An Early Look at Next Season’s Pac-12

Posted by Mike Lemaire on April 13th, 2016

It is never too early to predict how the Pac-12 will look heading into next season. Let’s not waste words and just get into a look at each team by projected order of finish.

1. Oregon

Assuming Brooks Returns, Oregon Will Be The Class of the PAC-12 Again. (Craig Strobeck)

Assuming Brooks Returns, Oregon Will Be The Class of the Pac-12 Again. (Craig Strobeck)

  • Who’s back: Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey, Casey Benson, Chris Boucher, Jordan Bell, Dylan Ennis
  • Who’s new: M.J. Cage, Keith Smith, Payton Pritchard
  • The skinny: Assuming Brooks returns to school and Ennis is eligible and healthy enough to play a full season, the Ducks will run almost two-deep at every position. Boucher’s extra year of eligibility is also huge because it again gives Oregon two of the best rim-protectors in the country while allowing Dana Altman to space the floor. Don’t sleep on the Ducks’ recruiting class, either; there aren’t any stars here, but Cage and Pritchard will both contribute early.

2. Arizona

  • Who’s back: Allonzo Trier, Ray Smith, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Dusan Ristic, Kadeem Allen, Chance Comanche
  • Who’s new: Rawle Alkins, Kobi Simmons, Lauri Markkanen
  • The skinny: Simmons is the key here. If the point guard is as good as everyone seems to think he is, the Wildcats have the athletes elsewhere to be above-average offensively and elite defensively. Trier could be a Pac-12 Player of the Year contender and some believe that Smith, now healthy after missing all of last season, is the better player in that recruiting class. Sean Miller has reportedly been sniffing around the graduate transfer market as well — if the Wildcats can land an extra big man, that would help shore up a frontcourt that right now consists of Ristic and maybe Comanche.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Oklahoma 80, #1 Oregon 68

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 26th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Buddy Hield Looked Like a Champion Today (USA Today Images)

Buddy Hield Looked Like a Champion Today (USA Today Images)

  1. Sure, Buddy’s Great, But There’s More. Don’t worry, we’re going to get to your National Player of the Year favorite, Buddy Hield, and his 37 points, in a moment. But there is so much more to Oklahoma than just a star shooter dropping threes in from 25 feet out. This is a complete team. The Sooners have at times this year had trouble on the glass at both end of the floor. Today, the entire team chipped in to help the relatively thin frontcourt compile a significant advantage on the glass, grabbing 42 percent of the available offensive rebounds. Freshman Christian James again provided a big spark from the wing, grabbing 10 boards of his own to aid the effort. Then there’s Hield’s backcourt mates Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard. They’re not as offensively explosive or as flashy as their more famous running mate, but both are highly efficient and always in control. While Hield definitely has the ability to carry the team for long stretches of time, there are more reasons than he that the Sooners are Final Four-bound.
  2. Oregon First Half Out of Sorts. Oregon wasn’t going to win with Buddy Hield playing so well regardless, but the Ducks didn’t do themselves any favors either. They seemed tentative throughout the first half, always a step late to loose balls. They had at least four mindless turnovers. They left points at the free throw line. And three-point shots just weren’t falling. Some of those struggles were certainly caused by the Sooners, who pressured the Ducks at the top of the key and took ball-handlers like Casey Benson, Tyler Dorsey and Dillon Brooks out of their rhythm. But after playing fast and loose against Duke on Thursday night, the Ducks couldn’t bring the same level of energy in this one. They gave up 15 second-chance points and 12 points off turnovers, building up an 18-point halftime deficit that they never had a realistic chance to erase.
  3. Three-Point Shooting and Dunks. In the first half, the Sooners put on an offensive clinic, scoring 1.33 points per possession by hitting threes and getting easy looks at the rim. Of their 36 first half field goal attempts, 14 came from three while an equal number came at the bucket. Oregon adjusted somewaht in the second half through better energy and help defense, limiting the Sooners to just three point-blank looks in the second half. The difference was apparent in the Sooners’ production, as they dipped to just 0.97 PPP in the second half. This isn’t exactly groundbreaking news, but preventing the Sooners from getting easy looks at the rim goes a long way towards limiting their oft-prolific offense.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Oregon 82, #4 Duke 68

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 24th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion

Three Key Takeaways.

