Breaking down Oregon’s Road to the Final Four

First, the NCAA Selection Committee’s lack of respect the Pac-12 is unbelievable. The wins the conference had on the road over Kentucky, willing to go to Baylor, and the difficulty of the conference itself mean all three teams deserve a 2 seed at least, and Arizona, a one seed ahead of Gonzaga. But I digress.

Chris Boucher making a statement against Valparaiso
Photo Credit: Craig Strobeck

And an absolute snow job on Oregon with a 3 seed in the Midwest. Why? They just played Arizona to a 3 point loss on a neutral court and won how many in a row before that? 14? I know Boucher isn’t there. He wasn’t for the Wildcats game … and they still only lost by 3. They should be a 2 seed. On the selection Show Charles Barkley picked Arizona to win it all, another guy picked UCLA to win it all, and another said they’d pick Oregon if they still had Chris Boucher. And the conference only got 4 schools in the tournament? It’s the Pac-12’s job to prove them wrong.

Notes on Oregon

Before we go into all the ways Oregon can win or lose in this tournament let’s remember what Oregon does well in every game, defend. Oregon defends as well as anyone in the country and they’re capable of making a huge run here even without Boucher. It’s because the defense will keep them in every game. Every guy plays hard on every possession. They play for each other. They have Bell back there to block shots and even when he’s out, they’ll have Kavell Bigby-Williams and size to defend a bit. Regardless of how well they play offensively, the defense will show up in every game. Arizona might be the most offensively talented team in the country, and Oregon lost by 3 on a neutral court. Some would argue it wasn’t neutral either with all the Cats fans there.

Keys to a Deep Oregon Run

Tyler Dorsey needs to play a full game and not a half  of each game. Can’t wait until halftime to get going. Dillon Brooks must  avoid picking up silly fouls so he can play over 32 minutes in every game. Bigby Williams and Keith Smith to give them 8 good minutes each every night. The guards need to rebound. They need to hit free throws.

Round One

The Ducks face Iona from New Rochelle, NY in the opener. The Gaels won their conference tournament so even though they finished third in the Mid American Athletic Conference (MAAC), they go to the tournament. Wins over Rider, St. Peter’s and and an 87-86 win over Siena in the final got them to the tournament.

The Iona Gaels are in!
Photo credit: ICGaels.com

The Ducks flat out have more talent top to bottom than the Gaels but the Gaels have a lot of balance with four guys averaging double figures and two more averaging over 9 a game. Iona has the talent to score an upset if they play a near perfect game. Forward Jordan Washington goes for almost 18 points and over 7 boards a game. He was suspended for two games for a post-game scuffle after a game against Monmouth in January. That was a rough game and Iona’s loss snapped a 26-game home winning streak. Washington is a 6′ 8″, 235lb. bruising forward who is a load along the lines of Stanford’s Reid Travis.

Senior guard John Severe can light it up and plays very tough. His game is all Brooklyn and he has the kind of of toughness that comes from growing up there. Payton Pritchard could make him work on the defensive end by staying in motion and dribbling less out front. They have 5 guys who can hurt the Ducks but none who can take over the game offensively for long stretches. Oregon’s match-up zone to man-to-man and Oregon’s length should cut down the shooting % of the Gaels. And Iona no real defenders who can deal with the talent of Jordan Bell, Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey. All of them are match-up nightmares for most teams. Oregon should win this game. I’ll call it 84-67.

Round of 32

Assuming they get to the next round Oregon gets either Creighton out of the Big East or Rhode Island out of the Atlantic 10. Rhode Island also finished third in their conference and then won their tournament. But it’s most likely the Ducks face Dana Altman’s former team from Omaha. The Blue Jays finished third in the Big East after going 18-1 to start the season. Included in that were wins over Wisconsin, Arizona State, Seton Hall, Mississippi State, Xavier, Butler and St. John’s.

