By REED NELSON
Here’s a quick question: If a college basketball game is played during the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, and no one mentions it anywhere but the immediately impacted regions, did it really happen?
Seriously. If you happen to play college basketball — and your name doesn’t happen to be Marshall Henderson — the last two weeks must have made you feel like a mute in a sea of auctioneers, but it’s OK. It’s not like there’s been anything resembling consistency within the ranks of college basketball’s elite in the weeks since the NFL Playoff’s-induced blackout.
Since Christmas, there have been three different No. 1’s and barely a shred of dignity between them. Duke got blown out by 27 in Miami and Louisville lost to Syracuse, Villanova and Georgetown in the same week. Michigan seems to be the pillar of authenticity, but they play Indiana on Saturday so judgement’s on hold until then.
But unlike the rest of the country, Oregon has been incredibly consistent. The Ducks’ 84-79 win over Washington on Saturday pushed their winning streak to eight games and improved their conference record to a sparkling 7-0.
Better yet, the Ducks have managed to crack the Top 10 in the AP poll for the first time since tournament time in 2007, and the 18-2 start is the program’s best since that same season.
Now that the scene is set, here’s the weekly roundup:
On paper, Oregon is looking pretty
Oregon is two games up on the rest of the Pac-12. That’s right, two whole games. And their remaining schedule is as easy as it possibly could be. They don’t face Arizona or UCLA again, and they avoid ASU as well, which means that the three teams directly below Oregon in the Pac-12 standings went a combined 0-3 against the Ducks this season. But it gets better: The combined record of the Ducks remaining eight opponents is a pleasantly mediocre 80-59 (.575) and only Washington (whom the Ducks beat this past weekend) has a winning record in conference.
Artis still hurt
The win over Washington came without standout freshman Dominic Artis, who remains sidelined with what head coach Dana Altman called, “a foot injury” (Altman is into specifics) in his appearance on SiriusXM’s Inside College Basketball. He also said that Artis will miss this entire week, but should be ready to go after that. Even though Oregon hung onto the win over Washington, Artis was clearly missed. He has proven (albeit recently) that he is the only Duck willing to create his own long-distance jump shot, and he also seems to be the only one who can hit from downtown on a semi-consistent basis. On a more personal level, this injury has stung. Artis is my favorite player West of Shabazz Napier (an honor that now falls upon Yogi Ferrell, because… well… his name is… you see… yeah.) and he fills approximately 20 roles that the very consistent yet very limited Oregon offense seems to lack.
Potential trap looming in Palo Alto
Stanford isn’t great. They might not even be good. But the Ducks weren’t exactly supposed to be either. Granted wins over Arizona at home and UCLA on the road provide Oregon with a fairly prodigious pedigree in the top-heavy Pac-12, but they still seem to be running on half skill, a quarter tenacity and a quarter momentum. It feels like this team is really good, and they play so consistently across the board that its tough to refute that sentiment, but something just doesn’t feel right about this game. The Ducks haven’t had to claw back from a large deficit in a while, and without Artis running the offense, one good early run from Stanford could K.O. the winning streak.
After 20 games, Dana Altman still looks like James Cromwell
Why Marshall Henderson has been in the news/The best GIF ever