Dillon Brooks and Oregon jammed their way past Duke. (Photo: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports)

Dillon Brooks and Oregon jammed their way past Duke. (Photo: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. The Oregon Way. Threes and layups. It’s not a new concept by any means, but Oregon sure runs it to perfection. In a seven-man rotation with a true point guard, two versatile bigs and four athletes who can both shoot and attack off the bounce, the Ducks have made an art out of basing their offense around the long ball and the short ball. For the season, they take about 42 percent of their shots at the rim, and roughly 34 percent from three-point range. Tonight, they were even better than those season averages, taking 23 threes (35 percent of their FGAs) and 28 shots that were either dunks or layups (45%), leaving just 13 (20%) of those inefficient two-point jumpers (they went just 3-13 on those attempts).
  2. Fast-Paced and Fun. In a game chock full of versatile and athletic basketball players (Brandon Ingram, Dillon Brooks, Grayson Allen, Elgin Cook, and on down the line), we saw the type of entertaining basketball we expected. In the halfcourt on both ends of the court, offenses effectively shared the ball and sought out offensive mismatches to exploit. Both defenses trapped to try to slow their opponent down and force turnovers. If defenders were beat off the bounce, there were rim protectors (especially on the Oregon side) waiting to attempt to clean up the mistakes. And the dunks. My lord the dunks. Of those 28 Duck dunk or layup attempts we mentioned above, Oregon converted 19 of them, often in spectacular fashion.
  3. Casey Benson. He’s the quiet man on the Duck team. He’s not going to be playing above the rim. He’s not often going to be among the high scorers on his team (tonight’s 11-point effort was just his fifth double-digit scoring effort this season). But man, he just doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. Tonight, he had one awful first-half turnover, but other than that he was nearly perfect. Benson knocked in three threes, got to the rim for a layup for an additional hoop, handed out eight dimes while facilitating constant ball movement, and generally ran his team to perfection.

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Secrets to Sweet Sixteen Success: Factoids on Each Team

Posted by Shane McNichol on March 24th, 2016

With a weekend full of brackets busted and buzzers beaten now behind us, the NCAA Tournament turns to a new and exciting chapter. Gone are the small school darlings and Cinderella dreamers hoping to make the most of the Year of Parity; remaining are a host of blue-bloods with a wide range of expectations and capabilities. The bracket hasn’t played completely chalky with stalwarts like Michigan State and Kentucky sitting at home and some double-digit seeds still alive. But rather than welcoming new faces to the Sweet Sixteen, it was Indiana that dispatched Kentucky and the low-seeded outsiders crashing the party are the likes of Syracuse and Gonzaga, the closest thing we have to a MINO (mid-major in name only?). March Madness has its storied traditions and history, but each team, each season, and each match-up is a unique snowflake with a lot of interesting context. Let’s examine something special about the run of each of the 16 remaining teams as we head into the second weekend.

Kansas Enters the Sweet Sixteen as the Favorite to Win It All (USA Today Images)

Kansas Enters the Sweet Sixteen as the Favorite to Win It All (USA Today Images)

  • Kansas. Senior Perry Ellis may have just put together one of the most under-the-radar All-America campaigns in modern history. The evolution of his game has been a revelation for Kansas this season, and he’s not slowing down, with games of at least 17 points in every game this March. As but one example, Ellis made as many threes this season as he did in his prior three.
  • Maryland. The Terrapins’ quest to finally be recognized and treated like a Big Ten program becomes a little stronger with each ensuing NCAA Tournament win. They still hold the ultimate bragging right among conference teams — The last Big Ten team to win the National Championship was Maryland (as an ACC member) in 2002.
  • Miami. Jim Larranaga has proven to be a godsend for the Miami basketball program. In just five seasons, he’s already become the only coach to take the Hurricanes to multiple Sweet Sixteens. If Miami can top Villanova tonight, the Hurricanes would make its first ever appearance in the Elite Eight on Saturday — uncharted territory for Miami but not for Larranaga (George Mason, 2006).
  • Villanova. Though rivalries of Philadelphia basketball run deep, the casual fan in the City of Brotherly Love has enjoyed a successful long-term run. With Villanova’s two wins last weekend, a team from Philly’s Big 5 (Villanova, St. Joseph’s, Temple, LaSalle, and Penn) has advanced to the second weekend of NCAA Tournament play in 10 of the last 20 years. The residents of Hawk Hill or North Philly may not be especially thrilled for their friends from the Main Line, but the levels of success and respect among the Philadelphia schools make their common bond that much more special.

