Oregon's shortcomings are fairly obvious at this stage in the season. The Ducks -- whose starting lineup includes no player taller than 6-foot-6 and three players that stand 6-foot-1 or shorter -- struggle to contend on the glass on most nights. They've also experienced issues with their transition defense.
Still, in Coach Dana Altman's first season at the helm, Oregon is off to a 7-3 start and has harrassed its opponents thus far by playing to its strengths and employing various and constant forms of defensive pressure. Virginia -- a team that has had problems at times this season in facing pressure defense -- will host the Ducks on Friday night at John Paul Jones arena in its first game back from a 10-day exam break.
Handling Oregon's defensive pressure -- which can manifest itself in the form of full-court, three-quarters or first-pass traps -- "will be a challenge, because that's definitely what they want to do," Virginia Coach Tony Bennett said Wednesday. "We've really labored and struggled ... You still have to be assertive and aggressive. When I say being sped up, you can still play aggressive, you can take opportunities to score, just how it affects your whole game. If you're forcing it, if you're turning it over, if you're not getting back on defense, and it shows up in those areas because you're rushing or panicking, that's a bad sign. You have to have a level of aggressiveness, and at times, you have to be opportunistic and play fast."
How the Cavaliers respond to Oregon's pressure will have a significant impact on the outcome of the game. Six Ducks have tallied 10 or more steals* this season, and their team is averaging 9.1 steals per game. They also are forcing their opponents to commit 17.4 turnovers per contest.
* By comparison, only one Virginia player -- sophomore guard Jontel Evans -- is averaging 1.0 or more steals per game. The Cavaliers are averaging 5.6 steals per game and are forcing opponents to commit 12.2 turnovers per contest.
"Early in the season it's a little easier to make some teams uncomfortable with our press," Altman said Tuesday. "As the season wears on, teams become used to it. They get more comfortable with themselves and it maybe loses a little bit of its effectiveness. But I think to date it's been a big part of our team. We've created quite a few turnovers. We've scored points off those turnovers. We've had an advantage in almost every game. So the press has been a big part of what we do ... I just don't think teams like playing against it. There's not many of us out here who press anymore, so I just don't think teams like preparing for it and don't like facing it."
Oregon is led by fifth-year senior forward Joevan Catron (6-foot-6, 245 lbs.), who typically has to matchup against an opponent's biggest player. Catron is averaging 17.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per game, while shooting 55.2 percent from the field. He also has tallied 13 steals.
Catron is paired in the Ducks' frontcourt with sophomore forward E.J. Singler (6-foot-6, 210 lbs.), who is averaging 13.1 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. Singler -- the younger brother of Duke forward Kyle Singler -- is shooting 53.8 percent from three-point range this season, a welcome aid to a squad that does not possess many consistent long-range shooting threats.
Oregon's starting backcourt consists of senior guard Jay-R Strowbridge (5-foot-11, 180 lbs.) and junior guards Malcolm Armstead (6-foot-0, 195 lbs.) and Garrett Sim (6-foot-1, 181 lbs.).
Strowbridge and Sim are the team's most prolific three-point shooters, though each has struggled with his long-range accuracy thus far this season. Strowbridge is averaging 8.9 points per game and shooting 29.7 percent (11 for 37) from beyond the arc. Sim is averaging 7.8 points per game and shooting 30.3 percent (10 for 33) from three-point range.
Armstead runs the point for the Ducks. He is averaging a team-high 4.2 assists per game, but he is giving the ball up nearly as often (4.0 turnovers per game). Armstead leads the team in steals (19) and is averaging 7.3 points per game.
Oregon's primary backcourt reserves include freshman guard Johnathan Loyd (5-foot-8, 160 lbs.) and junior guard Teondre Williams (6-foot-4, 218 lbs.). Loyd is averaging 6.0 points per game and has recorded 12 steals. Williams is averaging 8.1 points per game and has registered 10 steals.
In terms of frontcourt reserves, the Ducks will offer junior forward Tyrone Nared (6-foot-8, 210 lbs.) and redshirt junior forward Jeremy Jacob (6-foot-8, 226 lbs.). Nared is averaging 5.3 points and 3.3 rebounds per game, while Jacob is averaging 8.2 points and 4.2 rebounds per contest.
As a team, the Ducks are shooting 44.3 percent from the field, 34.3 percent from three-point range and 71.5 percent from the free throw line.