USA TODAY Sports Images
Oregon basketball is having a prolific season, but still shows plenty of flaws. With March Madness approaching, is this team a true contender? Tako debates with the only person smart enough to keep up. Himself.
I just don't buy the hype.
Sure, Oregon sits at 21-5. Barring a monumental collapse, the Ducks will be headed to their first NCAA tournament since 2008. But is this team really worthy of a national ranking and a high tournament seed, or are they simply a product of a weak conference and some bigtime luck?
You're an idiot. Of course Oregon is a legit tournament team, especially this year, a wide-open national race where anybody in the top 20 can make a deep run. And the Pac-12 isn't weak; it's certainly inconsistent, but Arizona is an elite team, and teams like Cal, Colorado, and Arizona State are surging to the top of the conference. I'd wager that half the conference could win an NCAA tournament game this year, if given the opportunity.
How many conference wins do the Ducks have this year? 10. How many of those wins ended with Oregon up 10 or more? Only two. Being fortunate in close games is a great thing, but it isn't a formula for postseason success. If form holds, the Ducks will end up somewhere in the 5-7 seed range. They'll be a trendy pick to be upset, what with the way the can't close out a game.
You're just remembering the last seven games, after Dominic Artis went down. The Artis-less Ducks have won four of seven on grit and, yes, a bit of luck. But with Artis running the show, Oregon is a team that is better set up to spread the floor and work inside-out. They're a more stable team, with guys better knowing their role. And with another backcourt threat, it opens up the middle for our outstanding offensive rebounders. At their best, and with Dominic Artis, the Ducks could make the second weekend of the Big Dance, and threaten for a run to the Final Four.
THE FINAL FOUR?! Really? A team that needed overtime to beat Washington State? A team that averaged 51 points per game during their three-game losing streak? A team averaging sixteen turnovers a game? That team, and the FInal Four? You crazy.
I'm not crazy. This is a team that controls the glass on both ends of the floor, makes its free throws, makes enough threes to keep a defense honest and open up the middle for its multiple inside threats, and forces opposing offenses to get creative to score. And if anything, all the close games the Ducks have played this year have prepared them for a raucous tournament environment. The teams that win in March are the ones that can weather the storm, and Oregon is that kind of team.
But a tournament team needs so much more than that. Take the 2006-7 Oregon team, the last Duck team to win an NCAA tournament game. That team had multiple guys that could take over a game offensively, and would willingly. They had a proven leader in Aaron Brooks who could both attack and distribute, and could be that guy who could put the team on his back and get a win. I feel like I've spent much of this season waiting for someone to realize their talent and take a game over.
There are guys who can take a game over if needed, but it's for shorter stretches; EJ SIngler did it against WSU, Damyean Dotson did it in the second half against Utah, and the first half against ASU. But this team isn't built like the 2007 team. Dana Altman's system doesn't suit one-dimensional players like Tajuan Porter; he's sought out guys like Carlos Emory or Arsalan Kazemi that have versatility.
The fact of the matter is, right now this team has no on-court leader. Dominic Artis' presence helps build offensive rhythm, but he isn't the guy the rest of the team looks to in the huddle. EJ Singler has the talent and the experience to fill that role, but he's disappeared in numerous games this year, games where his team has needed him: 1-9 vs. ASU, 3-12 vs. washington, a combined 2-12 in the losses to Cincinnati and UTEP. And I'm supposed to trust that guy in a win-or-go-home situation? Against UTEP, a game that went into triple overtime, Singler took four shots. Took. Four shots.
Yes, I'm pretty sure you can trust the guy who just became the winningest basketball player in Oregon history. Is EJ SIngler the same player as Aaron Brooks? Of course not. Brooks was the rightful Pac-12 player of the year in 2007 (Arran Afflalo? Really? That's worse than The English Patient over Saving Private Ryan). And this team doesn't need Singler to take the ball and go score. This year's Ducks are at their best when points are coming from all over, like the win over Arizona, where no player scored more than 14, but four players scored in double figures. This team isn't dangerous because they have one guy that can beat you; they're dangerous because they have five guys working cohesively together to wear you down.
I just can't buy that a team averaging sixteen turnovers per game can be called "cohesive".
If the struggles with rhythm continue once Artis comes back into his pre-injury rotation, then it will be time to worry. Until then, let's remember that this team is easily a Top 25 talent, and this year's postseason is wide open. If luck holds, this is a "second weekend" program.