iowa State, North Carolina or Alabama on the final day.
“Our November, we got a little carried away there,” UO coach Dana Altman said. “It is difficult. We could take some bumps and bruises there because we will be facing a lot of experienced teams. Experience versus inexperience early in the year is always a danger.”
Senior guard Payton Pritchard, sophomore guard Will Richardson and sophomore forward Francis Okoro are the three returning scholarship players from last season. Oregon has added 10 newcomers with eight eligible to play, assuming that 6-foot-11 freshman N’Faly Dante completes the admissions process after reclassifying to join the Ducks this year.
Graduate transfers Shakur Juiston and Anthony Mathis are both playing their fifth year of college basketball while Chris Duarte moves up after two years in junior college.
“I’m hoping our grad transfers and Payton, Francis and Will can really lead us through November and give some younger guys a chance to catch up,” Altman said. “For us to get off to a good start, that has to happen. Those five that have played have really got to get off to a great start and let those young guys develop a little bit.”
Oregon lists 15 players on its roster, including two walk-ons and two transfers who must sit out the season. Altman said that there were no injury concerns heading into the season. With Dante still unable to practice as he seeks NCAA clearance, the Ducks have 14 players available for practice.
“We’ve always had good practices, just the numbers haven’t been what they should be because of injuries,” said Altman, who finished last season with 11 healthy players and had 12 during the previous two seasons. “You can still make competitive practices, go 3-on-3 or 4-on-4. There are a lot of different things you can work on, individual drills and competitiveness. It doesn’t always have to be 5-on-5, but it does help us in some scrimmage situations.”
Oregon has five true freshmen including Dante.
“It’s hard with a lot of freshmen who have never played in front of 12,000 every night,” Altman said. “It’s different so Shakur and Anthony with their experience, that definitely brings a different dimension. I think it will help us.”
Oregon opens the season at home on Nov. 5 against Fresno State, which won 23 games last year, before hosting Boise State on Nov. 9. Oregon also hosts UT Arlington on Nov. 17.
“Fresno has six or seven guys back and Boise has a lot of guys back,” Altman noted. “Everybody talks about Memphis being really talented and I know Houston will be good. Arlington is supposed to have a good team and Seton Hall. Our November is loaded. We’ve got a lot of work to do in the next five weeks to get ready for that schedule.”
The only true road game in nonconference play for the Ducks is at Michigan on Dec. 14.
“It’s hard to get games, hard to get teams to travel out here to play,” Altman said. “Fortunately, the Nike thing helped us with Memphis and Oklahoma is going to play Oregon State so that will be a good night of basketball in Portland. It’s tough to put a schedule together because of the distance. A lot of East Coast teams don’t want to fly. Everyone is talking about neutral games, but I like home-and-home.”
Altman said he and Michigan coach John Beilein spent two years setting up the home-and-home series with the Wolverines slated to play at Matthew Knight Arena next season when Baylor will also return Oregon’s visit from last season. Beilein left Michigan following last season to coach the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“We finally got it set and he takes off,” Altman joked. “Getting games like that, it’s hard. We are fortunate to go to the Bahamas and Michigan. To get a Big East or Big Ten team to come here, it’s a lot of travel. We worked on that with Michigan for two years to get a date and time and finally got it all set. It takes a lot of work.”