Oregon's men's basketball team has done exactly what it needed to do the past two weeks, winning three straight home games against the best of the Northwest. Their record stands at 18-8, and 6-8 in the Pac-12, with four games remaining before the Pac-12 tournament. If Oregon were to make it all the way to the Pac-12 tournament title game, that's eight more games remaining on the schedule before the NCAA tournament.
Oregon needs five wins. More would be nice, and winning those last four would obviously remove any doubt, but it'll take five wins in the next 5-8 games to get Oregon an at-large bid into the Big Dance.
Oregon has two priorities with their remaining schedule. First, they can't afford any bad losses this close to Selection Sunday; fortunately, Oregon only has 1-2 of those games remaining. And Oregon needs a signature win, and probably a couple other quality wins. The wins over Georgetown and BYU are a lifetime ago, and Oregon has come up short in virtually every big conference game in 2014. Oregon needs a win they can point to and say, "here's why we deserve a shot."
Let's look, one by one, at the remaining slate:
@UCLA, Thursday Feb. 27 - The Bruins were one of the hottest teams in the country until their loss Sunday to Stanford. Oregon played UCLA tough, hanging with the Bruins for 39:55 before losing on Travis Wear's bucket with five seconds left, but the Bruin's only loss at Pauley Pavilion this season was to a then-undefeated Arizona. This would be a signature win if the Ducks can get it, and it won't hurt too much if Oregon ends up losing close.
@USC, Saturday March 1st - Simply put, Oregon can not lose this game, especially if they can't beat UCLA. The Trojans have lost eight straight, and 13 of 14, and are a big giant mess on both sides of the ball. Even on the road, this is a game any team worthy of tournament inclusion should win 9.5 out of 10 times.
Arizona State, Tuesday March 4th - The Ducks really need this win, and it's a win they can get. If Arizona State has a weak spot, it's playing on the road. The Sun Devils are just 2-5 away from the Wells Fargo Center in conference play, including three losses by 15+ points. Oregon very nearly stole a game they had no business winning from ASU three weeks ago. Whether Oregon can take care of business in their own home could be the difference in the season.
Arizona, Saturday March 8th - An important game, both for the resume (would be the biggest win of the year, would provide some measure of redemption for pissing the game away in Tucson, and could potentially get the Ducks to a .500 or better conference record), and for the momentum and direction of the team headed into postseason play. Scoring the upset could be the catalyst for March success; a blowout loss would be tough to rebound from with tournament berths on the line.
Four games, all with different challenges. A 2-2 record isn't asking too much, especially given Arizona State's road struggles, but beating either UCLA or Arizona would be a big boost to Oregon's NCAA resume. To beat both, finishing the Pac-12 season at 10-8 and on a seven-game winning streak? Now you're talkin' my language. Here are the scenarios going into the Pac-12 tournament.
0-4 finish, 18-12 (6-12) final record - Get out. Just, get out now. Sure, winning the tournament gets Oregon in, but if they clunk a finish like that there's no chance in hell they immediately turn in around and rattle off four wins in four days.
1-3 record, 19-11 (7-11) final record - Pretty disappointing, considering the Ducks probably just got swept by the Arizona schools at home to end the regular season. Win the tournament, cuz that's the only path to the Dance.
2-2 record, 20-10 (8-10) final record - The most likely scenario, I think. A win over the hapless Trojans, and a win over one other team left, probably Arizona State. In this scenario at-large hopes are still alive, but the Ducks would need a long and good-looking run in Las Vegas to make it to the NCAA tournament. A run to the championship game would get those five wins I talked about, with at least one win (and probably two) coming over an opponent in the top 4 of the conference. Even with a loss in the title game, a 23-11 resume with a strong finish should look appealing to the selection committee.
3-1 record, 21-9 (9-9) final record - This finish means the Ducks have picked up at least one big win over UCLA or Arizona, gotten to a .500 conference record, and finished the conference season by winning six of their last seven. Two wins in the tournament, one over a top-4 opponent, should add to the credentials of a team that looks to have recaptured their early-season magic.
4-0 record, 22-8 (10-8) final record - That looks like the record of a tournament team, doesn't it? Oregon has no shot at ending up in the top 4 of the Pac-12 and earning a bye, so they'd still have to take care of business in an opening-round game against an inferior opponent, but a team boasting a late-season eight game winning streak is just the kind of team the selection committee likes to include. This team is in, even with a second-round Pac-12 tournament loss.
Five wins or more, getting Oregon to at least 23 wins, feels like that should be enough. Granted, the selection committee is weird sometimes; last year's 26-8 team ended up with a 12 seed, while the 2008 Ducks ended up with an 8 seed as an 18-13 team. The foolproof way to get into the tournament? Win everything. But if Oregon can avoid the bad losses, and pick up a couple quality wins, they may just find themselves in the field of sixty-whatever.