With seven games left in the regular season, The Oregon men's basketball team is 20-5 and essentially tied for first place in the Pac-12 Conference with a 9-3 record. (Sometimes) Featuring a balanced scoring attack and high energy defense, the Ducks have a great chance of making the NCAA tournament for the first time since the 2008-09 season.
Unfortunately for the Ducks, freshman point guard Dominic Artis is out indefinitely with an injured foot, Damyean Dotson has been battling the freshman wall, and stalwart forward E.J. Singler hasn't been himself the past month. All necessary ingredients for a big bowl of panic.
The following is one man's attempt at forecasting Oregon's last six games. With three at home and three on the road, 4-2 is a reasonable expectation and imperative to maintaining a good seed in the NCAA tournament. Anything less puts them in danger of a bad draw and a cross-country trip in the first round.
2/16/13: @ Washington State:
After winning Wednesday night, this is a must win game for the Ducks, albeit for completely different reasons. Beat Washington, and it's a chance for a road sweep that could define the Pac-12 race. Lose in Seattle, and a Pullman victory is necessary to stay afloat in the chase for a conference title. Oregon was able to take care of this scenario against Utah, and the team has too many senior leaders to completely fall apart.
Look for Singler to have a huge bounce back game and a 10-15 point win either way. Washington State is reeling and simply has no answer for the size the Ducks can throw at them. Short of cloning Brock Motum, it's not gonna happen for the Cougars. At least they get to activate Brett Kingma pretty soon. That's a positive, right?
Prediction: Oregon 76 WSU 62
The good news is this is a home game, and the Ducks have been damn near unstoppable at home. The bad news is that Cal has Allen Crabbe and Oregon doesn't. His 31 point performance against Arizona last weekend was arguably the best of the conference season by any player and served to prove that when they play their best, Cal can beat anyone in the Pac-12. Sound familiar?
If Oregon's going to win this game they need Artis back and someone to step up and be able to match Crabbe's offensive ability. Not necessarily a 30 point game, but someone Altman can give the ball to with confidence at the end of a game.
Whether it's Dotson, Singler, Emory, or Artis (I think he's back for this game) isn't important, but Oregon's lack of an offensive threat at the end of games has haunted them the past few weeks, and it's not going away on its own. It could even be Johnathan Loyd, if he's still standing next week.
Prediction: Cal 66 Oregon 64.
When the Ducks played Stanford in Palo Alto, the Cardinal shot nearly 52% from the floor and over 57% from beyond the arc. Not only that, Oregon shot 34% from the floor and a ghastly 57% from the free throw line. Neither team will play that well or poorly this time around.
Stanford has gotten hot over the same time period the Ducks have cooled off, and is just around the corner from legitimate NCAA tournament consideration. They have USC and UCLA at home this week and should come out with at least a split against the Los Angeles duo. Led by Dwight Powell and Chasson Randle, Oregon will need a big game from senior Arsalan Kazemi to come out on top.
Frankly, Oregon's going to need big games from Kazemi to win most of their remaining games. Both Altman and Singler credit Kazemi – normally a quiet individual – being vocal with the team at halftime of the Utah game for propelling them to victory. When Kazemi asserts himself on the offensive end as well as on defense, he's often the best player on the floor.
Prediction: Oregon 63 Stanford 57
2/28/13: Oregon State
It's the last home game of the season, meaning four seniors will play their final game in Eugene against the rival Beavers. If it's possible to explode from too much motivation, it's a safe bet we'll see it during this game.
Oregon State has managed to underwhelm this season even with mediocre aspirations to begin with. Their early season struggles could be attributed to the suspension of forward Eric Moreland, but he's been back for awhile now and they're still in the cellar of the Pac-12 standings.
The Ducks used a powerful second half surge in Corvallis to subdue the pesky Beavers, but it's unlikely they'll need that the second time around. It's not Oregon State's offense that's been the issue, it's the defense. The aggressive, pressing scheme that Craig Robinson employs hasn't been nearly as successful as in previous years.
The Beavers rank in the top 50 in points, rebounds, and assists per game, but only have two conference wins. Hard to see them getting one here.
Prediction: Oregon 83 Oregon State 70
3/7/13: @ Colorado
The game between these two teams in Eugene was defined by rebounding and second chance opportunities. Oregon had 14 offensive rebounds to Colorado's nine, but only eight second chance points compared to 17 for the Buffaloes, none more painful than Andre Roberson's basket with 23 seconds remaining.
Assuming Artis is back at this point, Oregon should have a much easier time spreading the floor and creating open shots against the length that Colorado presents on defense. The Ducks have obviously had a hard time finding open shots without Artis on the floor and haven't been able to knock down many of the ones they've had.
It will be imperative for Oregon to not only maintain their edge on the glass, but convert those second chance points. Even one extra basket would have been enough against the Buffs last time, and while I expect a much more efficient Oregon offense, it is extremely hard to win in Boulder. I expect Colorado to be squarely on the NCAA bubble at this point and the Buffaloes to come out with a crucial win.
Prediction: Colorado 79 Oregon 71
3/9/13: @ Utah
The result of this game really hinges on what Oregon's playing for at this point, in my opinion. If they're playing for at least a share of the conference title, I can't see the seniors letting it slip away. If they skid into the final weekend and are locked into the four seed in the Pac-12 tournament, Utah may smell blood in the water.
The Utes were able to play a competitive game in Eugene because of two things: Oregon's offensive ineptitude and the generous line between a foul and physical, legal contact given by the officials (seriously, how bad has the officiating been this season in the Pac-12. Worse than normal, and normal sucks). Assuming the Ducks can hit a three and capitalize on what should be another dominating rebounding advantage, I don't think they'll slip up in Salt Lake City.
Prediction: Oregon 84 Utah 66