The field has been set, the first matchups are locked in, and the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament will feature many powerful basketball teams gunning for the title. Even without perennial powerhouses Duke and Kentucky in this tournament, no one team is the clear winner. That being said, even with powerhouses like Gonzaga, Baylor, North Carolina, and Illinois, anything can happen in March Madness. One of the teams gunning for a potential run to the Final Four and the National Championship game is the Dana Altman-led Oregon Ducks.
The Oregon Ducks open the tournament looking to bounce back
The Oregon Ducks start March Madness on the tail-end of a disappointing Pac-12 Tournament. After finishing the regular season as the conference champions and going 20-6 (14-4 Conference) on the year, the Ducks suffered defeat at the hands of their in-state rivals, the Oregon State Beavers, in the semifinals of the conference tournament. The Beavers’ loss left the Ducks with a 1-2 record on the season against their rivals.
After securing the 7th seed in the West region, this Ducks team is looking for a bounce back. Led by senior guard and Pac-12 Player of the Year Chris Duarte and senior forward Eugene Omoruyi, the Ducks make for quite the contender in this year’s tournament, set to be held in Indianapolis. Duarte is averaging 16.7 points per game and shooting an impressive 43% from beyond the arc. Omoruyi is also averaging 16.7 ppg and 5.2 rebounds per game. Helped out by guards LJ Figueroa (12.3 ppg) and Will Richardson (11.1 ppg), as well as forward Eric Williams, Jr. (10.4 ppg), the Ducks offense will have to perform at full throttle when the tournament starts.
This tournament marks the seventh NCAA Tournament appearance for the Ducks, with Altman as the head coach. Altman has only guided the Ducks to the Final Four once, but he has the experience to lead this team back for the first time since 2017. The team has made the Sweet 16 four of the seven trips to The Big Dance. Under Altman, the Ducks are 13-7 in NCAA Tournament contests.
How can the Ducks win the 2021 NCAA Tournament?
The Ducks have one of the toughest roads to the Final Four, but what is March without a little madness? In the West region, the Ducks will start their road against the always-challenging, tenth-seeded VCU (19-7), a team with a history of being a bracket buster. If the Ducks can get to the second round, they will face the winner of second-seeded Iowa (21-8) and the 15 seed, Grand Canyon (17-6). Oh, and did we mention that the top overall seed, Gonzaga (26-0), is in the West region?
This isn’t an easy task for Dana Altman and the Ducks. Several of the best offensive teams in the tournament are in the West region. While Oregon is a solid defensive team, they may have issues against offensive powers like the Zags, Hawkeyes, and the Kansas Jayhawks. Even a fellow Pac-12 team, the sixth-seeded USC Trojans (22-7), could pose as a roadblock for the Ducks. USC handled the Ducks easily earlier this year in a 72-58 win.
While the Ducks face a tough road, they are finally back to full health and have an offense and defense capable of withstanding the NCAA Tournament. Duarte and Omoruyi are leaders on this team and are the biggest producers on the floor. For the Ducks to win it all, it will require bigger contributions from bench players and solid defense that keeps them out of foul trouble early. Building their presence inside with center N’Faly Dante will be a big key for them, especially in the Sweet 16 and into the Final Four.
Despite being surrounded by giants, Altman has the coaching chops and the experience to lead this Ducks team to the end of the road. The Ducks have to take it one game at a time and not look too far ahead. Their road to the Final Four starts with VCU on Saturday, March 20th, with a 6:57 PM PT tip-off.