Five years ago, an Oregon Ducks basketball squad rumbled through the Pac-10 tournament unscathed, untouched and unstoppable en route to its second conference championship in program history.
Now, the Ducks are in somewhat similar territory: in need of a tournament sweep to go dancing in March.
At 19-8, Oregon doesn’t turn many experts’ heads for an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament, if at all. The Ducks have pocketed a few quality wins, but they still find themselves on the bubble, on the outside looking in, hoping for a sudden burst of energy that could trigger a streak like that of 2007.
The foundation is there for Oregon, which has won four of the last six games, although the Ducks could have gone 6-for-6 if not for narrow losses to Colorado and Cal along the way. Either way, the next few weeks will decide Oregon’s fate. A loss in any of the final three regular-season games or an early exit from the Pac-12 tournament could strike down the Ducks’ hopes at an invite to March Madness.
Sure, Oregon is sitting pretty at the moment – fourth in the conference and just two games out of first – but the eyesore that the Pac-12 has become anchors down all its members.
Yes, Oregon’s RPI ranking is 54th in the nation, decent enough for an at-large bid. But that doesn’t reflect how they’ve faired against the elite. Oregon’s 0-5 mark versus the RPI top 100 and 2-7 against the top 150 could repulse a supporting mother. The Ducks’ streaky shooting and inconsistent defense drives off lobbyists for their admittance into the big dance.
But hope lingers in Eugene. Confidence remains high. One last shot is all Oregon has. It’s all it needs.
It’s all it needed five years ago.
The Ducks’ resume sports marquee wins over Washington and Arizona but also a blemish that is the home loss to Oregon State. They have not one, not two, but three go-to scorers, but Oregon’s defense hasn’t held up when it matters most.
In its last three losses, Oregon held a plus-13 advantage heading into the half before being outscored by 21 points in the closing 20 minutes. That will need to change with crunch time looming.
There are no more chances for marquee wins in the regular season, but the Ducks have a great opportunity to win out with matchups against Oregon State, Colorado and Utah. With those under its belt, Oregon will earn a first-round bye in the conference tournament, which will set them up for a potential déjà vu sweep a la 2007.
The Ducks will need to take care of what they can control to escape the bubble, the what-ifs of the season. If not, they’ll need a stroke of serendipity. They’ll need the field in front of them to fall by the wayside.
Don’t think it’s impossible. It’s been done before. Five years ago. By the Oregon Ducks.