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NCAA Regional Reset: West Region

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 21st, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

New Favorite:  #2 Oklahoma. We previously had Oregon as the favorite here,  but we’re going to switch it up and go with the Sooners instead because it is starting to look like Buddy Hield is going to drag his team to Houston and a possible national title one way or the other. There’s reason to be fearful of the Sooners’ chances, though, as they’ve been pressured by a pair of double-digit seeds. In this region, with the top four seeds still alive, would anybody be surprised if anybody made its way to Houston?

Buddy Was Just Doing Buddy Things to Get to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

Buddy Was Just Doing Buddy Things to Get to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

Horse of Darkness: #3 Texas A&M. This team was dead. Ceased to be. Expired and gone to meet it’s maker. Shuffled off the mortal coil, and all that. And yet somehow, the Aggies pulled off their best Lazarus impression and miraculously moved on to the Sweet Sixteen. Sometimes, miracles like these in early rounds are springboards to national titles: Witness Tyus Edney 21 years ago. Sometimes, it just extends the inevitable a little longer. For about 39 minutes and 22 seconds on Sunday night, A&M was getting run out of the Tourney by Northern Iowa. But somehow, some way, they survived. Will it be a springboard to bigger and better things or is it a sign of an inherent weakness? Poised veterans Alex Caruso and Anthony Collins have been solid, but leading scorers Danuel House and Jalen Jones will need to be more consistent to keep advancing.

Biggest Surprise (1st Weekend): Everything Having to Do With Northern Iowa. At this point, we should just offer up a standing invitation to any halfway decent Northern Iowa team to join the NCAA Tournament, because you just know we are going to be treated to a classic one way or another. The Panthers’ opening round game against Texas was absolutely insane. It wasn’t just the final 10 seconds worth of an Isaiah Taylor game-tying floater and the Paul Jesperson game-winning half-court heave; the whole game was amazing. Those final 10 seconds immediately vaulted up into the top tier of NCAA moments ever. And then Sunday night? Northern Iowa, much to its chagrin, may have topped that one by its involvement in an even more memorable game (for completely different reasons). In any March Madness epic, there is always the transposition of the elation of the winner and the heartbreak of the loser. In a 48-hour span, Northern Iowa felt both ends about as shockingly as possible.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Oregon 69, #8 Saint Joseph’s 64

Posted by Kenny Ocker on March 20th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregionKenny Ocker is at the Spokane pods of the South and West regionals this week.

Three Key Takeaways.

It wasn't easy, but top-seeded Oregon is advancing to the Sweet Sixteen (Photo: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

It wasn’t easy, but top-seeded Oregon is advancing to the Sweet Sixteen (Photo: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Oregon saved the Pac-12 for another few days: The conference took a beating. Every other team lost in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, some in painful fashion, some in blowouts, some in both – Utah. But with a pair of clutch three-pointers from Tyler Dorsey and Dillon Brooks, the Ducks kept their title run alive and made their second Sweet Sixteen in three years with the late win Friday. Crisply run zone-busting offense generated the wide-open shots, and great shooting and execution finished them.
  2. Turnovers did in Saint Joseph’s: Hawks coach Phil Martelli told his players before the game they would win going away if they had fewer than 10 turnovers. They had 12, eight in the first half, but the two late in the second half crushed them. Papa Ndow turned down a wide-open three-pointer as the shot clock expired, passing to a teammate and committing a 30-second violation. Then, with just seconds left, DeAndre’ Bembry lost his dribble and turned the ball over at the top of the three-point line. Without those two turnovers, the Hawks’ NCAA Tournament hopes might not die.
  3. Have fun with Duke, Ducks: Here you go, one seed, you’ve made the Sweet Sixteen. And now you get to face a coach who has made 23 of them. Oregon wasn’t flustered tonight, despite going down seven late in the second half at 58-51. They made big stops, they made big shots, and it resulted in a big comeback on a big stage. It will be interesting to see how Duke’s offense, heavily reliant on the outside shooting of Brandon Ingram and Grayson Allen, interacts with Oregon’s defense, which relies on the elite interior defense of Chris Boucher and Jordan Bell. Duke lacks elite shot-blocking, which means a jump-shot-happy Oregon team should be able to succeed if it decides to go inside. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #8 Saint Joseph’s 78, #9 Cincinnati 76

Posted by Kenny Ocker on March 18th, 2016

Kenny Ocker is an RTC columnist and correspondent. He is covering the Spokane pods of the South and West regionals this week.

