Eugene, Ore. -- Oregon men's basketball has had a good end to 2019, beating a top 5 Michigan team in Ann Arbor, heading into New Years weekend ranked in the AP Top 10, and being the highest rated team in the Pac-12. But even with all that early season success, head coach Dana Altman feels the need to stress that there are still kinks to work out before conference play begins.
"After the Texas Southern game, we're working on everything," says Altman. "There's no one phase of our game that we're very comfortable with. I'd say right now, the immediate concern is we've got to handle the ball better."
The Ducks turnover numbers in their last three games were 15, 16 and 19, despite winning all three games. But there have been bright spots, such as the Payton Pritchard's emergence as one of the nation's premier point guards and the introduction of five star center N'Faly Dante. Pritchard specifically returned to school last season after testing the waters of the NBA Draft process. He told reporters before the beginning of the season that the draft evaluators had told him that they liked his game, but wanted to see his production, which spiked in March and April during the Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments, maintained throughout an entire season.
So far this year, the senior has averaged 19.6 points, 6 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game on 52 percent shooting and 40 percent from 3 point range. Those numbers are all signifcant improvements from his averages in the 2018-2019 season.
"It's definitely awesome to see," says teammate Anthony Mathis. "I see how much work he puts in and for it to pay off is super special."
"He's played really well," Altman continues. "I think he's gonna see a lot more double teams. Our other guys are gonna have to continue to develop. We're gonna have to continue to develop an inside presence and I think [N'Faly] Dante can give us a little help there. But Payton has helped us get through the early part of our schedule which has been really difficult."
Dante, who has impressed fans in his limited early season action, still has a ways to go, according to Altman. But the early returns have been promising, and will be needed as forward Shakur Juiston continues to make his way back from an injury that may be more severe than initially thought.
"He's out for awhile," says Altman. "He's shooting the ball a little bit but it's gonna be awhile."
The Ducks tip off against Alabama State at 1:00 p.m. The game will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Networks.