If the Oregon Ducks men’s basketball team wins this Saturday against Oregon State, they will claim their second consecutive Pac-12 regular season title. Sitting at 15-2 so far in the Pac-12 season, Oregon has lived up to the expectations that this program had coming off an elite eight appearance last year. But despite the strong record and big wins against other top ranked teams, Oregon has struggled to beat lower level conference opponents. The shaky performances on the road, give cause for concern if the Ducks will be able to go far once March Madness returns.
Wins are wins, regardless of how you get them especially on the road in conference play. Granted but that doesn’t mean wins can make teams gloss over things that could come back to bite them later in the season. Thinking they are better than what they truly are. We will find out soon if the Ducks are the real deal as the Pac-12 tournament begins March 8th and then of course the NCAA tournament where Oregon will have high seeding.
Oregon won narrowly at Utah 73-67. The very next game they lost at Colorado 74-65 to a team that is near the bottom of the conference standings. The next game they escaped against Arizona State at home 71-70. They lost a close game at UCLA 82-79, in which they led late in that game and didn’t finish off the Bruins. Most recently they beat California 68-65 in which Dillon Brooks hit his second game winner of the season and Stanford 75-73 on the road. Oregon won the rebounding battle in only one of those close games (Arizona State). Defensive consistency and rebounding are keys to any great college team and the Ducks have struggled with that at times this season.
Give credit to Oregon for winning a lot of close games, many of which have come on the road this season. Brooks has stepped up as the leader by making big plays when they them the most. Having big play ability, especially being able to hit game winning shots is a huge advantage come NCAA tournament time. But getting outrebounded in big games will not always play in the Ducks favor.
Oregon trailed late in both games against California and Stanford but somehow find a way to win late of clutch baskets. According to the Register-Guard’s Steve Mims, Dylan Ennis talked about the team getting down in March. “When you get deep in the NCAA Tournament, you can’t do that, you are going to get teams that don’t let you come back,” Ennis said. “In the conference and NCAA tournaments, you are not as fortunate.”
The Ducks know what they have to do and Coach Dana Altman knows his team has to improve if they are going to make another run at an NCAA championship. Oregon has a deep team that can score, block shots, get out in transition and finish, and shoot the 3-point shot well. The Pac-12 tournament should give some insight into how this team will respond as they face opponents on a neutral floor similar to the NCAA tournament. But for the Ducks they should hope that their able to clean up some of the things that have continued to follow them through this Pac-12 conference season.