Top Returning Pac-12 Guards: #4 – Chris Duarte, Oregon

We’re back to our top returning guards in the Pac-12 countdown and we’re coming back with our second straight Oregon Duck. Yesterday, we slotted St. Johns transfer L.J. Figueroa at #5 in our rankings, and today, Chris Duarte is the man of the hour, coming in at #4 in the countdown. Duarte, like Figueroa, is a premier defender, coming off a season in which he ranked second in the Pac-12 with 1.7 steals per game. With Figueroa, the defending steals leader in the Big East, and Duarte, the Ducks have possibly the most fearsome defensive backcourt in the league. Duarte’s offensive numbers in 2019 didn’t pop off the chart, as he played second-fiddle in the Oregon offense to Pac-12 player of the year Payton Pritchard. However, Duarte still averaged 12.9 points per game, while crashing the boards for 5.6 rebounds a contest, both marks ranking second on the team. With Pritchard off to the NBA, Duarte will be the go-to-guy in Eugene, and expect his numbers to take a jump across the board. 

Duarte didn’t always get the most opportunities last season, but when he did, he showed what he’s capable of, and that should have Oregon fans for this coming winter. In an early-season overtime loss to #6 Gonzaga, Duarte posted 16 points and 9 rebounds, and when conference season picked up, so did Duarte’s numbers. In a three-game Pac-12 winning streak against Utah, Arizona State, and #24 Arizona, Duarte combined for 51 points and 21 rebounds. Three games later, he put forth his signature effort of the year, facing Pac-12 contenders USC in a game that went to two overtimes. Duarte dropped 30 points on the Trojans, while collecting 11 rebounds for his lone double-double of the year. If that wasn’t enough, the junior guard was a terror defensively, notching eight steals. He followed it up with 24 points and 6 steals against UCLA. Those two efforts against the two next-best teams in the conference should thrill Oregon fans, who were looking primed for a Final Four run behind Pritchard, but Duarte looks up to the task.

Duarte’s biggest hindrance to big efforts were his three-point shot. He shot 34% from deep on the year, but in an 8-game stretch that lasted from the Utah game to the UCLA clash, he shot 44% on his 3-point offerings and averaged over 18 points per game. If he keeps that type of consistency in 2020-21, both he and the Ducks have an extremely high ceiling.

Top Returning Pac-12 Guards: #5 – LJ Figueroa, Oregon

When playing in a Power-6 conference in college basketball, winning road games is absolutely critical to building a successful season. With a bevy of hostile environments throughout the country, nearly every team finds it necessary to steal some victories away from home. To win such games, you need players that thrive in the spotlight and can silence opposing crowds. That’s the asset that LJ Figueroa, the senior transfer for Oregon, who averaged 14.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game, brings to the table. On the road, Figueroa notched 16.4 points away from home en route to being the leading scorer for the Red Storm on the year. As Figueroa prepares for his senior campaign on the opposite coast, he slots in as our #5 returning guard in the Pac-12.

As the Red Storm coasted to a 10-2 start to non-conference play against a relatively weak schedule, Figueroa put up solid numbers, highlighted by a 25-point effort against UNH and 23-point showing versus Brown. In their first premier contest of the season, St. Johns battled #16 Arizona in a neutral-court clash, and Figueroa shined, finishing with 21 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 steals.

On the year, the Red Storm star led the conference with 1.9 steals per game. Later in the year, against #18 Seton Hall, Figueroa posted an astounding 7 steals, complementing a 16-point, 5-rebound effort. Figueroa’s season was highlighted by some truly impressive road performances at Depaul (28 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists), Georgetown (23 points, 5 rebounds), and at #16 Seton Hall (19 points, 4 rebound). He punctuated an impressive season that saw him near the top ten in overall scoring in the conference with a huge performance in a Big East Tournament victory against Georgetown, notching 22 points against the Hoyas, who had defeated the Red Storm twice during the season. 

Figueroa, if he gets the waiver for immediate eligibility, should fit quite well into Oregon’s system, and at the surface, he is landing in a much better situation in Eugene. The Ducks are replacing a projected second-round pick and Pac-12 player of the year Payton Pritchard, but with the dynamic returning guard in Chris Duarte and the acquisition of Figuero, Oregon figures to be near the top of the Pac-12 again and mixing into the national title conversation as the season winds on.