Here we are, Duck fans. This is the stage on which we have all dreamed for years to see our beloved Ducks (78 years for those of you who have been around that long). With four games down and four teams left, here are four keys to Oregon taking home that National Championship trophy.
1. Balanced Scoring Effort
While Tyler Dorsey has been playing out of his mind in the last few weeks (24 points per game and nearly 63 percent from beyond the arc in the last six games), it is so incredibly important that the rest of the Ducks step up and score when called upon.
They have been doing that so far in the tournament, but there may be a game where Dorsey goes cold and any of the plethora of powerful players on this superb squad will need to fill that void. Oregon has had four players scoring in double figures in three of the four tournament games so far, and that type of balance must continue if they are to cut down the nets on Monday.
The Ducks have also a tendency to hit an offensive rut for stretches of the second half in their last few games. This obviously cannot happen against the best of the best in college basketball. Every possession is as precious as a newborn baby and must be approached with the same tender loving care (okay maybe not exactly the same, but you get the picture).
2. Defensive Intensity
This is an area in which I could not be more proud of my Ducks. They have allowed fewer and fewer points in each tournament game so far and have especially been sharp in the second half (which shows that they are actively making needed adjustments at halftime). In the four tournament games played, Oregon has cut their opponents’ points from an average of 37.3 in the first half to 32 in the second half. This will especially be vital in tomorrow night’s game against North Carolina, as the Tar Heels will play big and try to wear down the Ducks interior defense early to take advantage later in the game.
3. Crashing the Boards
The Ducks have done this in every tournament game, and it has been the difference in wins and losses for them throughout the entire season. Oregon was out rebounded in four of their five losses this year, and in those games their opponents averaged 40 rebounds. North Carolina, the Ducks’ next foe, is leading the nation in rebounds, averaging 44 a game. This is where the loss of 6’10 forward Chris Boucher will show the most. However, if there is anything I have learned from this year’s team, it is that they are confident and resilient, and the absence of one of their post players – a lost part of a dynamic duo that included 6’9 Jordan Bell – will not be an excuse for these young men.
4. Playing With an Edge
All year long people have been counting Oregon out, but it has only fueled the fire more. After starting the season 2-2, these Ducks took off on a 17-game win streak. Then, after finishing the regular season as co-champs of the Pac-12, they breezed through the first two games of the conference tournament and into the championship game for the second year in a row.
Hours before tip off, they learned that Boucher, one of their key contributors all season, would be out for the rest of their remaining games with a torn ACL. While his absence was felt for most of the first half of that game, these plucky Ducks made a game out of it in the second half, only to fall short of their second consecutive Pac-12 title. This resulted in them getting a 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament, though they deserved higher. They used this as motivation and have not lost since.
Many “experts” picked them to lose in the Round of 32 to Rhode Island and the Sweet 16 to Michigan (11- and 7- seeds, respectively). Virtually no one expected them to beat Kansas, and yet again, no one is picking them to knock off the Heels.
One thing is certain about these dazzling Ducks – you can never count them out. Ever. This is one Duck fan who is looking forward to the long-awaited celebration Monday night in Phoenix. Maybe then the sports world will see just how special and great the University of Oregon Men’s Basketball program is.
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