After making a surprise run to the Sweet 16 a season ago, Oregon is favored to be the best team in the Pac-12 this season.
After losing five of the top six scorers from a team that finished last season 25-13 and lost by only four in the NCAA Tournament to eventual champion Virginia, the 15th-ranked Ducks received as many first-place votes as Colorado (nine) in the Pac-12 preseason poll conducted by conference media members.
Oregon edged Colorado for the top spot in the poll by three points.
But conference play is two months away for the Ducks. First, Oregon gets it initial test of the regular season Tuesday night against Fresno State in Eugene, Ore. It's the season opener for both teams.
The key returner for Oregon is senior guard Payton Pritchard. The Ducks' five returning players join a mix of newcomers that includes freshmen and both junior college and graduate transfers. The new group helped give Oregon one of the top recruiting classes in the nation.
Coach Dana Altman, who will pass Ernie Kent as Oregon's all-time wins leader with his next victory, tempered the lofty praise for his team.
"Some of our more experienced teams were a lot further ahead, but I think they will be all right," Altman told the Eugene Register-Guard last month. "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."
Precedent is on Altman's side when it comes to his chances of getting win No. 236 in Eugene on Tuesday. Oregon has won 21 straight home openers and is 9-0 all-time against the Bulldogs at home.
Pritchard is being touted as a Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate. He has a chance to become the school's all-time leader in steals, assists and wins as a player this season.
Fresno State is coming off a 23-9 campaign that saw the Bulldogs finish third in the Mountain West Conference. The Bulldogs have won 20 or more games in four straight seasons, but they seek their first win over a Top 25 opponent since 2002.
It's the fifth time since 2011 that the teams have met.
Senior Nate Grimes is the top returning scorer for the Bulldogs, having averaged 11.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per game last season. The backcourt is led by a pair of seniors, New Williams and Noah Blackwell.
Fresno State also hopes for contributions from a pair of former Pac-12 players who transferred into the program, Jordan Campbell (Oregon State) and Chris Seeley (Utah).
"Nate worked really hard this summer on his 3-point shot. He made a handful last year, and I expect him to make more this year," second-year head coach Justin Hutson said, according to the Albuquerque Journal. "New can really shoot it. He came off the bench (last season) and I think he found a hard time trying to find a rhythm. This year, he'll be in a lot more, so hopefully he'll find a rhythm.
"We still want to make a lot of threes. It might be different this year how we do it, but we still want to shoot them with confidence."
--Field Level Media