What more can you say about our beloved Ducks basketball team? “Conquering adversity” should be its slogan. Through all the media bashing, questioning, and lack of confidence in this team from the entire state of Oregon, the Ducks persevered and created what we see before us today: a contending Division I basketball program.
I can’t say I wasn’t one of those who had doubts about this squad, but after every game, the Ducks continued to prove to me that it is those who love the game most that end up being the most successful.
You can tell these high-flying Ducks play because they truly love the game. Not because they need a scholarship, or because they feel it’s a status thing. They really love basketball, and that, more than anything, is why they’re the No. 2 seed in the Pac-12 tournament. Yeah, you read that right. I even had to re-read that sentence a few times to make sure it wasn’t a typo.
Oregon finished the regular season on a five-game winning streak. I previously stated that a strong finish would go a long way toward determining how successful the Ducks are in the NCAA Tournament. They have to continue riding their current wave until it settles, and hopefully that’s not any time soon. This is a team that plays on emotion, and when they’re feeling good, you better watch out because their arsenal can compete with the best of them.
From high-flyers to dead-eye shooters, this team has what it takes to not only push through this tournament, but do the salsa at the Big Dance. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, this is still basketball and coaching strategy will still play a huge role in determining the final outcome. But, when you have the Pac-12 Coach Of The Year in Dana Altman AND the Pac-12 Player Of The Year in Joseph Young, you’re sitting pretty.
But despite the shiny hardware, the season is not even close to over. The postseason is where the real stars are born. This is where the guys who can truly make an impact at the next level show their best tricks. Joseph Young, although he’s been exceptional, and has done everything in his power to lead this young squad, must evolve his game in a short amount of time if this team is going to knock off any of the title favorites.
Young is averaging 19.8 points per game (ppg) this season, which is beautiful. But, now that postseason play has begun, he’s going to have to bump that number to about 23-25 ppg while still shooting efficiently from the field. He is by far Oregon’s best scorer, and the team feeds off his success. If he fails to get the touches he needs, it’s not going to work out well for the team.
Everyone, including Young, is going to have to sacrifice a little bit in order to make others better, but that’s the beauty of playing a team game. You play to make your teammates better, and in turn, that’s how you improve your own game.
The bigs are going to have to play aggressively down low, and be hungrier than ever to make sure teams aren’t getting second chance opportunities. If anything is going to kill this team, it’s not an inability to score, but he potential to get dominated on the boards and commit silly turnovers under pressure.
Oregon has the talent to compete with the best of them, as we’ve seen in its upset of ninth-ranked Utah. But it’s going to come down to how the Ducks execute at crunch-time. All of those extra components such as pressure, age, experience are going to play a role in that. If the Ducks execute, the Ducks win. It’s that simple.
Tune in Thursday night to see how the Ducks play in their first game of the Pac-12 Tournament.
Top photo by Kevin Cline