Flores: Oregon men’s basketball will be dangerous come NCAA tournament time

Before Sunday’s win over Washington State, the Oregon men’s basketball team hadn’t won a game in over three weeks. The Ducks tried having more fun in practice and before games, they altered their starting lineup and they ignored game film from their loss to Oregon State. But what they truly needed was Sunday’s victory.

“We just need one (win) to get started,” redshirt junior guard Joseph Young told reporters after Thursday’s 80-76 loss to Washington. “If we get one then I feel like everybody will know what a win feels like again and once we get that one everybody will be excited.”

Before the three-week stretch of ineptitude, the Ducks didn’t know what a loss felt like. They won the first 13 games of the season, a span of nearly two months. The hot start, which propelled the Ducks into the top 10 of the AP poll, probably isn’t representative of Oregon’s true ability. But neither is the five-game losing streak.  In fact, Oregon’s talent level is closer to the 13-0 version. Come NCAA Tournament time, the Ducks could realistically make a run like last year’s team that reached the Sweet 16.

Oregon’s competitiveness in losses is one reason Ducks fans should be optimistic. The Colorado and California games were both closer than the final scores indicated. The losses to Stanford and Washington both came down to the wire. Even Oregon State, who controlled the entire game against Oregon, held a mere five-point lead with two minutes left in its 80-72 win.

The Ducks might also have more upside than other teams. Yes, they mostly are who they are at this point, but that doesn’t mean they’ve plateaued. Guard Dominic Artis and forward Ben Carter both started their first games of the season against Washington and didn’t play well. But they missed the first nine games of the season due to suspensions, so they’re probably still far behind the rest of their teammates. If they can catch up, the Ducks will have basically added two key players to their roster.

Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar said Oregon’s struggles, especially on defense, might be due to players taking a while to grasp all of the information.

“They’re probably just still learning,” Romar said during Tuesday’s Pac-12 media teleconference. “It could just be a team that, before it’s all said and done, they’re a good defensive team as they learn all the concepts.”

Becoming a good defensive team is a bit of a stretch, but Oregon could easily improve in this area. If the Ducks can start executing decent team defense, they can easily get on the winning side of these close games.

A high seed in the NCAA Tournament is unlikely for Oregon. They’ve lost too many games to good-not-great competition. But as last year’s Ducks illustrated, a low seed doesn’t mean an early exit.

The Ducks don’t have to fix much to regain that winning feeling and make a deep run in March.

“You hit a few shots, guys play with a little more energy, get some confidence back and you get that thing turned around,” head coach Dana Altman said.

Follow Victor Flores on Twitter @vflores415

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