October 23, 2009

Hoops preview: The big men

Any discussion about big men at Oregon has to start with Michael Dunigan. The highly touted, much heralded sophomore showed up from Kevin Garnett's high school in Chicago and everyone thought he'd instantly change Oregon basketball. Well it didn't happen for a lot of reasons. But there is a phrase for what happened to Dunigan: Trial by fire.

"Last year Mike faced some of the nation's best big men who were three and four years older than him every night. Tyler Hansbrough, Jordan Hill of Arizona, Brockman from Washington, and Taj Gibson from USC, said Coach Payne. "All of them are now in the NBA. Josh faced them too and those guys took their lumps every night because of it. It was tough for them because for the first time in their lives, forget taking a minute off, they couldn't take a play or a moment off and they were going to get beat. But they've worked real hard in the off-season and they're gonna be ready to go."

Like Garrett Sim and some others, Dunigan has embraced the work ethic required to get better this off-season. Report after report from fans has mentioned seeing Dunigan, Crittle, Porter and others at Hayward Field running sprints and stairs building their stamina. The Ducks definitely need it because last year they looked gassed early in the second half of some games. Crittle for one looks stronger as well after this summer's workouts.

Oregon ranked last in the conference last year in rebound differential. Averaging nearly 5 less rebounds than opponents. That has to change if the Ducks are to make any kind of better showing this year. It's not all about the big men but it starts with them. Their aggression to block out before the ball gets to the rim.

Dunigan averaged just 4.6 boards a game as he battled foul trouble through the entire conference schedule. Oregon's leader, Joevan Catron hauled down almost seven a game, and Crittle grabbed just over three. The last two need to own the glass while they're on the floor for the Ducks.

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