When No. 14 Oregon begins the 2018 college basketball season on Tuesday night, it won’t have the luxury of facing a cupcake squad to get its feet wet. In fact, the Ducks better be ready for what’s coming.
Oregon hosts Portland State at 8 p.m. at Matthew Knight Arena — a Vikings squad that plays an up-tempo, press-happy style they call "Peery Pressure," named after Portland State head coach Barret Peery.
For Oregon head coach Dana Altman, the new season promises to bring a combination of size and athleticism that he’s never had before — a blend of veteran returners with talented newcomers who make the Ducks one of the more exciting teams in the nation.
“With everyone (college basketball) going small, we went big— so hopefully, we’ll be able to play a different style to make people adjust to our strengths,” Altman said. “It will be different for us and there will be some major adjustment for us in November in December to try to play that way.”
Oregon is coming off a 77-58 victory over Western Oregon in an exhibition game last week, despite leading 29-27 at the break.
Freshman sensation Bol Bol — a 7-foot-2 center with the ball-handling and shooting of a guard — finished with a game-high 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field, including 1-of-3 from beyond the arc.
Although he wasn’t as physically imposing as expected, Bol showed flashes of what made him a five-star recruit and one of the top NBA prospects in college basketball. But Altman was quick to point out how much Bol needs to improve and learn before he can dominate the college ranks.
"He's got to play a lot harder, he's got to improve his positioning, talk defensively but he is talented… he is skilled," Altman said of Bol after the exhibition last week. "We said from the start he's a unique player, unique talent. He coasts a lot but he's getting better, he's working at it. He's going to be a work in progress all year but there's a lot more that he can do."
Fellow 6-foot-9 freshman Francis Okoro finished with a double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds in 15 minutes off the bench, giving the Ducks a physical force needed to anchor the second unit.
Oregon was missing junior point guard Payton Pritchard and senior forward Paul White for the game against Western Oregon. Both players are the most experienced on Oregon’s roster, and two vital parts to the success of the Ducks.
Pritchard was an all-Pac-12 second team selection last year, averaging 14.5 points and 4.8 assists per game. White averaged 9.4 points last season, showing off the ability to spread the floor with his shooting.
“Having Payton on the floor is very important to us — Paul’s back too… he’s a good ball-handler at the forward spot,” Altman said. “So, having those two guys back is nice and important.”
What’s to be expected from Portland State is a team that is going to press the Ducks for the full 40 minutes, force them to play an up-tempo style that could lead to turnovers and easy buckets in transition for the Vikings.
"The style of play will be the same," Peery said of this year’s team. "I think we will be able to ramp it up even more. I think our depth will be very good. I like our length and athleticism and our speed has taken a step up.”
Last year, Portland State ranked third in the nation in scoring last year (85.2 ppg), and second in steals (9.8) and turnovers forced (18.1). Although the Vikings lost three starters from last year’s team, they do return the Big Sky Freshman of the Year in Holland “Boo Boo” Woods.
Woods, who averaged 10.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per game last year, put up 18 points in Portland State’s 119-89 exhibition win over Multnomah.
“He’s a good player, a very good player,” Altman said of Woods. “He did a good job against us last year.”
Peery and the Vikings are no stranger to taking down bigger and better teams. Last season, they defeated Pac-12 schools Cal and Stanford en route to going 10-3 in the preseason — the three losses were to Oregon, Duke and Butler.
The season opener for both team’s promises to be a fast and furious affair, one that will get one program off on the right foot for the rest of the season.