SAN FRANCISCO — Last year, Washington was Dana Altman’s preseason Pac-12 men's basketball favorite based on experience and it turned out that he correctly picked the conference champion.
Altman tabbed Colorado as his pick this season for a similar reason, but the Pac-12 media poll went with Oregon.
“Colorado would get my vote because when you have 95% of your scoring or whatever back, it’s pretty hard not to,” Altman said during the conference’s media day for men’s basketball Tuesday. “They finished strong, they are talented and deep so you probably have to label them the favorites. Then Washington, Arizona and us all have so many new guys, it is hard to see how it will come out.
"A lot of question marks on a lot of teams, but Colorado probably has the fewest question marks so that is why I give them the nod.”
Oregon has a major question mark regarding the status of five-star center N’Faly Dante, who is still trying to get admitted to school after graduating a year early from high school. Fall term began Oct. 1 at Oregon, but Altman said there is still time for Dante to register for classes if he gets into school.
“We are still working through that,” Altman said. “We probably should have something finalized through this week. I am hopeful it will work out.”
Dante, who arrived in the United States from Mali just before high school, was a consensus top-20 recruit in the Class of 2020 before graduating early from Sunrise Christian Academy in Bel Aire, Kan. He was one of 15 players voted to the preseason all-conference team announced Tuesday.
Dante was a late addition to Oregon’s recruiting class when he signed in August, but has yet to arrive in Eugene. If he does not enroll for fall term, Dante could potentially join the Ducks midseason if he gets admitted for winter term, but Altman said he had not thought that far ahead.
“I'm not really sure what his situation is, and we'll get it worked out here this week,” he added.
Dante bulked up to 230 pounds for college and would likely give the Ducks their top rim protector with an emerging offensive game if he joins the team. Without him, Oregon loses depth inside with sophomore Francis Okoro and grad transfer Shakur Juiston joined by freshmen Chandler Lawson, C.J. Walker and Lok Wur.
If Dante is not on the roster, Oregon may also have opportunities to use more three-guard lineups where Payton Pritchard and Will Richardson return and are joined in the backcourt by freshman Addison Patterson, junior-college transfer Chris Duarte and graduate transfer Anthony Mathis.
“It’s hard to project right now,” Altman said. “I don’t even know with the guys we’ve got what direction we will go. Sometimes I look at them and think ‘Those guys fit’ and other times they don’t. It will be an interesting month here.”
Oregon opens the season Nov. 5 at home against Fresno State and one week later faces Memphis, likely a Top-25 team, in Portland. Oregon also hosts Houston and heads to the Battle 4 Atlantis in November before visiting Michigan in December.
“The biggest goal for us is to be ready from the start, not take any early losses,” Pritchard said.
Oregon started 4-3 last year, including a stunning home loss to Texas Southern. The Ducks were 15-12 before winning 10 straight games to reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament where they lost to eventual national champion Virginia by four points.
“Last year as a freshman, I thought we were ready for the regular season and quickly found out we were not ready at all,” Richardson said. “Even with Bol Bol, we weren’t ready. Now that I have a year of experience under my belt, I realize this team is a step ahead of where we were last time.”
Richardson, Pritchard and Okoro are the only returnees as the Ducks added eight newcomers if Dante gets into school.
“We have a tremendous amount of work to do, but I like the guys and I think they will work at it,” Altman said. “Some of our more experienced teams were a lot further ahead, but I think they will be all right. It’s just that freshmen don’t know what they don’t know and the new guys are all trying to establish themselves. The vets are doing a good job, they know what to expect. It’s two steps forward and one back so that is probably not going to change for a while.”
Oregon likely would not have been the preseason favorite without Dante as Colorado matched the Ducks with nine first-place votes, but Oregon had 291 points in the poll compared to 288 for the Buffaloes. Defending champion Washington and Arizona were a close third and fourth, respectively.
“Time will tell on that,” UW coach Mike Hopkins said. “Last year, I think we were picked third and the year before 12th. … But third, fifth, ninth, we’ve just got to go out and play and try to reach our potential.”
Colorado returns all five starters and its top six scorers from last season.
“The fact that people have picked us where they’ve picked us maybe makes you feel good for a minute, but it’s not going to win you any games,” CU coach Tad Boyle said. “Just like when they pick you 11th, it’s not going to lose you any games.”