Football season and the bittersweet buzz of another incomplete National Championship run may be over in Eugene, but this March Oregon fans may have another postseason to get excited about. The surging Ducks have been the proverbial talk of the town ever since last Sunday’s big victory over #9 Utah. Speculation over their tournament chances are running wild and sports pundits across the nation are declaring Oregon now easily in, or still clearly out. All the yapping can get confusing, so below I’ve compiled the three strongest points in favor of a deep Duck run in the Dance and the three biggest strikes that may point to a premature pop of their playoff bubble.
Why We’re Out
Defense: Let’s start with the bad news. When it comes to defense, Oregon is simply awful. While freshman forward Jordan Bell has made a splash with his 79 blocked shots this season, he’s also the biggest starter on a criminally undersized roster at a mere 6’9″ 190. That means opponents get to shoot from wherever they want on the floor and also forces Bell himself into a lot of tough situations in which selling out for a help-side block means leaving his own man open for quick pass and an easy layup. It also means Oregon’s guards have to play conservatively, and often can’t go for the kind of sleight-of-hand turnovers that could put Joseph Young and company into the breakaway offense they so love. All that adds up to some disappointing numbers. UO is 280th nationally in points allowed per game with over 70 and 259th in steals per game with a meager 5.6.
Strength of Schedule: If you thought the national media was finished complaining about Oregon’s strength of schedule at the end of football season, you may want to stay away from your television for the next few weeks. Other bubble teams with weaker overall records and stronger conferences like the ACC’s North Carolina State or the Big-12’s Texas are going to be clamoring about Oregon’s 76th ranked SOS and .5808 RPI until the cows (or Longhorns) come home, and they may actually have a point. The Ducks are 1-4 against teams ranked in the top 25, and have two ugly losses against teams with RPI ranks worse than 50.
Traveling: No, not the violation. The Ducks simply aren’t good enough on the road. Momentum is a huge part of Oregon’s game, and the team has shown a tendency to wilt in the face of opposing crowds. At a disappointing 3-4 on the road and 1-2 in neutral sites, the Ducks need to show major improvement outside the friendly confines if they want to have an impact in the Dance.
Why We’re In
Offense: The NCAA loves audiences, and audiences love scoring. That puts Oregon in its favorite position in terms of tournament selection, poised for the slam dunk. The Ducks are averaging 76.5 points per game, easily the best in the Pac-12 and 23rd in the nation. Joseph Young and fellow guard Jalil Abdul Bassit make up a dead-eyed backcourt that thrives in transition and can also create beautifully in the half court.
Brand: Following in the footsteps of its famous football team and surely doing famed alumnus Phil Knight proud, the Ducks have brought their signature flair, excitement and pace to the hardwood. Oregon loves to run, thriving on the energy of the fast break but can also shoot the lights out from the three point line. The team is also 3-1 in overtime, showing an under-appreciated ability to create big moments, and then come through.
Momentum: Finally, the team’s macro-game has mirrored its micro-game down the stretch as the Ducks have torn through a red-hot February at a dead sprint. Oregon has won seven of its last eight, including a stunning 11-point victory over #9 Utah in Matthew Knight Arena and can now finish no lower than 4th in the Pac-12, several rungs higher than its preseason predicted 8th. The Ducks are lighting up at the perfect time and charging toward the post-season with a momentum that could only be stopped by a legendary snub from the selection committee, and while that may seem like the kind of disrespect we’re getting used to here in Eugene, it would also be an enormous mistake.
Top Photo: Kevin Cline