Three Key Takeaways.

DeAndre Bembry was phenomenal on Friday night. (Photo: USAT)

DeAndre Bembry was phenomenal on Friday night. (Photo: USAT)

  1. DeAndre Bembry is phenomenal: The 6’6″ junior wing for Saint Joseph’s has an NBA future, and it’s obvious why. Scoring 20 first-half points against one of the country’s best defenses is no joke. And after being held to three points for most of the second half – and with his Hawks down 71-68 – he hit a floater, set up a three-pointer with a skip pass, grabbed a pair of defensive rebounds and led a 7-0 run to put the game back in Saint Joseph’s control. And the game-winning three-pointer from Isaiah Miles? That was from a Bembry setup, too. The SJU star finished with 23 points, six rebounds, five assists, three steals, two blocks and nearly a full 40 minutes played.
  2. Coreontae DeBerry had the half of his life, and so did Jacob Evans: Cincinnati’s backup senior center topped his career high with 14 points…in the first half. Then Evans, the Bearcats’ freshman wing, poured in 17 second-half points, which included a personal 8-0 stretch at one point. DeBerry finished with 18 points on 6-for-6 shooting and had a career-high-tying four blocks, while Evans had career highs with 26 points and nine rebounds.
  3. Sunday should be fun: Watching Oregon attempt to defend Bembry should be entertaining. His combination of length and savvy would test any team, and it seems like the Ducks could be particularly vulnerable to his game. The Hawks’ refusal to give up free throws will also take away easy scoring opportunities for the Ducks. But Oregon’s length – and shot-blocking ability – is not something that’s easy to prepare for in a situation with less than a 48-hour turnaround.

Star of the Game: DeAndre Bembry. Not only did he have a fantastic day on the stat sheet, but he came up big in the game’s biggest moments. One of the nation’s most under-appreciated stars.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Oregon 91, #16 Holy Cross 52

Posted by Kenny Ocker on March 18th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregionKenny Ocker is covering the Spokane pods of the South and West regionals this week.

Three Key Takeaways.

Oregon Methodically Took Care of Business Today (USA Today Images)

Oregon Methodically Took Care of Business Today (USA Today Images)

  1. Oregon didn’t embarrass itself, and nobody got hurt: All the Ducks needed to do was win comfortably, have nobody get hurt and try not to tax their key players before Sunday’s second-round game against the winner of Saint Joseph’s and Cincinnati. Mission accomplished. There’s not much else that can be taken from a game against what is Oregon’s second-worst opponent of the season, according to KenPom.com.
  2. Chris Boucher is a unicorn: The Ducks’ 6’11” stringbean of a center does three things, and he does them all phenomenally. He blocks a ton of shots. He takes a lot of threes. And he finishes off spectacular alley-oops. The reigning junior college player of the year has transformed Oregon into a difficult team to attack offensively and just as much of a challenge to defend. He’s freakishly long and quick and can jump as high as anyone in college basketball. His combination of skills was on full display Friday, as Holy Cross had nobody capable of containing him. Boucher’s final stat line: 20 points on 8-12 shooting, one three-pointer, five rebounds.
  3. Bill Carmody finally got a team in purple into the NCAA Tournament: After a long, sometimes-cursed tenure at Northwestern that never saw the Wildcats experience March Madness, Carmody coaxed a struggling Holy Cross team to four consecutive road wins in the Patriot League Tournament, then won a First Four nail-biter against Southern to earn a red-eye flight to Spokane. There’s only one Crusader senior who plays major minutes — swingman/glue guy Eric Green — whose spot in the starting lineup will likely be filled next year by supersub Robert Champion. Once the Crusaders switched to their 1-3-1 zone defense, they saw significantly better results. It wouldn’t be totally surprising to see them back in the bracket next year.

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Preseason Unranked to Ranked: These Teams Underperform in the NCAAs

Posted by William Ezekowitz on March 16th, 2016

Preseason rankings. Irrelevant in professional sports, but weirdly important in college basketball. I have shown in the past that rankings released before a single game has been played overvalue previous year’s NCAA Tournament success, so they clearly aren’t perfect. The odd wrinkle is that they also are just as predictive as pre-tournament rankings in determining who will make the Final Four. Given that the First Round starts tomorrow, I decided to look more closely into just how important preseason rankings are by looking at whether teams that outperform their preseason expectations regress in the NCAA Tournament. To do this, I reviewed all of the teams since 2007 that were unranked in the preseason and were ranked in the polls just before the NCAA Tournament (i.e., teams that performed better than expected during the regular season). In order to gauge how a team should do in the Big Dance, I borrowed Neil Payne’s win expectation chart by seed listed in this very interesting article. I then tested whether the teams that fit my definition for outperforming expectations did better or worse relative to win expectations than the rest of the field.

