Oregon men’s basketball focused on improving defense, rebounding in preseason practice

Rebounding and defense, two of the foundational pillars of Dana Altman teams, were among Oregon’s biggest deficiencies last season.

The Ducks ranked 115th in defensive efficiency, second-lowest of Altman’s 12 seasons, and had a negative rebounding margin for the first time since his first season at UO in 2010-11. It should come as little surprise that Oregon’s season ended in the second round of the NIT.

Altman is back to reinforcing the core tenets of Oregon’s identity as it attempts to return to the NCAA Tournament and return to form as a contender to win the Pac-12 this season.

“We need to get our defensive principles — we were a very inconsistent ball team last year and part of that was our rebounding and our defense,” Altman said/ “Our defensive numbers weren’t good last year. Our rebounding numbers weren’t good last year. On the nights we didn’t shoot it well it really cost us. One of the consistencies we have had is we’ve usually been a little better rebounding team and we’re usually been a little better defensive team. We need to establish that early.”

Oregon’s inconsistencies were on display all season; from a great 2-0 start to blowout losses, an overtime home loss to Arizona State and an intense game with Baylor, winning 10 of 11, an inexplicable home loss to Cal and losses in five of its last six regular season games.

“I felt like last year we didn’t play hard enough and we weren’t together enough,” fifth-year senior point guard Will Richardson said. “So we’re big on that this year from the jump, even from the summer. This year we got a better summer; everybody was here for summer, everybody was in the boat. We had a trip to Canada so we got a head start this year. His biggest message is us playing hard and us staying together.”

The Ducks have a talented and experienced nucleus of Richardson and fourth-year juniors Quincy Guerrier and N’Faly Dante. Transfer guards Jermaine Couisnard and Keeshawn Barthelemy more outside shooting weapons to a team that needed to improve from the perimeter and junior college transfers Brennan Rigsby and Tyrone Williams and seven-foot freshman Kel’el Ware add to a rotation with Rivaldo Soares and Nate Bittle that gives UO a deeper lineup.

“Last year we had the core but as a group there wasn’t any leadership,” Soares said. “I feel like Will this year is really taking a big step to try and be a leader. Quincy’s taking a big step to try being the leader and implementing the core values and everything that Dana wants us to do. Will’s been here for 4-5 years now; he’s basically Altman Jr. on the court. So he’s doing a great job bringing us together, most vocal I’ve heard him so far.”

Altman is hoping the core group’s experience and improved relative health compared to a year ago, when Richardson, Dante and Guerrier were all unable to practice before the season due to injuries, will lead to improved results.

“Trying to get what our expectations are what we believe is important,” Altman said. “There’s a lot of different ways to play the game, but we feel that certain things have been successful for us in the past and hopefully we’re trying to establish those.”

He was already back to harping about “simple plays” on offense and the defense needing to communicate better and contest more shots during practice.

“Been trying to follow what coach is saying, not don’t care about the offense but let’s get it on defense first,” Soares said. “Let’s not rely everything on the offensive end when we can go and get the stops ourselves. Defense wins championships; we’ve all heard it before. Our goal this year is to be top 30 in defense, top 15 in defense. That takes a lot of work and I feel like we have a great group of guys who want to play defense, who are capable of playing defense. We have a bunch of athletes everywhere and should definitely make some noise on the defensive end this year if we lock in.”

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