On the day Oregon announced the suspensions of Dominic Artis and Ben Carter six weeks ago, I wrote that the absence of two starters might cost a game or two but the Ducks had the firepower to make up for that in league play.
Turns out even that was overly pessimistic.
Oregon won all nine games it played without Artis and Carter, toppling Georgetown in South Korea to open the season, outlasting Ole Miss in Oxford last week and coming from behind to defeat Illinois on Saturday night in Portland. The Ducks will now get even better since they can begin working Artis and Carter back into their rotation beginning Tuesday against UC Irvine.
It's a testament to Oregon's talent and depth that the Ducks not only survived but even flourished without their starting point guard and one of its top big men.
Senior Johnathan Loyd has done a masterful job filling in for Artis at point guard, not only dishing out three times as many assists as turnovers but also emerging as a greater scoring threat than ever before. The 7.3 assists Loyd has averaged are fourth best in the nation, his 11.1 points per game are more than double what he provided last season and his 53.8 percent shooting is nearly 20 percent higher than his career clip.
Absorbing Carter's absence was in some ways harder than replacing Artis because of Oregon's lack of interior depth, a fact reflected by the Ducks' generally sub-standard rebounding and defense. Carter's return alone won't make Oregon formidable in those areas, but he is a capable rebounder and post defender.
In his post-game press conference following Saturday's 71-64 victory over Illinois, Oregon coach Dana Altman told reporters he will not start either Artis or Carter right away but will work them into the rotation immediately.
Loyd has been as efficient as any point guard in the nation and the high-octane offense is piling up points at a faster pace than any program on the West Coast. Why mess with a good thing?
Nonetheless, there will be a time this season when Loyd's shooting percentages regress to the mean and when Oregon's frontcourt requires more toughness and back-to-the-basket scoring. That's when the Ducks will be very glad to have Artis and Carter back in the fold once again.
With Joseph Young, Mike Moser and four other double-digit scorers fueling one of the nation's most potent offenses, Oregon is one of 14 remaining unbeaten teams and has shown the potential to contend in the Pac-12.
Now that the Ducks are at full strength again, they should get even better.
- - - - - - -