There’s expectations, there’s perception, and then there’s reality.

Before the season, nobody thought very highly of Oregon. The Pac-12 preseason media poll pegged the Ducks to finish eighth in the conference.

There was a perception that, after the Ducks dismissed three players amidst legal trouble, the vitriol hurled at and toward the Oregon program made it appear as a program in shambles.

The reality? Oregon is better than we thought, and UO Dana Altman has the team in control, and competing, despite all the non-basketball turmoil from the offseason.

Having Joseph Young around certainly helps that, sure. I wrote about him today.

Heading into tonight’s 8 p.m. game against No. 6 Arizona at McKale Center, the Ducks are 14-6, 4-3 in the Pac-12 and alone in fifth place in the conference. They’re only a game behind Stanford and Oregon State, both tied at 5-2 in the Pac-12, but also only one ahead of the 3-4 quartet of Washington, UCLA, Colorado and Washington State.

(Speaking of expectations….the Pac-12 picked OSU to finish in last place. They’re in a legitimate battle for third place halfway through conference play. Oh Hail the (Wayne) Tinkle!)

Oregon is only technically two games behind the 6-1 Arizona and Utah, but it might as well be four games.

“Well you’ve got two teams that have obviously separated themselves because of their experience and their talent in Utah and Arizona,” Altman told me yesterday.

Surely, Altman has to be happy about where Oregon stands, all things considered, right?

Wrong…..and don’t call me Shirley.

“I thought we’d be a little bit better by now,” Altman said. “We are making progress and that’s the thing we keep talking to our team about. We’ve got five freshmen that we’ll probably play tomorrow night and we don’t have much experience and it’s about us getting better.”

Is that coach-speak? Maybe.

Who knows. Anyway, even though Oregon is outperforming expectations, the Ducks still lack depth, and outside of Young, don’t have much on offense to scare you.

So, basically, that paves the way for the 6-foot-7 Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to guard the 6-3 Young, and probably shut him down like the Wildcats have the last two years.

His game-by-game numbers against Arizona:

  • Jan. 8, 2015. 4-of-15 shooting, 2-of-7 from three, 12 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 turnovers. Arizona wins 80-62.
  • March 8, 2014. 3-of-12, 2-of-5 from three, 8 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 turnovers. Oregon wins 64-57.
  • Feb. 6, 2014. 5-of-13, 2-of-6 from three, 14 points, 2 rebounds, 0 assists, 1 turnover. Arizona wins 67-65.

Fun fact: Young is the first player since UCLA’s Don MacLean to score at least 19 points per game (19.3) and shoot 90 percent on free throws (.922).

Anyway, my PREDICTION: Arizona wins by 21. Close first half, as per usual, then pull away in the second.

WHO TO KNOW: Outside of Young, freshman Dillon Brooks (13.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.0 blocks, 2.7 turnovers), is probably Oregon’s most consistent performer. Lots of potential there. Junior forward Elgin Cook (11.9 points, 5.9 rebounds) is solid. Keep an eye on freshman big Jordan Bell (5.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 3.4 blocks), with Robert Upshaw out at Washington, the 6-foot-8 Bell is the Pac-12’s best shot-blocker.

Pac-12 predictions (for Jan. 28-29)

*Note: All times MT. My picks are bolded. 

Jan. 28

  • Oregon State at Arizona State (6 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)
  • Stanford at Washington (9 p.m., ESPNU)

Jan. 29

  • Colorado at USC (7:30 p.m., FS1)
  • No. 11 Utah at UCLA (8 p.m., ESPN2)
  • California at Washington State (8 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)

Links to coverage for tonight’s game…

  • My aforementioned story about Joe Young.
  • Bruce Pascoe’s main advance and scouting report. Funny/interesting quote from Miller in the advance about officiating. 
  • Ryan Finley and I discuss the Ducks in the latest “Arizona Wildcats Show” video. 
  • The Register-Guard wrote about Oregon’s second shot at Arizona, and how Casey Benson (from Tempe) wants to keep the crowd quiet. 

Some other Pac-12 links for your pleasure…

Bruce’s blog post about how Allonzo Trier should be named a McDonald’s All-American later today. Other candidates include UA targets Stephen Zimmerman and Ivan Rabb……Arizona is one of a handful of schools chasing Greek 7-footer Georgios Papagiannis….Kyle Goon of the Salt Lake Tribune wrote about how this weekend’s road trip to Los Angeles is homecoming for much of Utah’s roster…..From the Seattle Times, a video of Lorenzo Romar talking about UW moving on without Robert Upshaw…..Pac-12 Networks analyst, and former UA coach, Kevin O’Neill is high on OSU coach Wayne Tinkle.….Kodi Justice, ASU’s freshman point guard who had played well recently, is out for the season with a foot fracture…..Askia Booker is excited to go home to Los Angeles….Robert Upshaw is considering a move to the NBA’s D-League after being kicked off Washington.   

And some miscellaneous links…

In today’s Star, Daniel Berk had a fun story about Rob Gronkowski and his time at the Super Bowl’s Media Day on Tuesday…The NBA picked its four Dunk Contest competitors, and it includes one Pac-12 alum in Minnesota T-Wolves guard Zach LaVine (UCLA). Wonder if ex-Wildcat Aaron Gordon would be in the contest had he not been hurt for most of the season….An Arizona football commit received an offer from Michigan…The Golden State Arizona Wildcat Warriors snapped a ridiculous 19-game home winning streak in a overtime loss to the Chicago Bulls. Steve Kerr, in his first year as coach, probably isn’t nervous — the Warriors have an NBA-best 36-7 record…..Ari Wasserman of had a good article with stuff about former UA defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, now the head coach at Kentucky, recruiting in Ohio.

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