Unpredictably predictable. It is normally the other way around, but this year everything seems backwards. No team has been able to lay a solid claim as the top team in the nation all year long. Indiana had multiple chances at the top, Duke, Michigan, and Louisville could not hold onto it, and you would be hard-pressed to find a consensus that current number one Gonzaga is the best team.
The Pac-12 has been the same, with Arizona, UCLA and Oregon all failing to establish the top team in the conference. UCLA had it at the end of the year, but all three stayed close because of losses in winnable games. Arizona could not hold off a 14-18 USC team. UCLA fell to Pac-12 doormat Washington State. Oregon lost to 15-18 Utah. These losses piled up as all of college basketball paid the final toll for a basketball class lacking in senior leadership.
When all was settled, five Pac-12 teams made the final tournament. UCLA, Cal, Colorado, Oregon, and Arizona will put those losses behind them and get ready for the Madness.
Oregon (12-Seed) vs. Oklahoma State (5-Seed). March 21, San Jose.
Markus Smart, Markel Brown and Phil Forte versus Damyean Dotson, Carlos Emory and Dominic Artis
Advantage: Cowboys. Oklahoma State plays a much smaller lineup than Oregon, and uses a three guard set with Smart as the lead distributor. The 6'4 freshman leads the team in scoring and assists, and also averages almost three steals per game. Limiting him will be the biggest key for Oregon, and keeping him contained will be a challenge for Artis and Emory, who will likely rotate with Dotson, depending on which pair coach Dana Altman wants to go with. Brown is second on the team in scoring, and is an effective shooter from all ranges (44% from the field, 38% from three-point range). Putting pressure on the guards and forcing them to distribute inside will be a good strategy for the Ducks.
Le'Bryan Nash and Michael Cobbins versus Arsalan Kazemi, Tony Woods, and E.J. Singler
Advantage: Ducks. This is where Oregon wants to play. The Cowboys lack a real center, and Woods should be able to exploit his side advantage inside. The only player on the Cowboys roster who can matchup with Woods is Philip Jurick, who plays less than 18 minutes per contest. Singler, the Ducks leading scorer, should be able to control the inside and force the Cowboys' best interior defender in Cobbins to bad positions. Kazemi will need to control the glass and setup second chance opportunities.
Kamari Murphy, Philip Jurick, and Kirby Gardner versus Johnathan Loyd, Waverly Austin and Ben Carter
Advantage: Ducks. Between Loyd and Austin, the Ducks have more control on substitutions than the Cowboys do. Murphy and Jurick are effective rebounders when brought onto the floor, and will be needed to balance out the Cowboys disadvantage on the rebounding side. Loyd is strong defender who can help lockdown Smart and Brown when Artis, Emory, or Dotson need a rest, even if his scoring is inconsistent. Overall, the Ducks depth off the bench appears stronger on paper.
Prediction: Oregon 72, Oklahoma State 67.