The Creighton Blue Jays are a familiar sight to Coach Altman
Photo credit: twitter.com

Third in the Big East. Creighton’s a formidable team. Well coached, and a ton of talent. Oregon might not be favored in that one, or not. Creighton’s RPI of 26 isn’t deceiving but they’ve played Villanova three times and just lost to them in the Big East Conference Tournament Final. All this despite losing their emotional leader, Senior Mo Watson. Creighton’s a different team since he was injured in February, but still very dangerous.

Oregon would have to get out on shooters. The Blue Jays have have a lot of guys who can get hot from behind the arc. They’ll have to deal with likely first-round pick Justin Patton by using defenders to drop down in the matchup and Jordan Bell getting his hands up, contesting and not trying to block everything and not getting into foul trouble.

This article discusses how multiple Blue Jay players can shoot the three.  At over 18 points a game,  Junior Marcus Foster leads their attack as solidly built 6′ 3″ 210lb guard. He’ll be Pritchard and Dorsey’s problem primarily. 6′ 8″ senior forward Cole Huff can flat out shoot it, they need to get out on him in the zone. Dillon Brooks’ problem or in the matchup, everyone’s. Omaha’s own Khyri Thomas is even better from deep. They have to get out on shooters. Did I mention they have good outside shooters? They have one more big weapon.

Bell will match up against 7-foot Justin Patton. He’s been discussed as a possible on-and-done freshman since January and has dominated teams on the glass and with his inside game. He runs the court like a gazelle, can shoot the 3, and is aggressive. Bell will absolutely have his hands full on the glass and keeping him from getting going. Gotta keep his feet on the floor, don’t try to block everything and instead contest and rebound. If they play Creighton I’ll call this one Oregon 81-77.

I like Creighton over Rhode Island but the Rams are solid and could win. If so Oregon’s biggest challenge with Rhode Island is the pressure that the Rams will employ.

Sweet 16

Oregon’s likely to get Louisville or Michigan at this round. Let’s start with Louisville. One of the games great coaches. They’ll have a full week to prepare for Oregon’s match-up zone and it’s zone press. They’re not likely to have issues with either with their senior guards. But unlike a few years ago, Oregon can play with them for sure. The Cardinals are 24-8 in the ACC, finished third, and lost 3 of their last 5 games. But, two of those were to Duke and UNC, and of the 8 losses only one was to anyone outside of the Top 25, to Wake Forest on the road. Every loss was close and they always play at a high level.

Rick Pitino staring down the opposition
Photo credit: Kentucky Sports Radio

Louisville is led by Hall-of-Fame Coach Rick Pitino. He’s taken Oregon out of this tournament recently and he’s got the horses to go all the way this year. Louisville has 5-6 guys who rebound every night and two guards who lead them in scoring and they play 9-10 guys a game. One of the tournament’s deepest teams. one other thing about them, they have no freshmen stars. Everyone there has played for a year or two together. A huge advantage in a tournament game. Oregon has some of that team experience, but Louisville is deeper.

If they get that far the Ducks need to slow Louisville’s guards in transition, limit offensive rebounds because 6 players from Louisville average more than 4 rebounds a game. Six. Oregon has three (Bell, Dylan Ennis, and Chris Boucher), and one of them won’t be playing. Brooks, Dorsey and Ennis have to get on the glass in a game like that or they have no chance. If they play Louisville I’ll call this one a pick’em. I like Oregon if they hit a ton of 3’s and limit Louisville’s shooting. A few pundits have picked Oregon here. They’re offering things like the fact that Oregon won’t turn it over, plays defense, and by then Bell and Bigby-Williams will have settled in a little bit together. There’s truth in that.

Elite 8

Led by Frank Mason as part of the best back court in America with Josh Jackson and anchored in the middle by Oregon’s own Landen Lucas, the Jayhawks picked by many to win it all. They’re experienced, deep and they have 2 guys who can take over the game at any time. Jackson and Mason alone can win games. Kansas’ biggest weakness is their lack of depth and size inside. Oregon doesn’t have that now either so they can’t take advantage of it. Mason is as good as Brooks on most nights, Jackson is the best athlete and maybe the best player in this bracket. Jackson’s likely to go in the first 12 picks of the NBA draft, he’s a larger version of Dillon Brooks.

