With March Madness (my favorite three weeks of the year) underway, I am sure that we all feel a little lump of uncertainty in our stomachs because of how our beloved Ducks have sort of stumbled into the field of 68. Certainly we were all disappointed to see them get a 3-seed and be placed in the Midwest Region, where they could potentially face a strong (and healthy) Kansas team in Kansas City. Clearly the reason they were put into this unsatisfactory situation is due to Chris Boucher’s injury in the semifinal game and the subsequent loss to Arizona in the Pac-12 title game. However, rather than focusing on the negative, let us face the facts; with or without Boucher, this Oregon team is special, and they still have the same goal in mind: win the National Championship.
There is a lot that has to happen for this group to achieve that goal, but they are still my favorite to cut down the nets in Glendale, Ariz., on April 3rd. Here is why:
1. Dillon Brooks is the most clutch performer in the country.
Unlike Oregon teams of the past, I never feel too uncomfortable when this squad is down. They have proven throughout the year that they get going when times get tough. Brooks is the catalyst. In games he has played, the Ducks have never lost by double digits, and they have won seven games decided by six points or less. Brooks leads the Pac-12 in player efficiency rating, as well as boasting the highest player usage percentage in the conference.
2. This is a highly-skilled and highly motivated group of young men.
Perhaps the “disappointing” 3-seed is a blessing in disguise for these men of Oregon, because they seem to have been playing with a chip on their shoulders ALL YEAR. For a roster consisting of five international players, four transfers, and three walk-ons (not to mention a head coach who is among the elite in the country and doesn’t get the credit he deserves), these transplants are a surprisingly close-knit group, and it shows in the way they play. Five Ducks have a scoring average of 10 points or more per game, and we have certainly seen stretches – in their biggest games – where their ball movement is poetry in motion.
3. “Let’s win one for the Gipper”
Oregon’s players want to achieve their ultimate goal of a championship even more now that their beloved teammate - Boucher – is unable to play. He has been the most selfless and respected player in the locker room and on the bench all year. When coach Dana Altman needed to find a rotation that worked early in the season, Boucher approached him and volunteered to come off the bench. It is very sad that a guy like that can’t finish out his college career on the biggest stage, and his teammates know that better than anyone. Don’t be surprised to see an even more focused and fiery team takes the court in the next six games these Ducks will play.
We gonna do this one for you..
— Dylan J. Ennis (@canadiankidDJE) March 12, 2017
This record-setting team has coined the phrase “always us,” and they will always be remembered for their team-first mentality and loyal commitment to each other. Duck fans around the globe should prepare for an unprecedented run in the coming weeks. These guys have what it takes.
Top Photo from Craig Strobeck