EUGENE — Expectations can be a tough thing, which makes it that much sweeter when you live up to them.
The Oregon men’s basketball team has a long way to go before that happens, but the No. 15 Ducks finally look like the team we all expected to see this season.
Not just a good team, but an elite team.
With a convincing 84-61 win Friday against No. 22 USC, which had previously been unbeaten, the Ducks completed a sweep last week of the Los Angeles schools to open 2-0 in Pac-12 play.
No. 15 Oregon Ducks (13-2) at Washington Huskies (7-6)
Time: 6 p.m.
Oregon’s star, Dillon Brooks, is finally healthy and playing like the best player in the conference — he had 51 points combined against UCLA and USC, including 28 on Friday against the Trojans and a game-winning 3-pointer Wednesday against the Bruins.
But it’s not just Brooks. The Ducks are deep — they have seven players averaging more than 20 minutes per game, and five players averaging at least 10 points per game.
“We’ll probably go with some different lineups, with big lineups, small lineups,” said Oregon coach Dana Altman, whose team is now 13-2 overall. “I don’t know if we’ll ever get a set five, we may change it up a little bit.”
After much hype and a No. 5 preseason ranking, the Ducks looked bland during the first seven weeks of the season.
Some of that was the late start by Brooks, who slowly worked into the rotation after undergoing foot surgery in the offseason, and some of it was struggling to find chemistry, especially with the newcomers.
But in a three-day stretch last week, the defending conference-champion Ducks erased all that and asserted themselves as the team to beat in the Pac-12.
“It was tough at the beginning,” Oregon center Chris Boucher said. “New guys trying to play with the old guys. We had to find a way to connect everybody together.”
The two victories last week not only elevated Oregon back to the national scene in college basketball, but they also reenergized a Ducks fan base that badly needed excitement after a dismal 4-12 football season.
Oregon drew a combined 22,415 fans in the UCLA and USC games, and the atmosphere on Wednesday night after Brooks buried the No. 2-ranked Bruins was as electric as it has ever been at Matthew Knight Arena.
Many Oregon fans and alumni questioned whether or not Matthew Knight Arena, which opened in 2011, could ever match the historic atmosphere of old Mac Court.
Old-school fans will always favor Mac Court, but what the Ducks have done the past few seasons in the new arena is amazing.
With the two wins last week, the Ducks have now won 35 home games in a row, which is a school record.
Oregon also has been to the NCAA tournament in each of the past four seasons, also a school record.
“Hopefully we can keep growing,” said Altman, who reached 700 career wins as a head college basketball coach with the victory Friday. “We’re just getting started here. There’s so much more we can build here, tradition-wise, crowd-wise, player-wise. However many years it takes, we hope to build something special here.”
As the Ducks build on the success each season, the expectations increase.
Back-to-back Pac-12 titles? Final Four? National championship?
When last week started, it looked as if those expectations were premature for a program like Oregon, instead reserved for teams like Arizona or UCLA.
But right now, those expectations look within reach for the Ducks.