We took a peek at Michigan a week ago when the brackets were announced. But it looked like the Ducks would face Louisville so we focused on the Cardinals. March Madness strikes again. Here’s an in-depth look at the Wolverines:
Oregon needs to hit shots and if so, they should win this game. I don’t just mean 3’s or mid-range jumpers, I mean free throws, as well. The Ducks have gotten into a habit of missing free throws in the middle of the game that could keep games closer or push Oregon farther ahead. That has to stop. Coach Altman has addressed it over and over – Oregon has really good shooters, they need to make them.
Oregon’s defense travels to any venue. They’re not likely to give up more than 65-70 points to Michigan. So if they shoot it relatively well or get some easy transition buckets, they should win. The Wolverines have two or three weapons that are so good they could take Oregon out if they have a great night. And there are the intangibles, of course.
I also think the emotions Michigan is riding will end at some point. And when they come down, it’ll be quick. Here’s a stat, as this video shows, all 13 of the last 13 national title winners started the tournament with at least 25 wins. Michigan won just 20 games prior to the tournament. Maybe they’re different than the last 450-plus recent schools. I don’t think so. They’re a very good team, but not a great team finally hitting it’s stride. And they don’t have a bona fide superstar to carry them on the night that things don’t go well. They’re not a team of destiny because they had a terrible brush with fate.
Here’s why I think Oregon wins another close one. I’ll call it 78-72 Ducks.
Who owns the emotional wave? Even.
Michigan is riding huge emotional wave after their plane slide off the runway and they feel like they can overcome anything as a group. A huge unity moment without a doubt. But Oregon had theirs as well. It’s not exactly the same but losing Chris Boucher was a blow that forced 6 other terrific players and two bench players in Keith Smith and Kavell Bigby-Williams to all up their games. There’s nobody to rely on but themselves now. And Oregon has someone to play for besides themselves … Boucher.
Jordan Bell’s ability to contest at the rim.
I think Bell’s quickness and ability to contest without leaving his feet early could be a difference-maker here. Moritz Wagner is 6′ 11″ but Bell has a 7′ 0″ reach. This is where all those small things come into play. Wagner had a tremendous game against Louisville but the Cardinals don’t have any defenders who can play like Bell. Bell needs to stay out of foul trouble and contest shots. Don’t try to block everything. Contest, turn and rebound.
Oregon’s Match-up Zone v. Derrick Walton Jr.
Oregon’s match-up zone has to stay out on the perimeter and contest. All while keeping enough spacing so Walton can’t gash the Ducks defense with quick drives and finishes or passes back out to open shooters. Walton’s the real deal. A serious college point guard who has really come into his own.
Oregon might be wise to run him around the court if the Wolverines play man-t0-man on the Ducks might be wise to run Payton Pritchard all over the court in the offense to make Walton burn energy on D. Walton shoots a sizzling .419 from behind the 3-point arc this year. Not an easy match-up. Even for Oregon’s match-up zone and it’s length. Tired legs late in the game could be a difference-maker.
Dillon Brooks v. Dillon Brooks
He’s losing this battle too often lately. Yes he plays with his heart on his sleeve and nobody has more guts or determination. But he’s now gotten into the habit of drawing a technical, or trying to sneak a reach when the opponent clearly has a rebound, or say something when it doesn’t go his way. He has to understand his value to the team and stay out of trouble. He of all people can’t afford the silly fouls that have sent him to the bench with about half of the first half left in the first to NCAA Tournament games.
Zak Irvin is probably going to get matched up on Brooks. He’s essentially the same sized player and athletic enough to guard Brooks, but the Oregon wing has more talent and this could be a very big night for him if he gets going early. Brooks is due for a big night. Michigan has no real defensive stopper to deal with him.
Dorsey or Super Dorsey?
20+ points for how many games now? Six? Seven? I lost count. Tyler Dorsey decided to raise his game just when Oregon needs it most. If Dorsey shoots well and Brooks doesn’t have another off night, Oregon is a big favorite His quality play means the Ducks can stretch the floor a bit. While Dylan Ennis has been terrible from the floor, he and Dorsey have done exactly what we knew they needed to – rebound.
Most rebounds of shots from distance come down 6 to 10 feet from the basket. Too far for Bell to rebound, or Bigby-Williams or anyone under the hoop. It’s why Oregon’s guards are so important in the rebounding area. By simply blocking out, owning the space from themselves to the key. Dorsey’s done a nice job of that lately and with all of his scoring, it’s been overlooked.
Oregon can shoot their way to a victory here if they get good shots and move the ball and get good shots instead of dribbling around for 15 seconds, waiting to get into the offense and then having to play hero ball. Rhode Island did a terrific job of hedging the pick at the top of the offense and forcing the Ducks backward. Watch for Michigan to do the same.
The key here is Oregon’s ability to see it coming, swing the ball just as they’re approaching and attack the basket with the 4-on-3 situation they have behind the two extended defenders. It’s like any pressure, if you wait too long, it’s too late. And you pass your way out of those situations.
The Ducks have the tools to win this game, but Brooks has to be Brooks, Dorsey needs to continue his torrid pace of scoring and clutch scoring. Jordan Bell must be a disciplined defensive force and rebound. Dorsey and Ennis must make Walton, Jr. work for everything he gets on offense, while Pritchard makes him work at the defensive end of the court. This will be another game the Ducks could lose … but won’t. Go Ducks!
Top photo credit: Charles Fischer
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.
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