Looking Ahead: Oregon Ducks

It’s never too early to start looking ahead to next season. During the coming weeks, we will examine what comes next for each team in the Power 5 conferences and also those outside the Power 5 that could make noise on the national stage. Today: the Oregon Ducks.

Dana Altman survived the tumult of 2014 that blemished his tenure and legacy at Oregon. Three players were dismissed following a sexual assault investigation. The victim in the case sued Altman and Oregon for admitting Brandon Austin, who’d been investigated at Providence for sexual assault prior to his arrival. Austin, Damyean Dotson and Dominic Artis were all accused of assaulting a female student in 2014 and were dismissed.

But Altman survived that madness.

Joseph Young helped. The dynamic guard led the Ducks to the round of 32 of the NCAA tournament, where they lost to Wisconsin. Young averaged 20.7 points per game and hit big shots in critical games, and Oregon finished strong by winning 12 of its final 15 games, despite losing four of its top five scorers from the previous season.

The Ducks needed a year like that. Now, they’re back in the Pac-12 mix as a borderline top-25 team that will welcome a solid recruiting class and veteran transfer Dylan Ennis (9.9 PPG in 2014-15), who is eligible immediately after graduating from Villanova.

Oregon’s vibe throughout the previous offseason was dark and murky. But the cloud cover could dissipate in 2015-16 -- depending on the legal maneuverings attached to the sexual assault case, of course -- for a Ducks program that boasts the pieces to compete for the title in a league that’s in flux with Arizona losing Stanley Johnson, Brandon Ashley, T.J. McConnell and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.

What the immediate future holds: Adding Ennis takes pressure off Altman’s young backcourt. Ennis will move back to point guard after competing on the wing for Jay Wright. He started all 36 games for Villanova last season and averaged 3.5 APG. He also made 36 percent of his 3-pointers. He’s versatile and fluid.

Ennis, Tyler Dorsey, a shooting guard ranked 38th in the 2015 class by RecruitingNation, Dwayne Benjamin, and Dillon Brooks will comprise one of the league’s most talented backcourts. Kendall Small, another four-star guard, will contribute, too.

Plus, Oregon’s frontcourt is solid, too. Trevor Manuel, a 6-foot-9 four-star recruit from Michigan, will join a fortified crew that features Elgin Cook and Jordan Bell, who should be ready for next season after recently undergoing foot surgery.

The Pac-12 doesn’t feature a juggernaut entering 2015-16. Arizona must replace four elite players. Utah lost Delon Wright. Cal’s trio of Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb and Tyrone Wallace makes the Bears America’s most intriguing program. But the title race in Oregon’s conference seems open.

Oregon should finish in the top tier and return to the NCAA tournament. On paper, the Ducks appear to be capable of more.

Young, however, was the playmaker for this team last season. Young helped the Ducks win games that they would’ve lost by double digits without him. He was the catalyst. And it’s not clear who Altman will turn to in 2015-16.

They’ll find scorers, though. Defense is the greater concern. Imagine if Oregon had finished better than No. 121 in adjusted defensive efficiency (KenPom.com). It won’t have Young to make up for its defensive gaps if they continue next season.

Yet, the Ducks possess depth and elite players in their backcourt and frontcourt. They’ll be deeper and potentially more balanced in a league that’s not as stacked as it has been in recent years.

Oregon doesn’t have an abundance of experience. Still, the collection of talent is strong.

Clear skies for Oregon in 2015-16.