EUGENE, Ore. – Oregon has its highest preseason ranking in history.
The Ducks are No. 5 in the Associated Press Top 25 as they prepare to open the season Friday night at home against Army. That is the same spot Oregon held ended last season before losing to Oklahoma in the Elite Eight.
The Ducks return four starters but first-team, all-conference forward Dillon Brooks will miss the start of the season after having foot surgery in September. The 6-foot-7 junior led Oregon with 16.7 points and 3.1 assists per game last season.
Until Brooks returns, sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey is Oregon's top returning scorer after averaging 13.4 points per game last season.
“We have been preparing for this moment and the hype is coming in with preseason top-five rankings,” Dorsey said. “We have to focus on the season coming around and take this last week seriously. We have to get ready because the hype means nothing. Teams will come at us like Oklahoma did in the scrimmage. They were the underdog, so we need to get ready for teams like that.”
Six-foot-10 center Chris Boucher set the Oregon school record with 110 blocked shots last season while averaging 12.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. Point guard Casey Benson averaged 6.0 points and 3.1 assists per game.
The Ducks add senior guard Dylan Ennis, a graduate transfer from Villanova who successfully appealed for a sixth year of eligibility after missing all but two games last year due to injury.
The Ducks were picked as an overwhelming favorite to repeat as Pac-12 Conference champions, but coach Dana Altman said the team still has to live up to the hype.
“I know a lot of nice things are being said about us, we aren't anywhere near that team right now,” Altman said.
Dorsey said the Ducks need to take the same attitude as last year when they were not ranked in the preseason polls, but captured their first conference crown since 2002.
“We have to look at it like we are the underdogs like last season and take the same mentality,” he said. “There is going to be pressure. Being in the top-five in the country there will be a target on our back, but we have to thrive under pressure.”
Oregon has a trio of shot-blockers led by Boucher and 6-9 junior Jordan Bell, who holds the school record with 147 blocks in two seasons. Kavell Bigby-Williams joined the team after averaging 5.6 blocks per game last year in junior college.
“We have great shot-blockers in the back so we know if we get blown by then there is help,” Dorsey said. “It is definitely hard to score against us in the paint. If you get in there, you have to float it up high or it will get swatted. It definitely changes your shot.”
The Ducks expect to start three guards with Dorsey, Benson and Ennis at least until Brooks returns, likely in late November. Bell and Boucher will round out the starting line-up with Bigby-Williams coming off the bench.
Oregon added three freshmen — guard Payton Pritchard and forwards M.J. Cage and Keith Smith — who will also be counted on to contribute this season.
The Ducks will be tested early with four of their first six games on the road, including a trip to Baylor on Nov. 15. Oregon is at the Maui Invitational from Nov. 21-23.
“My expectations are always high for our team,” Altman said. “I want them to play our best and we are not playing anywhere near our best. They are not wanting to take care of the details of the game and fundamentals. It is a simple game, the game doesn't change, and right now we are not taking care of the things we need to take care of.”