The Oregon Ducks eeked out an overtime win in their conference opener against Utah on Thursday. Oregon struggled to find their shot and were saved only by some good defense, earning a Pac-12 road win, which this season will not be an easy task in any arena. And, indeed, the competition only gets more difficult, as the Ducks finish off the mountain road trip in Boulder, a place that has been a house of horrors for Oregon against a team and a coach in Tad Boyle that has owned Oregon since entering the conference. Both of Colorado's losses--to Baylor and Oklahoma State--have come away from the Coors Events Center. At home? The likes Georgia, Harvard, Wyoming, and Kansas have all come calling. All have been turned away in defeat.
Playing Colorado has been a painful experience for Oregon. The Ducks are 1-4 against the Buffaloes since they joined the Pac-12. Three of the four losses have been by a single point. It hasn't mattered where the games have been played--home, away, or neutral floor--the narrative remains the same. Tad Boyle's squad plays such sound defense that Oregon can't find their offense rhythm and get their usual barrage of threes. And in the course of a single possession? When Colorado needs a stop, they get a stop, which explains a 3-0 record against the Ducks in one-point games.
Shooting (40% of winning)
Oregon shoots the ball way, way better than Colorado. Colorado isn't a bad shooting team, at 45%. But they are a bad three point shooting team, sitting a 32% from downtown, for an eFG% of 50.5%. Conversely, Oregon has an eFG% of 56.8%. The Ducks are shooting 50% from the field as a team for the season, and a robust 42% from three. There isn't a major clash in style of play. In fact, Colorado has actually taken 20 more three-point attempts than Oregon this season. Only problem is that they've made 20 less than the Ducks. Oregon wins a game of H-O-R-S-E. Colorado has some guys in Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker that can fill it up on any given night, and given Oregon's history against Colorado, one of them certainly will. But the Ducks have a more diverse and better group of weapons.
Both of these teams can get a little careless with the basketball. The Ducks turn the ball over on 17.1% of their possessions. Colorado does so on 18.3% of theirs. Both team will apply consistent defensive pressure, so taking care of the ball is a must.
Here is an area that should concern Oregon fans. 6'10" Josh Scott averages nearly 10 rebounds a game down low, and the Ducks don't really have anyone that can check him. Waverly Austin, Ben Carter, and Richard Amardi will all be thrown out there in spurts. Oregon gets an offensive rebound on about 34.2% of their missed shots. Colorado is much better, getting O-boards on 36.8% of their misses. Oregon usually outrebounds teams because their guards are great rebounders, but keeping Scott and Xavier Johnson off the offensive boards will be a tall task for the Ducks.
Free Throws (15%)
This is the biggest statistical advantage for Colorado. They are one of the best teams in the country at getting to the line, with a whopping free throw rate of 55.5%, good for 6th nationally. This is primairly due to two players--Josh Scott being an absolute horse in the post, and Dinwiddie's ability to drive and get in the lane. Oregon is pretty good, with a free throw rate of 49.3% (42nd nationally), but that number pales in comparison to what Colorado has done. To have any chance of winning this game, the Ducks have to keep Colorado off the free throw line.
Dinwiddie is Colorado's best talent. He is their best playmaker, best three point shooter (40%), all while being an absolute pest of defense. Booker, the other guard, actually takes more shots, and is way less efficient. He can go on streaks where he hits seven in a row, but the raw numbers don't lie--Booker takes the most threes on the team, and makes them at a 29% clip.
The front line is what really has a chance to cause Oregon problems, and it all starts with Scott. He has replaced Andre Roberson admirably, nearly matching his double double pace. He's also the rare 6'10" post who shoots 80% from the free throw line, so fouling him isn't a wise idea, either. Xavier Johsnon (6'7") and Wesley Gordon (6'9") fill out the starting lineup. Johnson and Gordon are both good for about six boards a game. Offensively, Gordon is more of a low block guy, while Johnson can stretch out all the way to three-point land.
The reality is that the most likely scenario is that Oregon suffers their first loss of the season. Oregon is on the road, at altitude, against a really good team that plays excellent defense, has a big front line, and has been an absolute nightmare for the Ducks in the past. Oregon would have to play an absolute 'A' game to pull this one out. that's why getting that Utah win and guaranteeing a split of the road trip was so important. If you split on the road in conference play, you're golden. However, if Oregon can keep Colorado off the foul line and take care of business on the boards, a 2-0 road trip to start the year sounds much, much nicer.