With so many physical disadvantages, Oregon’s chances to beat North Carolina come down to a few things. Do Oregon’s guards rebound? Does the team play its tempo? And do the players take it to the basket when they can, draw fouls or hit open shooters? Then, do they knock down those shots?
Matchups and Mismatches Mean Everything
The Tar Heels have 6′ 0″ Joel Berry at the point, but Oregon matches up four inches shorter at three key spots. Carolina’s other starters are Theo Pinson (6’6), Justin Jackson (6’8), Isaiah Hicks (6’9) and Kennedy Meeks (6’10). That means mismatches across the board for Oregon. Dillon Brooks at 6’5 on Hicks, Tyler Dorsey at 6’4 gives up four inches to Jackson, and Dylan Ennis 6’4 will give up some to Pinson. Boy do they miss Chris Boucher out there. Put Boucher with Jordan Bell, and suddenly Oregon would match up just fine. But without him, Oregon is fine at the point and at center, but very short on the wings. How does Oregon counter that size?
Oregon’s Matchup Zone and Switching Defenses
It might be a good tactic for the Ducks to play more matchup zone against the Tar Heels. It’s harder to box out so that players would have to crash the boards, but Carolina isn’t a very good three-point shooting team. And in a stadium like the one in Glendale, the shooting lines for deep jumpers can be tougher. Especially if it’s the first game you’ve ever played there. Depth perception doesn’t help the three ball at all. This might be a tactic Altman goes to. Jackson shoots .380 from behind the arc and Berry is even better, shooting more than .390. They both make the majority of UNC’s threes.
Let It Fly From Deep
As a team, Oregon shot .383 to Carolina’s .361, which isn’t any difference, really. But Oregon has five shooters and Carolina really has just two, in Jackson and Berry. Oregon also shot a lot more threes than the Tar Heels. The Ducks should look for Carolina to leave Ennis and Benson alone, as Kansas did, daring them to make shots from deep. If the Ducks succeed, Oregon’s in pretty good shape because that’ll give Brooks and Dorsey room to operate. If they don’t, Oregon had better get a spectacular night from someone else to make up for it.
Rebounding Rebounding Rebounding
North Carolina is the best offensive rebounding team in the country. Their players rebound more than 40 percent of their misses. An astounding number, but the team’s front line is also massive, and their players crash the boards. One stat that jumps out: Carolina averaged about nine more rebounds a game than did Oregon (UNC 1660, Oregon 1385). Some of that is pace of play, but not all of it. And Carolina also had an insane 598 rebounds. Almost 200 more than the Ducks. They shoot it up there and go get it if it doesn’t go in. Oregon’s got to deal with that by sending five guys to the glass on every possession. Oh yeah, Carolina also leads in rebounding margin per game, UNC’s 13 rebound margin per game is four more than any team in the country. Ennis, Brooks and Dorsey better block out.
Keith Smith and Kavell Bigby-Williams With Early Minutes
Benson might not be the first guy off the bench on Saturday. The Ducks can steal a few minutes with two guys with more size. If Ennis doesn’t shoot it well or Oregon is getting beaten on the glass, Altman has both of them as options to shift the match-ups. Watch for Smith or Bigby-Williams to get early minutes. He’d likely rather force a slower tempo and use the quickness of Oregon’s guys on the perimeter to get good looks.
Take It To the Rim
Brooks, Dorsey, Ennis and Pritchard all have the ability to beat their man off the dribble. The first three more than Pritchard because Berry is a terrific on-ball defender. Brooks, Dorsey and Ennis can use the weave, get into the paint and shoot or dish. Oregon’s quickness on the perimeter is something they’ll have to take advantage of. Berry is apparently nursing a couple bad ankles. Oregon could run the weave and take advantage of that if they’re smart, forcing Berry to put a lot of pressure on it from side to side early on.
Start the Offense at the Top of the Key
Kansas and Rhode Island both did a terrific job of imposing their defensive will by making Pritchard start the offense 10 feet deeper than he normally would. They came up, pinched his passing lanes with a double team and, as he can do at times, dribbled until he was stuck. He has to initiate the offense faster so Carolina can’t do that to him. If he lets them do this, he has to pass the ball horizontally to the sideline and then Oregon has to reset the offense. That can completely push Oregon out of its offensive set.
Oregon wants this game in the 60’s or low 70’s. That means the Ducks must make a few passes before taking a good shot, so their offense has balance and Carolina can’t get out and run with numbers. It means defensively they’ll use the soft three-quarter court zone trap to slow Carolina’s tempo and keep them from starting the offense until just 20 seconds are left on the clock. That 10 seconds is huge for Oregon. It lets Bell get back and rest a few seconds before playing defense, it shortens the game for Oregon and it limits the total possessions in the game so foul trouble is minimized. All of those are important for the team with a shorter bench. Oregon probably loses a track meet in this game. But they can win a controlled tempo game.
Your Watercooler Notes
Arizona native Casey Benson may be the most popular guy in the Grand Canyon state right now. The Tempe native will be playing in front of every childhood friend and foe he grew up with.
Coach Altman reached out to both his mentor Lon Kruger and Mike Montgomery for any advice they had in preparing his team for the biggest stage. He told reporters he wanted to get a feel for anything he could do to get his team right mentally. What they should worry about and what they shouldn’t: Kruger was there last year with Oklahoma; Montgomery took his Stanford team years ago.
The last time an Oregon team played at Phoenix Stadium, the Ducks football team lost the national title game to Auburn.
Phoenix Stadium, like most domes, has bad sight lines and no backdrops behind the baskets. That could wreak havoc with Oregon’s shooters. The big advantage could go to the Tar Heels, because the Ducks will likely rely on the three more than Carolina
There are no one-and-done players on any of the Final Four rosters. It’s not good or bad for the game, it’s just interesting that this year all of the teams are built around 4-star players who’ve stuck around for awhile. South Carolina’s Sindarius Thorwell, Oregon’s Brooks and Bell, North Carolina’s Jackson and Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams Goss were all 4-star rated guys by one service or another.
Also, Altman and Roy Williams faced each other for a few years when Altman was at Kansas State and Williams had just taken over for Larry Brown at Kansas. They’ve known each other for years, spent time at Nike clinics together and have faced each other’s systems quite a bit.
Top photo credit: Video
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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