The Oregon Ducks Men’s Basketball team was just starting to hit their stride. As winners of six of their last seven games, including four straight to end the regular season as PAC-12 champions, the Ducks were poised to make a tournament run.
As the number one seed in the PAC-12 tournament, the Ducks were set to take on rival Oregon State in a rubber match in the first round. Unfortunately, just hours before tip, the PAC-12 tournament was cancelled. Then, just days later, the NCAA tournament was cancelled.
Just like that, any hopes of a championship were gone.
One could argue that no player in the country was playing better than Oregon’s Payton Pritchard to end the regular season. Averaging 27.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists while shooting 51% from three over his last four games, Pritchard was set to lead this team for one final run in the big dance.
A four year senior point guard, Pritchard had the experience and drive to carry the Ducks on his shoulders as far as he could take them. With help from the supporting cast, this team could have made a case as one of the top teams in the country, with an outside chance at winning it all.
The Ducks were projected as anywhere between a three and a five seed in the NCAA tournament. Using the final projected bracket from ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, let’s take a deep dive into how the Ducks would have fared in this year’s tournament.
As you can see, Lunardi had the Ducks as a four seed in the West region, playing in Spokane for their first two rounds. This would have been a big boost for Oregon, playing so close to home. In the first round, the Ducks were set to take on New Mexico State, a talented and scrappy team, winners of 19 in a row on their way to a first place finish in the WAC.
This would have been an extremely difficult test, and probably a very trendy upset pick, had the brackets played out this way in real life. However, I think the experience and overall talent level would lead the Ducks to a close victory.
While it wasn’t necessarily a strength for the Ducks this season, they would have had the size advantage inside, which would have been the difference in the game. Pritchard and Will Richardson would have had their usual productive games, and I believe N’Faly Dante would have had a breakout game, leading the Ducks to victory.
Going into the second round, the Ducks would have been matched up with either Michigan or Yale. In my opinion, it would have ended up as a rematch of their December game against the Wolverines. In the first showdown, the Ducks were able to pull off a one point victory on the road in overtime. The Ducks were led by big games from Pritchard and Anthony Mathis.
With Chris Duarte being questionable to play with his injury, and Mathis being much more streaky from three throughout the season, this would have been another tough test for the Ducks. Just like in the first round, I think the key would be the play of Dante and Shakur Juiston, who both missed the first game against Michigan. Pritchard would once again have his way with Wolverines point guard Xavier Simpson, and the Ducks would pull away late in the game.
Going into the Sweet 16 the Ducks would be looking at another rematch from earlier in the season against Gonzaga, who they lost to by one point in overtime. This would be a fun NCAA Tournament game between two teams who are geographically close, but don’t play very often.
In the first game back in November, the Bulldogs were led by post man Filip Pertrusev, who had 22 points and 15 rebounds, while the Ducks were led by Pritchard who had 17 points, albeit on 7-23 shooting. This is the round where I think the Ducks would see their season end. Unfortunately, I think the Bulldogs would have too many weapons for Oregon to keep up.
While I think Pritchard would have played a much more efficient game, and the addition of Dante would certainly be a boost inside, I see the Ducks losing another tightly contested game. With Duarte potentially not being able to play, the Ducks just wouldn’t have enough weapons to keep up with Gonzaga, and would get outscored late.
Another Sweet 16 run should be considered a successful season for this Ducks team. Considering they added nine new scholarship players and had a multitude of injuries throughout the year, winning the PAC-12 and making it to the third round of the NCAA Tournament would have been a great feat.
Going into next season, the Ducks will obviously have to replace the production of Pritchard, which can’t and won’t be done by just one person. Losing a player of his caliber is always tough, but the Ducks are poised to be potentially deeper and have more overall experience than this season. Look for Eric Williams Jr. and Eugene Omoruyi, two players who redshirted this season, to have extremely big impacts next year.
The number one question every offseason for Dana Altman is what other attrition his team will have. They lose three seniors, but could potentially return the majority of the roster. However, I do believe we might see one or two more players opt to leave the program.
The rumor has been that Duarte is someone that could be looking to play professionally, either overseas or in the NBA. I tend to believe (but hope I am wrong) that he will choose that route, and end up only playing one season with the Ducks. It’s also possible that we see Dante opt to test the NBA waters and put his name in the draft.
To replace the departing players, the Ducks currently have four star point guard Jalen Terry signed, and are also deep in the market for transfer players who will be eligible next season. With the roster that is currently in tact, and adding prospective contributors, the Ducks could once again be favorites in the PAC-12, and one of the top teams in the nation.
Coach Alex Nordstrand
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Chris Brouilette, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is a current student at the University of Oregon from Sterling, Illinois.
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