For just a moment, it seemed like everything was back to normal.
Sure, coaches and players on the bench were wearing masks, there was no band or cheerleaders, and the raucous crowd of years past was much less inspiring in limited form. But none of that mattered once the brackets locked and the action got underway. Even though it looked different, March Madness was back.
And it didn’t take long for the madness to ensue. Nearly every bracket was busted from the onset, as 15-seed Oral Roberts pulled off the improbable upset of title-contending Ohio State in one of the first games of the tournament. Bid-stealer Oregon State kept its magical run alive with an upset win over Tennessee, and 13-seed North Texas made history by winning its first NCAA Men’s Tournament game against B1G stalwart Purdue.
But then, just as we were given a much-needed escape from the COVID-19-centered world we now live in, the pandemic took center stage once again on Saturday night.
Many had the 7-seed Oregon Ducks penciled in to advance to the round of 32, and advance they did. But it wasn’t their vaunted shooting or overwhelming length that pushed them past VCU. Rather, it was declared a “no contest because of NCAA COVID-19 protocols,” according to a statement released by the NCAA.
The NCAA isn’t allowed to release many details, but the bottom line is VCU became the first team in this year’s abnormal tournament to deal with COVID-19 issues, and the result is an unceremonious ending to their season.
Many would assume this is a good thing for the Ducks. Although the Ducks were favored, 7-vs-10 matchups are tricky and can go either way. Surviving and advancing is the name of the game in March, by any means necessary.
The Ducks certainly aren’t going to apologize for advancing by default, but it doesn’t do them any favors to face one of the tourney’s best teams while coming off of a 10-day layoff. The last time we saw Oregon in action, it was well over a week ago in the Pac-12 Tournament, when red-hot Oregon State upset the Ducks on its way to stealing the conference championship.
It doesn’t get any easier for our feathered friends, who now have to keep pace with one of the most explosive offensive attacks in college basketball. The 2-seed Iowa Hawkeyes, led by the most decorated player in the B1G, center Luka Garza, rank in the top 10 nationally in both scoring offense and three-point field goal percentage. Garza can score from just about everywhere on the floor with his imposing 6’11, 265-lb. frame, but when he gets doubled in the post, he has plenty of talented shooters on the perimeter to kick it out to.
The Hawkeyes made quick work of Grand Canyon on Saturday. Sure, the Lopes were clearly overmatched coming into the contest, but they did boast an excellent defense that potentially posed some problems for the high-scoring Hawkeyes. It turns out, Grand Canyon didn’t stand a chance. Iowa shot better than 45% from behind the arc and over 50% from the field, finishing with a ho-hum 86 points and an easy first-round victory.
Oregon’s no pushover, though. The Ducks have much-coveted length at every starting position, and everyone is a threat to score from long range. Their offensive versatility should give a porous Iowa defense trouble. The question is, can they figure out a way to contain Garza and company on the other end of the floor?
Let’s hear your thoughts, Oregon fans. Will an extended layoff give the Ducks fresh legs to outlast a talented Iowa team, or will Oregon struggle to shake off the rust?
Morgantown, West Virginia
Top Photo by Eugene Johnson
Joshua is an adopted Duck fanatic, originally hailing from southwestern Pennsylvania. His love for the University of Oregon began as a young child when he became mesmerized by the flashy uniforms and explosive offenses of the Chip Kelly era, and now, he follows the team religiously. His fondest memory of the team is seeing De’Anthony Thomas race past Wisconsin defenders back in the 2012 Rose Bowl. A true football enthusiast, Joshua loves studying the intricacies of the game, and he aspires to become a professional sports journalist. Joshua now resides in Morgantown, West Virginia where he works in customer service. When he’s not watching Oregon replays, Joshua loves reading, writing, and spending time with his family. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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