Limit Mason’s penetration and hope they don’t hit 3’s. Keep Jackson out of the fast break game where he can destroy you. Score and get into the half court press to slow down Kansas’ relentless energy. Those would be the keys to beating one of the top 4 teams in the nation. This is a nightmare game for Oregon as it’s in Kansas City. It’s basically a home game for the Jayhawks. Oregon only wins if Dorsey plays well, Bell, Pritchard or Dylan Ennis have a big night. They’d need 3 guys playing lights out to beat a team at Kansas’ level.

Bottom Line

The committee did Oregon no favors by sending them to the Midwest, putting them in the bracket with Kansas, Louisville, Iowa State, Creighton, Miami and Michigan. Oregon drew the Murderers Row of college basketball teams. I like Oregon’s chances to get to the 16 but even that isn’t a given with Creighton’s 3-point sharpshooters looming. At the Round of 16 they probably get Louisville who has been picked to win it all by some, then they’d likely get Kansas who has been picked by even more to win it all.

Kavell Bigby-Williams becomes a key piece to the Oregon puzzle
Photo credit: Craig Strobeck

Oregon needs to just start winning and hope for a few things. The reserves like Bigby-Williams and Smith give them more as they go along each game. The first six play lights out. And maybe Kansas or Louisville gets upset before they even get to the Sweet 16 or Final Four. Stranger things have happened. Kansas get Miami or Michigan State and Michigan State could advance they have the experience and the coach to give Kansas some trouble. Michigan State also has Miles Bridges. A mirror image of Dillon Brooks and a great player who can take over games.

I’d favor Kansas, but Michigan State can play with Kansas on the right day. Iowa State and Kansas is a tremendous game as well. With Louisville, they could get Oklahoma State in the second round. The Cowboys are going to play with a huge chip on their shoulder because they think they should’ve been seeded higher. It wouldn’t surprise me to see OSU give Louisville all they can handle. This is just a brutal bracket overall.

Oregon needs to win and advance. Strange things happen and the longer they’re in the tournament by taking care of their business, the more they can get help from some other teams. Go Iowa State Cyclones, Michigan State Spartans, Oklahoma State and of course, Go Ducks!

Bob Rickerts
Portland, Oregon

Top photo credit: from Video

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Bob Rickert

Bob Rickert

A native Oregonian, Bob's spent 16 years covering Duck football and basketball for AOL Fanhouse, OregonLive and Rivals.com. He's also hosted a sports talk show on ESPN Radio and led marketing for the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame.

5 Responses

  1. John McDonald says:

    Thank-you for the well done article Bob.
    The untimely injury of Boucher changed the whole scenario for Oregon. I believe they would have defeated Arizona with Boucher and would be in the #2 West bracket where Arizona now resides with an easy path to the final 4.Such is life.

    • Bob Rickert says:

      This is true. Somewhat. Oregon may have beaten AZ, but either way it looks like the committee didn’t really like the Pac 12 despite having 3 of the top 8 ranked teams. Unbelievable that they’d put all three as a 3 seed. All of them should’ve been a 2. I really like UCLA and Arizona’s chances to go all the way or at least get to the Final Four here. Few teams have the depth of athletes that those teams do. Only Kansas, Kentucky, Villanova, Duke and North Carolina IMO have their level of athletes and talent 1-9. Those 5 teams and either UCLA or Arizona will probably win it all. IMO.

      Everyone else has big match-up issues with quickness, size, shooting or something else that’ll kill’em at some point. IMO.

  2. Grant F says:

    Watch out for Rhode Island.

    • Caitlin-Calvin Peck says:

      ya, he glossed over the most likely team to clip Oregon’s wings. This was a top-25 ranked team at the start of the season that has finally gotten physically healthy (EC Matthews ACL) and their play shows it.

  3. Lone Ranger says:

    They were “willing to go to Baylor”? That’s an argument?

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