The Washington State Cougars will be seeking a second-straight win on the road when they face the Oregon Ducks in Eugene on Thursday night (8 pm, FS1). The Cougs broke a six-game losing streak by defeating Washington on Sunday, while Oregon has not played since Jan. 23 due to a program-wide COVID-19 pause.
Oregon expects to be missing starter Eric Williams Jr., who is still in COVID-19 protocol. They do get back Chris Duarte and LJ Figueroa, who both missed the Ducks’ loss to Oregon State while going through COVID-19 protocol themselves.
Will conditioning be a factor? Who knows, so let’s look at what we do know and examine the players and trends that might impact the Cougs vs. Ducks.
When Oregon has the ball...
Oregon’s offense runs through senior transfer Eugene Omoruyi. He uses possessions at an Isaac Bonton level rate, but he does not facilitate in the same way. At 6’6, Omoruyi likes to get inside—where he is hitting 63 percent of his shots at the rim. He takes roughly 44 percent of his shots at the rim while splitting the rest pretty evenly between midrange and beyond the 3-point line. Keeping him out of the paint will be key—as his efficiency falls off dramatically when jump shooting.
Omoruyi is part of a small Oregon frontcourt. He primarily plays the 5 and gets significant minutes at 4 when 6’8 Chandler Lawson comes off the bench. The latter is the combination Altman will likely use most tonight with Williams out. Little-used 6’8 freshman Lok Wur got 12 minutes against Oregon State and may play more tonight as well.
Lawson is slender at 6’8, weighing just 205, but does finish efficiently at the rim.
It will be interesting to see how Altman rotates the 3-spot against the Cougs. Williams and Figueroa have been getting minutes there. Figueroa has been solid, primarily in the midrange, but to spell him, it seems Altman would need to go even smaller.
Chris Duarte is the featured player for Oregon in the backcourt—though we may see him get some minutes at the 3 because he is a big guard at 6’6. He is a hyper-efficient scorer—hitting 65 percent on 2s, 46 percent on 3s, and 87 percent on free throws. Duarte has taken over half of his shots behind the arc but rarely takes a jumper inside the arc—just under 15 percent of his attempts come on 2-point jumpers. He’s very good at picking his drives, as he is hitting nearly 73 percent of his shots at the rim. If Duarte is given an opening, he makes teams pay.
Amauri Hardy runs the point for Oregon. He doesn’t shoot much for the Ducks, but he did show the ability as more of a primary scorer for UNLV in his junior season. Still, as one of the least efficient shooters on the team, he’ll more often defer to someone else. Sophomore Aaron Estrada will fill in minutes backing up both backcourt positions but hasn’t been much of an offensive factor.
Overall, the Ducks have relied more on 3s during conference play due to playing bigger teams—40 percent of Oregon’s shots have come from distance against Pac-12 opponents. The Ducks have shot 3s well, largely because of Duarte—WSU should be looking to chase him off the line first and foremost.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Cougs use a lot of zone as they did against Washington. WSU is much bigger up front, and Oregon would likely negate much of that advantage in a man-to-man situation by stretching those bigs out to the 3-point line. Having a 6’10 (or bigger) guy camped down low to contest Oregon’s attempt at the rim—particularly from Omoyuri and Duarte—will be important.
The Ducks have struggled much more on 2s in Pac-12 play, hitting just 48 percent compared to 54 percent overall for the season. Contesting shots matters, especially considering Oregon turns the ball over at the conference's lowest frequency.
When WSU has the ball...
Oregon has the third-best defense by efficiency in Pac-12 play. The Ducks have done that by forcing turnovers, limiting offensive rebounds, and allowing the lowest 3-point percentage in the league. That has been necessary, as the Ducks are giving up 55 percent on 2s against Pac-12 opponents, worst in the conference.
That’s bad news and good news for WSU. The Cougs turn the ball over a lot—most in the league. That seems to be who they are at this point and that’s not going to change. That could be an issue against Oregon, who steals the ball frequently. Duarte and Figueroa are the most common thieves, so the Cougs must be clean with their passes and be careful when venturing into traffic on a drive.
If WSU can take care of the ball, it should be looking to get it inside. That has been Oregon’s biggest weakness, so look for more post-ups from Dishon Jackson and Efe Abogidi. Additionally, if Isaac Bonton and Noah Williams can get to the rim on drives, there isn’t a true rim protector on Oregon’s squad.
The Bottom Line
The Cougs are going to need to ugly this game up if they are to win. Size at the 4 and 5 slots is WSU’s biggest advantage—but that can be a strength for Oregon as well if they can use their quicker lineup to disrupt the Cougs.
If WSU runs a zone for much of the game to try and amplify its edge in height, it will be at the whim of Oregon’s 3-point shooting. That’s a give and take that will play a big part in how well the Cougs can slow down the Ducks.
On the other end, it’s possible that WSU could have an efficient day inside but have an inefficient offensive day overall because Oregon forces turnovers (and WSU frequently gives them up). The Cougs are highly susceptible to pressure, and Oregon has players that create giveaways.
The wild card is Oregon’s extended layoff and the fact that the Ducks will be missing a starter that throws their rotation out of wack. Without that context, KenPom’s laptop predicts Oregon to beat WSU at home 86 percent of the time, with an average score of 73-61. However, if the Cougs can duplicate some of the successes inside and defensively they had against (an admittedly much worse) Washington, then they have a shot at the road win.