Oregon Ducks basketball has a tough stretch to finish off the season with games at UCLA, against Arizona State and #3 Arizona, as well as playing at one-conference-win-bottom-feeder USC. This final stretch of games will likely determine whether or not they make the NCAAT, bar winning the Pac-12 Tournament.
At best, Oregon can finish 10-8 and if everyone else somehow lost all their games (obviously a mathematical impossibility), finish third. Their most likely position appears to be 5-9 range. There are a glut of teams with 9-5 to 7-8 records, so depending on how much they beat up on each other, Oregon could avoid playing an extra game in the Pac-12 Tournament. Most likely the Ducks will be playing early.
But the selection committee views recent performances in games much more heavily than early season wins and losses, and if Oregon can finish strong, their chances go up despite their doom and gloom start to conference play. If Oregon can go 3-1 in their final four games to the season, with the loss being away against UCLA or home to Arizona, they will have significantly boosted their tournament resume after an atrocious start to conference play. 4-0 is, in all probability, impossible, Oregon has a chance to define their season by how they finish rather than their ugly start to Pac-12 play.
As of now, ESPN analyst Joe Lunardi has Oregon in the next, next four out. A strong showing here in the last four games and in the first round or two of the conference tournament should see Oregon into the NCAAT, if not as comfortably as it appeared at the end of December.
However, if the Ducks lose to USC, it would be their worst loss of the season by far and likely eliminate from NCAAT contention unless they won the entire Pac-12 Tournament. Even a win against Arizona wouldn’t help in this case. A bad loss like one to USC sinks seasons. With as bad as the Pac-12 is this year (only Arizona is ranked), each loss is extremely detrimental to a team’s chances. A .500 record in the Pac-12 won’t get a program into the NCAAT even if they have a stellar non-conference record—basically Oregon’s best case scenario as things stand now.
But there are two reasons Oregon can make the tournament. Oregon’s offense has maintained a brisk clip all season. While points per game now has dropped to 11th in the country at 82.8, the Ducks defense has held solid over their last three games—all victories. Even in their series of 2 point defeats earlier this month the defense showed it had improved from its January iteration. Solid offense and improved defense means the Ducks should go 3-1 in their final four games and make the NCAAT.
Oregon hasn’t made consecutive trips to the NCAAT since 2007-2008 and only once before in 2002-2003 which included a run to the Elite Eight. To make back-to-back appearances is a big deal for the Ducks. Oregon isn’t Duke or Kansas where anything less than two victories in the tournament is a sign the entire season was a massive failure. Head coach Dana Altman is trying to rebuild a program that in Ernie Kent’s last few years—after Elite Eight appearances in 2003 and 2007—declined significantly. Two trips in a row is a great achievement for Oregon Basketball and should be applauded, especially after the 0-5 start to conference play.
While it appears that a Sweet Sixteen run like last year is most likely not going to happen, a first round win is an obtainable goal and one the Ducks should achieve. Anything after that is unexpected and to be relished. The Ducks can do it, but it’s going to be a challenge.