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Is Oregon ready to contend in the Pac-12?

Apr 14, 2012, 9:18 PM EDT

Dana Altman AP

The Pac-12 power structure has been a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma (myrinigma?) for the past three seasons. Last year, the league sent Cal to the First Four, where the Bears promptly lost to the USF Bulls, and new member Colorado to an 11 seed and a single upset win over UNLV. Next year is anyone’s guess.

So why not Oregon? The school struggled, flopped and flailed after firing Ernie Kent a couple of years back, and somehow still ended up with an excellent coach in Dana Altman. The resourceful former Creighton and Kansas State honcho put his first small-ball team together with spit and duct tape and proceeded to a 21-18 record and a CBI title. The next season, he upped the ante with a 24-10 record and a trip to the NIT. If the pattern holds, the NCAA tournament is next, right?

Of course, it doesn’t work that way. Altman lost top recruit Jabari Brown to Missouri after just two games as a Duck, and top scorer Devoe Joseph has graduated, along with four other seniors. On the plus side of the ledger, E.J. Singler (younger brother of former Dukie Kyle) will be stepping into a senior leadership role, and Altman has brought in top prep point guard Dominic Artis to compete for a starting spot right out of the gate. Power forward Ben Carter will team with slasher Damyean Dotson and junior college shooter Devon Branch to fill out a quartet of new players in Eugene. Rivals.com has moved the Ducks up to 30th in the recruiting rankings for next season.

Oregon bloggers Addicted to Quack make a fair point that Altman must recruit and retain top in-state talent if he expects his team to continue to climb the mountain. Kentucky’s 2012 title run was partly fueled by Oregonians Kyle Wiltjer and Terrence Jones, and runner-up Kansas claimed Landen Lucas from the state’s recruiting class of 2012.

Altman is pushing the Ducks in the right direction, and his early results — back-to-back 20-win seasons — are encouraging. Next season may be a struggle, or it might bring a return relevance for the Ducks. Altman seems like the right coach to bring about a change in culture in Eugene, so it will be interesting to find out if he gets enough latitude to make things happen.