I watched the NCAA Selection Show last Sunday with a friend. The Ducks, already a lock for their first tournament in five years, had iced their seeding cake by winning the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas. It was going to be a fun hour. How high could the Ducks jump? Seven seed? Six seed? We knew this: Oregon, always a streaky team, were trending up at the right time; four of the team's six losses came without starting point guard Dominique Artis, and the Ducks had hung around the top 25 all season. A five seed? Probably not, but it was certain that Oregon would be favored in their first tournament game.
When the venerable Greg Gumbel was in the midst of unveiling the Midwest Region, Oklahoma State was read as the five seed. My friend said, this could be Oregon. Turns out my friend is a lot smarter than me. Because I said no way, Oregon, the Pac-12 conference champion, a twelve seed? Not a chance.
Oregon's seeding was just plan wacky. It wasn't infuriating as much as it was bewildering, frustrating as much as it was inconceivable. Did the selection committee watch the games? Was East Coast bias to blame? Would the Ducks have missed out on the tournament all together if they hadn't beaten UCLA for the conference championship? Another question: Could the committee read the standings? Because Oregon, the Pac-12 conference tournament winner, was seeded lower than any other Pac-12 team in the tournament, except California – and the Golden Bears got a 12 seed as well. The Ducks were seeded six lines higher than UCLA, who the Ducks are convincingly 2-0 against this year. Six lines above Arizona, another team the Ducks haven't lost to this season. Oregon was below Colorado, who the Ducks finished far beyond in the regular season standings and the conference tournament sweepstakes.
The Ducks were seeded lower than Belmont and Bucknell, a 12-loss Minnesota team and a 13-loss Villanova team that got a nine seed. Could the selection committee not stay up the night that the Ducks won the tournament of one of the five best leagues in America? The Ducks are a two-loss team with Artis in the lineup. Two losses would tie Oregon for the best record in the country.
So yes, the Ducks got hoodwinked, swindle, screwed by the idiotic committee. And that makes this NCAA Tournament a lot more interesting. I think most traditional "blackboard" material is overrated, but this is fantastic motivation. Oregon Head Coach Dana Altman has been saying all the right things but in his first NCAA tourney with the Ducks, he and the team must have be peeved. If they are half as angry as Ducks fans were Sunday, they'll blow through Oklahoma State.
Oregon has a stage now. The CBS crew covering Selection Sunday immediately latched onto the Oregon snub – one of the worst in tournament history – and asked the various selection committee representatives and leaders why the Ducks got such a low seed. The half-baked, scatter-brained company line that it was the bracket structure's fault that Oregon dropped from an 11 to 12 made the committee look even worse, and drew more sympathy from the national media for the Ducks case. In short, Oregon went from a tournament nobody to a tournament somebody. The program finally has a stage. Now, to show up the committee and keep the spotlight, they have to beat the Cowboys.
Outside of Eugene, the city that was feeling worse Sunday night was Stillwater. Oklahoma State had a good year, they have a good team, and they didn't deserve to meet a true seven seed as a five seed in the first round. Still, this isn't a good matchup for the Ducks. OSU's point guard, Marcus Smart, is an NBA lottery pick. He could take advantage of the undersized Jonathan Loyd and Artis, who is limping into the tournament nursing his ankle injury. The Cowboys are better defensively than the Ducks, and properly seeded team has more talent.
But in March Madness, you can rarely break down close games by x's and o's. Coaching, intangibles, and momentum decide games at tournament time. Altman will out-coach Travis Ford; he has done a fantastic job this year and the Ducks have played their best in big games this year. Oregon will be beyond motivated, while the Cowboys could get caught feeling sorry for themselves. And while OK. State bowed out early of the Big XXI Tournament, the Ducks come in having won their last three tournament games. Oregon can pull this game off – the 12 over 5 happens more than any other upset.
Oregon is slammed all the way around in this seeding deal. If they beat Oklahoma State, they run into tournament darling and tough-as-nails St. Louis, and the winner of that third round game gets the overall number one seed Louisville. It's not going to be easy for Oregon. They have everything lining up against them. So naturally, this is the best time to make an NCAA run. Who knows? The Ducks could turn their shambolic seeding around and become Cinderella 2013.
Abe Asher is on Twitter. Follow him at @AbesWorldSports