For the first time since 2008, the Oregon men's basketball team is going to the big dance.
Considering the depths in which the Ducks had fallen to in between NCAA tournament appearances, the mere fact they made it should be cause for celebration.
However, this birth came with a little slap in the face. The Ducks and their followers feel slighted, even disrespected, at the shockingly low twelve seed they were dealt last Sunday; and who could blame them?
The twelve seed given to Oregon has even left experts around the country scratching their heads as to why a team once ranked in the top ten and fresh off of a major-conference tournament win, is sitting in a seed normally reserved for bubble teams.
Given the Ducks' low seed, it appears that had Oregon not won this past weekend's Pac-12 Tournament, they may have been left out of this year's madness. This is quite baffling considering they are ranked just inside the top-25 in both major polls heading into the postseason.
At one point this season the Ducks were 18-2 and ranked number ten overall in the country. Then freshman point guard, Dominic Artis, went down with a foot injury and the season took a turn for the worse. Oregon went 5-6 in their final eleven regular season games (Artis played the final three games but was nowhere near 100 percent) and looked as though they had lost all confidence.
Despite the rocky end to the regular season, Oregon still finished the season with a 23-8 (12-6) record; just one game away from winning the Pac-12 regular season. Had the season ended then and there, a twelve-seed would have seemed fitting. The Ducks had clearly earned a ticket to the big dance, but no longer deserved the high seed they once appeared to have.
However the season didn’t end there, and after the Ducks went to Las Vegas and won the Pac-12 tournament many thought they had found their early-season footing again. The re-born Ducks looked to have found their early-season confidence and seemed poised to grab at least an eight seed in the NCAA tournament.
With the selection committee's ability to consider key injuries when seeding, and with impressive wins at UNLV (a 5 seed in NCAA tournament), vs. Arizona (6 seed) and a pair of wins over regular season Pac-12 champion UCLA (6 seed), it almost seemed certain the Ducks would play at least one game as the higher seed this weekend.
Instead, the Ducks were handed the worst seed of the five Pac-12 representatives and drew an extremely tough "second-round" matchup against Oklahoma State. The fifth-seeded Cowboys finished third overall in the Big-12, boasting a 24-8 (13-5) record. With a resume that includes wins at Kansas (1 seed) and against Kansas State (4 seed), the Cowboys will be an extremely tough out for the Ducks come Thursday.
Then, if the Ducks do manage to get past the Cowboys their road to the Final Four then gets infinitely tougher, as they are in the toughest region in the tournament; a region with the best set of coaches as well. The Ducks would likely play Saint Louis in the third round, a team who is currently playing very well and who is playing in memory of their late hall of fame coach, Rick Majerus, who passed away in December. If they managed to get by the Bilikens, they then would likely go on to play the top overall seed, Louisville (led by hall of fame coach Rick Pitino).
Even further down the road to the Final Four lies a potential matchup against either the Tom Izzo led Michigan State Spartans or the Mike Krzyzewski led Duke Blue Devils. That is getting way too ahead of the moment, but it puts into perspective just how tough the Midwest region is.
Oregon does have a couple things going for them however. The fact that they will play their second round game and potential third round game in San Jose, Cali. is huge. Playing in a Pac-12 city, just eight hours from Eugene will surely mean the crowd will be on their side.
The other positive for Oregon is the recent success of the number twelve seeds. In each of the past five years at least one number twelve seed has pulled off the upset (nine total), including three of the four twelve seeds in 2009. While the odds to advance much further aren't great, getting out of the first round is a start.
In the end, no matter the odds to advance the Ducks just have to come out and play like the team from the first half of the season. Limit the turnovers, play with confidence and match the Cowboys' on the defensive end.
The Ducks must also play with a chip on their shoulders and use the low ranking as bulletin board material to find motivation. The committee obviously doesn't think highly of Oregon or give them much of a chance to advance, so it's up to the Ducks to go out and prove otherwise.