Ron Morris Was Certainly On To Something

Kemba Walker and UConn were one of the few programs to buck statistical trends. (Getty)

Here are the results.

# of Teams Expected Wins Actual Wins
Over-Performers 90 125.7 98
Everyone else 344 425 461

 

The tested group of over-performers did in fact do worse in the NCAA Tournament than everyone else, and the difference is statistically significant. It should also be noted that an examination of the converse group — preseason ranked teams finishing the regular season unranked — produced no difference between win expectation by seed and actual wins. For some frame of reference, there are seven teams this year that have gone from unranked in the preseason to ranked now. That group is listed below. Read the rest of this entry »

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Bracket Prep: West Region

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 14th, 2016

bracketprep22

On Monday and Tuesday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: Monday (East and West); Tuesday (South and Midwest). Here, Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) breaks down the West Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC West Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCwestregion).

Region: West

Courtesy of SI.com

Courtesy of SI.com

Favorite: Oregon, #1, 28-6. Maybe there are college basketball fans back east that go to sleep early and haven’t seen the Ducks this season. And maybe some fans out west have chosen to ignore the Pac-12 Network. Because there are some people who are surprised that the Ducks are a #1 seed. But news for the uninformed: Oregon is really, really good. KenPom ranks Oregon as the fifth-most efficient offensive team in college basketball. It’s a squad built around a seven-man rotation that is dedicated to truly positionless basketball. Everybody on the team can handle and pass; just about everyone can take their defender off the bounce; most are capable of knocking in jumpers at a high rate. But where the Ducks have morphed from a good team into a great one is on the defensive end. With two elite shot-blockers in Chris Boucher and Jordan Bell anchoring the back line, quick and aggressive athletes swarming the perimeter and offering help defense, and a savvy defensive tactician on the sideline in Dana Altman, Oregon is capable of taking away a team’s best options, forcing turnovers (on better than 20 percent of opponents’ offensive possessions) and converting easy (and often spectacular) transition opportunities. There are without a doubt teams in this region that can beat Oregon, but the Ducks should be favored in every game between now and Houston.

These Ducks Are Strong (John Locher, AP)

These Ducks Are Strong. (John Locher, AP)

Should They Falter: Oklahoma, #2, 31-3. If your team has a National Player of the Year candidate like Buddy Hield, shoots 42.6 percent (second in the nation) from three-point range, plays solid defense and also has one of the nation’s best coaches in Lon Kruger, it has a chance to go very far in this NCAA Tournament. After starting the season 15-1 (with the only loss a triple-overtime epic to Kansas), the Sooners have cooled by going 10-6 down the stretch against strong Big 12 competition. But when things are going good for Oklahoma (and they are often going good), the Sooners can play with any team in the country. Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard are the flashy names, but big men Kadeem Lattin and Ryan Spangler do the dirty work that can help win tight games in March.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Pac-12

Posted by Adam Butler on March 14th, 2016

Your favorite Pac-12 school is seeded right about where it should be. The Conference of Champions got what it deserved, which was thorough representation in the NCAA Tournament, decent regionalization, and Sir Charles’ annual homerism. Consider that seven bids is historic for this conference and there really isn’t much to be bugged about here. That’s an accomplishment. Consider further that the torchbearer is neither Arizona nor (definitively) UCLA and it’s a considerable accomplishment. Helluva 2016, Pac. But it’s not over yet (I unfortunately don’t think we’re very far from the end, however) and we’ve got a bracket to digest. Let’s walk through the Pac’s seeding and tourney prospects:

