The calendar has officially turned over to March – meaning lots of good things in the world of sports. Playoff basketball in the NBA is right around the corner, as is Major League Baseball’s opening day and my favorite official sign of spring time – the Master’s golf tournament in April. Let’s not get a head of ourselves that much quite yet though, as we have a very important month of college basketball to get through first.
Fans of the Oregon Ducks men’s basketball team couldn’t be more excited.
No Marcus Mariota needed. There won’t be any Dennis Dixon sightings and thankfully neither Joey Harrington nor Akili Smith will be needed for this group of the Ducks to go deep in the post-season.
We are talking about the hardwood Ducks…as in the basketball Ducks – not the creepy wooden, mallard duck figures your grandfather keeps on his fireplace mantle. It is March Madness season and junior forward Dillon Brooks is ready for a run at a championship.
FIRST CHALLENGE: PAC-12 TOURNAMENT
Before the Ducks can even think about the national tournament with an “asterisk 68 teams” (let’s be honest, it still is essentially a field of 64. The play-in games are silly.), they have to make their way through the top-heavy Pac-12 conference tournament.
The UCLA Bruins, currently ranked No. 3 in the Associated Press poll and the Arizona Wildcats (ranked No. 7) along with the sixth-ranked Ducks give the Pac-12 three excellent candidates to represent the conference in the Final Four in Phoenix on March 31.
The Bruins tend to be the trendy or the popular pick around the country as the best team in the conference, mainly because of their high-powered offense. Led by hot-shot freshman, and a likely “one-and-done” collegiate player, Lonzo Ball, the Bruins are flashy and can run up the score. Will that be enough to succeed come tourney time? The team from Los Angeles acts like a movie star with fake hair, a high-maintenance boyfriend and a really stressed out agent/manager. Spoiler alert: They won’t even make it out of the Sweet 16 let alone get to the Final Four.
They had a really soft, non-conference schedule this year too, but I don’t have a Hollywood-related metaphor for that…so, let’s just say the cast for their low-budget films couldn’t even light a candle to the cast of Sharknado – the first one.
Arizona, meanwhile, got crushed, 85-58, by the Ducks in their only meeting this year, but otherwise have put together a really solid season in their own right. They have a 7-foot freshman from Finland named Lauri Markkanen putting up good number for them to go along with sophomore guard Allonzo Trier, who has missed some games this year, but has scored 20-plus in three straight just in time for the tournaments.
With all due respect to the Finnish people, I have doubts about a freshman center leading the Wildcats far into the post-season. We will see, but I still like the Ducks coming out of the Pac-12.
WHAT DOES A FINAL FOUR TEAM LOOK LIKE?
So, I’ve ruled out a movie-star mentality and young, foreign big-men as key components to a championship team, so what do I look for in a team ready to make a run at an NCAA championship?
I look at three things, really. This formula isn’t rocket science, nor is it applied biology, or even ornithology (the study of birds – my easiest A in high school). It’s pretty much common sense.
- Strong back court. Guard play in huge in the tournament. Without strong guard play, you won’t be able to get very far.
- 3-point Shooting. Every year in both college and NBA basketball the 3-point shot seems to be more and more valuable. If you want to win in the tournament, you have to be able to shoot the three.
- Veteran leadership/key bench players. Okay, I guess that’s four things, but I like the idea of three bullets as opposed to four and these can be easily combined. The sixth, seventh and eighth man off the bench may not make the ‘tale of the tape’ when analysts compare a head-to-head contest, but they always can be the x-factor. As for the veteran presence in today’s game, a junior or a senior in the starting five can mean the difference in a tight game under pressure.
Do the 2016-17 Ducks have the roster to make it to Phoenix?
BREAKING DOWN THE DUCKS
Led by the junior Brooks, the Ducks do in fact have what it takes to win the Pac-12 tournament and make it a long way in the NCAA tournament. Two seniors anchor the starting five with forward Chris Boucher manning the paint and Dylan Ennis orchestrating the offense. Sophomore Tyler Dorsey can shoot from the outside and the freshman from West Linn – Payton Pritchard – can provide a spark off the bench.
Seven of the Ducks players average 20-plus minutes per game.
There you have it – in one paragraph the Ducks cover all three/four requirements I look for in a championship team.
This might be a bit of a reach – or even completely inaccurate – but, either way, work with me on this one really quick. Imagine it is the 2002-’03 season. Dillon Brooks is Carmelo Anthony, Boucher is Hakim Warrick and Tyler Dorsey is Gerry McNamara.
I said it was at best a reach.
That Syracuse team won a championship and the Ducks can do the same.
Apparently, I don’t like UCLA, but I didn’t realize that until I starting writing this. In the two games against each other during the regular season, the Ducks won by two points at home and the Bruins won by three points at home. That’s as close as it gets.
I don’t think I have seen a projected bracket with any PAC-12 team expected to get a No. 1 seed, which seems a bit silly. Yes, Baylor beat the Ducks, blah, blah, blah…but how do they AND Kansas get No. 1 seeds if only one of them can win the Big-12 tournament? Gonzaga doesn’t really play anyone, but they also only have one loss. North Carolina just lost to an offensively inept Virginia team and the ACC just beats each other up.
Why isn’t there room for a PAC-12 team? Let’s blame those silly east coasters.