Pac-10 preview: the University of Oregon

Prior to the commencement of the 2009-2010 college basketball season, Hoopism will profile various NCAA teams. Today, the first installment of the Pac-10 previews: the Oregon Ducks.

by Daniel Uribe

The biggest questions and easily the biggest mystery of what is to come for the Pac-10 this season will come from the Oregon Ducks and it’s new Head Coach Paul Westhead.

Coming off a season where the Ducks went 9-21 and 5-13 in the Pac-10 finishing seventh, Oregon Athletic Director Mike Bellotti dismissed Bev Smith and decided to go with the wild card that is Westhead. The former Phoenix Mercury head coach is coming off a stint as an assistant to the Seattle Supersonics under coach P.J. Carlesimo before being let go.

Westhead, as many people know, can easily be described as the king of the fast break, having taking that offensive system and successfully incorporated it at the college as well as professional level, most recently, with the Mercury who won the WNBA title in 2007. However, defense has never been a strong suit of Westhead’s teams which have always opted to try to outscore the other team rather than place too much emphasis on defense. The questions that will come up this season are – how long will it take Westhead to incorporate his run-and-gun style on a team that was so used to strong defensive schemes and set offenses — and, will his system net results for Oregon and result in a subsequent return to the top of the Pac-10 standings? One thing we do know for sure, the Pac-10 coaches will be challenged in trying to stop the new offensive system that Westhead will put in place.

To help the new head coach, is major long-range firepower in the forms of returning starters, seniors Taylor Lilley and Micaela Cocks. Both Cocks and Lilley are within range of overtaking the all-time record for three-pointers made in a season. New Zealand Olympian Cocks led the Ducks in scoring last season with 13.5 ppg following by Lilley with 10 ppg. Lilley is coming off a season where she missed eight games due to shin injuries as well as a concussion and underwent off-season knee surgery. She hopes to return to the form which led her to all-conference honors in her sophomore season.

Oregon does not lose much in terms of experience with the return sophomore starters Amanda Johnson at forward and Jasmin Holliday, a combo guard/forward. Johnson led the team in both rebounding (5.4 rpg) and steals (1.4 spg) and averaged 7.9 ppg. Holliday averaged 5.3 ppg. However, they lose experience in the post after starting center Ellie Manou opted not to return to Oregon and remain in her native Australia.

Overall, Oregon retains a lot of experience with nine returning players and one redshirt. Also returning for the Ducks include junior forward/centers Nicole Canepa (5.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg) Ellyce Ironmonger (2.1 ppg, 1.3 rpg); guard/forwards Victoria Kenyon, a junior, (2.3 ppg, 1.4 rpg), senior Lindsey Saffold (3.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg) and junior Tatianna Thomas (2.5 ppg, 1.4 rpg) as well as redshirt sophomore guard Nia Jackson.

Newcomers include freshman walk-on Laura Stanulis, a 5’9” guard out of Portland; freshman Aliyah Green, a 5’11” guard-forward also from Portland; JC standouts Kristi Fallin, a 5’10” guard from Umpqua Community College, and Candyce Flynn, a 5’6” guard from Rend Lake College.

Oregon will open it’s non-conference schedule on Nov. 16 at home versus Eastern Washington.

Video from U of O media day here.

(Daniel Uribe is a Los Angeles native, former reporter and Pac-10 expert).