#1 Oregon, West Region: Don’t let Dana Altman’s ho-hum personality and deflection of his team’s success fool you: The guy knows what he’s doing. On multiple occasions to this point he’s noted that he hasn’t been in this #1 seed scenario before. You know what he has been to? The NCAA Tournament. He’s also done some winning in it, and while this is the highest seed he’s ever attained, he has a basketball team with a fantastic draw. And it’s not the matchups that matter as much when you see the way Oregon is playing right now. Any of Elgin Cook (won it), Dillon Brooks, or Tyler Dorsey could have been awarded the Pac-12 tournament MOP and you would have agreed. The scoring threat of Dorsey is probably what sets them apart as we head into the most guard-critical time of the season. If forced to look at their possible matchups, however, do you expect a fast paced Saint Joseph’s to make the Ducks uncomfortable? Conversely – and naturally, because this is the NCAA Tournament – Cincinnati offers the stark contrast in style: slower and great defensively. I’d ask how that worked out for Utah. More broadly than the first weekend, Oregon and Baylor remains a fun matchup and any possible NCAA opportunity to play/beat Duke is welcomed (something Oregon would be very poised to do). Ultimately I think Oklahoma offers the greatest threat to eliminating the Ducks. Oregon finished ninth in 3FG% defense in the Pac and ranks 264th nationally. The Sooners? Making a casual 43 percent of its threes on the season. Of course both teams would have to get there for any shots to be taken and it is worth noting that the Ducks have the lowest KenPom rating of any of the top seeds and three of the twos.

Dillon Brooks and the Ducks are heading to the NCAA Tournament as a #1 seed. (Photo: Cole Elsasser/Emerald)

Dillon Brooks and the Ducks are heading to the NCAA Tournament as a #1 seed. (Photo: Cole Elsasser/Emerald)

#3 Utah, Midwest Region: I like this draw for Utah. Their first weekend pod seems to be rightfully challenging but by no means insurmountable (they are the #3 seed afterall). Fresno State is a nice story but it should prove to be a relatively easy First Round opponent. They rate 105th in KenPom and Utah has lost just two KenPom 100+ games the last two seasons. I’ll take the Utes. Of course looming large here is Michigan State. They’re really good and will be in my Final Four. So let’s back up to a possible Utah-Gonzaga game. This would be a really nice matchup, again, for the Utes. Beyond the fact that Gonzaga just isn’t that great this year, I  like the number of long bodies they can throw at Kyle Wiltjer and  think Sabonis-Poeltl would be fantastic foreign-born TV. Utah would ultimately have the advantage at the guard spot where the Zags really, really struggle. And yes, I’ll admit that I’ve completely dismissed Seton Hall which is very irresponsible considering they’ve beaten Xavier twice and Villanova once in the last three weeks. Utah, one could argue, has struggled with scoring guards (see: Trier, Allonzo; Dorsey, Tyler; Jacobs, Julian) of which Seton Hall has one of the best in Isaiah Whitehead.

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Best and Worst Case Scenarios For the Pac-12’s Top Four

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 13th, 2016

If you’re a Pac-12 fan feeling nervous about Selection Sunday, here are two words of advice: don’t fret! We’re here to tell you that everything is going to work out: Seven conference teams (Oregon, Utah, California, Arizona, Colorado, USC and Oregon State) will get invitations to the Big Dance. Those first four will likely be placed among the top six seed lines, while the last three should be assigned to tougher sledding somewhere in the #7-#11 range. Washington fans? Sorry, but hopefully you’ll be able to enjoy a home NIT game. Colorado, USC, Oregon State: Be happy that you’re dancing and your teams should believe they can at least win that opener, but anything beyond that will be pure gravy. Those first four teams (Oregon, Utah, California, Arizona), however, should have higher expectations. While there are plenty of fans all over the country with unreasonably lofty hopes at this time of year, none of those four teams are insane to think about a Final Four appearance so long as everything breaks just right. What is “everything” for this quartet? And what are the scenarios that could trip them up prematurely? Let’s dig into best and worst case scenarios for each of the Pac-12’s top four teams.

Oregon

The Ducks Are The Pac-12's Most Final Four-Ready Team (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

The Ducks Are The Pac-12’s Most Final Four-Ready Team (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

Final Four Team If: Hey, getting to the Final Four is a ridiculously difficult task (just ask Arizona fans about Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker) even if you have a once-in-a-generation team like these Ducks have. But Oregon is the perfect example of modern-day position-less basketball. In a seven-man rotation, they havve one true point guard type, one true big-man type, then five versatile guys who are just, you know, basketball players. They can guard almost any position, share the ball, hit jumpers, and attack the rim off the bounce. They’re also so well coached that if an opponent has a defensive weakness, you can bet the Ducks will exploit it. Offensively, they’re elite. Defensively, they’re just now rounding into a form that belies their season-long numbers. The sky is the limit here. Read the rest of this entry »

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