by Eli Boettger – Monday, June 26
The Oregon Ducks are still fresh off their first Final Four appearance since 1939, but next season’s encore might not be nearly as memorable.
Besides starting point guard Payton Pritchard, almost the entirety of last year’s 33-win rotation has moved on. Dylan Ennis and Chris Boucher graduated, Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey and Jordan Bell went pro, and Casey Benson chose to transfer to Grand Canyon for his final season of eligibility.
Even with the losses, UO’s roster has actually bounced back fairly smoothly. The nation’s thirteenth-ranked recruiting class, led by five-star swingman Troy Brown, will head to campus this fall. The Ducks also picked up New Mexico transfer Elijah Brown (18.8 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 3.1 APG) and Illinois State transfer MiKyle McIntosh (12.5 PPG, 5.6 RPG), both of which are immediately eligible. Center Michael Cage, a four-star recruit who was redshirted last season, will also provide a much-needed presence in the post. Considering how head coach Dana Altman’s roster looked just over a month ago, it is in much better shape than most Duck fans could have imagined.
Though elite recruiting classes are synonymous with team improvement, returning starters and productive upperclassmen continue to lead to deep NCAA Tournament runs. Since the one-and-done NBA eligibility rule was enforced in 2005, national championship teams have averaged 2.8 upperclassmen double-digit scorers and just 1.2 underclassmen double-digit scorers. There are exceptions, of course – the 2012 Kentucky Wildcats had five underclassmen and zero upperclassmen double-digit scorers – but the trend is evident. Even prior to transfers and NBA Draft decisions, Oregon’s 2018 expectations surely weren’t to win the national championship, but the lack of returning experience will make Dana Altman’s eighth season in Eugene that much more challenging.
Final Four teams from the previous eight seasons and their percentage of minutes retained (percentage of team’s total minutes from players that returned for the following season) and the next year’s tournament result are listed in the two tables below.
Since 2010, teams that returned less than 46.0% of their minutes the following season missed the tournament six out of ten times. Oregon retains just 18.8% of its minutes from 2017. The last time a Final Four team returned fewer minutes than Oregon in 2018, it was the 2012 Kentucky Wildcats. And even with the nation’s top recruiting class that included Willie Cauley-Stein, Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin, Kentucky still failed to reach the NCAA Tournament the next March.
On the other hand, all 18 teams that retained nearly half or more of the previous season’s minutes reached the tournament. Of the 18, half of those picked up a #1 seed and eight reached the Elite Eight or better.
Since 2010, six of 24 teams notched consecutive Final Four appearances, so the odds were already stacked against Oregon advancing to the third weekend in San Antonio in 2018. Now, with nearly a completely different roster, the Ducks might have rough waters ahead.