All I Want For Christmas Is Madness in March
With Oregon football securely in another BCS bowl, I’ve turned my holiday wishes to hoops. This year’s squad is playing with promise and purpose, and the Ducks seem primed for a return to the NCAA Tourney. At 10-2 with one non-conference game remaining, the magic number is 20 wins in the regular season. So what stands in our way? An improved but winnable Pac-12 Conference. Here’s a quick primer on this year’s conference foes.
Oregon State (9-2)
The Fighting Mrs. Obama’s have only two losses, coming against the only two tough teams they’ve faced: #10 Kansas, and Alabama. However, they did get a couple of decent wins against tourney teams San Diego and Purdue. OSU has a seasoned team with size in the post, balanced scoring, and efficiency from deep (21st in the nation in 3PT FG %). Roberto Nelson is their leading scorer, averaging 16.5 PPG. Prediction: Oregon’s size matches up well with the Beavers, and the Ducks get the edge with athleticism of Kazemi inside and solid perimeter defense. Ducks catch the Beavs off-guard in the first meeting, and run away at Matt Court to sweep the season series.
#4 Arizona (10-0)
With their highest national ranking since 2004, the ‘Cats appear to be the cream of the conference crop. Arizona’s signature win came in a rally-from-behind, one-point squeaker over #5 Florida. As usual, Arizona has a handful of potent guards. Nick Johnson is showing promise in his sophomore campaign, and transfer Mark Lyons has given UA a lift. He’s averaging 13 PPG so far in non-conference play.
Prediction: Oregon’s only shot at Arizona is on Jan 10th, in just the second Pac-12 game of the year. Matt Court should be rocking with the students back on campus and invigorated by an Oregon trouncing of Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl. Oregon steals this one to give Arizona it’s first loss of the season.
Arizona State (10-2)
Sparky’s chances are looking up, with a nice non-conference ledger and some promising youngsters. Most of their 10 wins have come at the hands of teams like Central Arkansas and Dartmouth, but they have also played some good teams. They beat a decent Arkansas team and then lost to #14 Creighton in the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. Homegrown freshman G Jahii Carson should push Oregon’s Dominic Artis for Pac-12 Freshman of the Year.
Prediction: On the heels of a grueling showdown with Arizona, the Ducks will face a challenge with the Devils. Both teams LOVE to shoot the three-ball, but Oregon will hit more playing at Matt Court. Ducks win a high-scoring affair in Eugene.
I love that I can legitimately make this statement: USC sucks. Props to the Trojans for setting up a tough non-conference schedule, but it’s not going to help their tourney chances. USC has lost seven of their last eight, with “impressive” losses to Marquette, #25 San Diego State, #18 New Mexico and #14 Minnesota. But then there’s that 61-54 defeat at the hands of mighty UC Irvine. I know, right? They suck! The Trojans have an anemic offense, and their best players are transfers. Eric Wise leads USC in scoring with a paltry 10.8 PPG, followed closely by JT Terrell with 10.1.
Prediction: Even on the road, Oregon wins going away and I’ll be there with a stupid grin on my face.
The Bruins are a puzzler. Despite a drama-filled year, with Ben Howland on the perpetual hot-seat and players leaving (Tyler Lamb wanted more minutes; Josh Smith can’t stop eating donuts.), the Bruins have played decent ball. We’ll find out just how good this team is on December 28 when they host a red-hot #12 Missouri squad at Pauley. The Bruins are young, long, and athletic on the perimeter. Frosh sensations Jordan Adams and Shabazz Muhammad are scoring at will, and senior PG Larry Drew II keeps the ball moving, helping UCLA to #6 in the nation in assists (18.3 APG). Prediction: The Ducks have always had a tough time at Pauley Pavilion. This year won’t be any different, as the Ducks come up short against UCLA’s freshman arsenal.
Washington State (8-4)
The Cougs have shown some mettle in the early season. They have managed to play well but “Couged” it with two point losses to Pepperdine and #10 Gonzaga. Oh, and then there was that 37 point blowout loss to #12 Kansas. Aussie senior Brock Motum (great basketball name) is a one-man scoring machine at 18th in the country, averaging 20.4 PPG.
Prediction: Oregon’s big guys contain Motum, and the Ducks sweep the season series.
The Fuskies were hit hard by the NBA draft, with Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten departing for the Association. Their “signature win” this year was an OT victory against Seton Hall, but along with that they’ve got less-than-stellar losses to Albany and Colorado State. They’ll get a real test when they play at UConn on 12/29. Junior G C.J. Wilcox continues to provide consistent scoring, and PG Abdul Gaddy is a serviceable guard, although his assist numbers are down from last season. Prediction: Unless Washington magically develops some new talent or Brandon Roy gets another year of eligiblity, Oregon should beat this team handily. That said, because the Ducks are unpredictable and this is always a heated match-up, I’m predicting a season split.
The Trees had an RPI-friendly non-conference schedule, but dropped the important ones to #13 Mizzou, Minnesota, and #25 NC State. They did beat Northern Iowa. Junior Josh Huestis is almost a double-double waiting to happen.
Prediction: Season split. Like Oregon, Stanford defends the perimeter extremely well, and that could cause the Ducks some trouble, especially at Maples.
The Bears look like the biggest threat to Arizona to take the Pac-12 crown. Cal has a nice win against Georgia Tech, but has lost to ranked opponents in #21 UNLV and #16 Creighton. Berkeley has big guards in Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs. Crabbe is in the top ten in the nation in scoring (21 PPG).
Prediction: Season split, but I feel like Oregon could beat this team in Berkeley if the threes are falling.
This is an underrated, hard-working team. The Buffs shocked #16 Baylor early in the year, and beat some other tourney regulars in Dayton and Murray State. Andre Roberson is a workhorse on the glass, averaging over 12 boards a game (4th in the nation). The Buffs also lead the Pac-12 in three point field goal percentage. Scoring-wise, sophomore guards Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie lead the Colorado offense.
Prediction: Season split. Both of these teams clean up on the glass, and will likely win at home.
The Utes have another tough year ahead of them after a 3-15 ledger in the Pac-12 last year. By the time they play Oregon, they’ll have faced the brunt of the Pac-12’s best and will probably be battered and bruised. So far they haven’t played any major conference teams, and they already have four losses. Senior G Jerred DuBois leads the Utes with 14.1 PPG. They’ll provide some nice padding for Arizona, Cal and Oregon’s NCAA resumes.
Prediction: Oregon sweeps the season series in blowout fashion.
The Bottom Line: We’re In
Based on my fearless prognostication, Oregon could finish the regular season at 24-7 (13-5 in Pac-12) and be a lock for an at-large bid. Then, it’s on to Staples Center to hopefully tack on a few more wins to improve our seeding. The Pac-12 should get four, maybe five teams in the tourney this year. Arizona seems to be the favorite to secure the automatic bid, with Oregon, Cal and UCLA getting at-large bids. Early bracket projections have Stanford and Colorado stealing bids, but I think they’ll be firmly on the bubble when all is said and done.