As I sit on the eve of the biggest basketball game to date of the Dana Altman era I am left to ponder what makes Oregon's deep tournament run so sweet. I think instantly of the players who have followed coach Dana Altman from the beginning of his tenure with the Ducks, players such as EJ Singler, Johnathan Loyd and Tony Woods. Before the season started, these three players had a combined 1 game of tournament experience between them. After knocking off favored Oklahoma State and Saint Louis, Oregon must face down the most challenging team in the tournament and #1 overall seed, Louisville Cardinals. The Ducks have defied the odds to this point in the tournament being one of the lower seeds remaining in the Sweet 16. So what makes me think that Oregon can continue their improbable run and topple the vaunted Cardinals? Defense, Rebounding and Speed.
Having watched Louisville this year, I learned that their tendencies to press lie typically after a made basket. I feel that if Oregon, one of the better defensive teams in the Pac-12, can limit Louisville to one shot and defend the ball well, they can prevent the Cardinals from getting into their high pressure defense and get the ball up the court and into their offense. Stopping Louisville is and should be the first thing Oregon concerns themselves with, trying to combat UL.
Oregon is also the best rebounding team in the conference, anchored by Arsalan Kazemi. Kazemi has posted 17 and 16 rebound performances in the first two games of the tournament and has been a stalwart on not only the defensive but offensive glass. Oregon has been shooting the ball well from the field, which has shown to be abnormal for this young team. Odds are, the Ducks will not remain on their torrid shooting pace, and if they don't against a stifling Cardinal defense, they may have to rely on offensive rebounding and second chance points. If Kazemi and fellow Senior EJ Singler can continue to rebound the ball on the offensive end of the floor, they can clean up the mess and keep Oregon in the game. It's also unlikely that EJ is going to have another 8 turnover performance, like he did against SLU.
So this leads to the third factor which could aid the Ducks against the Cardinals, their overall team speed. Louisville is going to score, when they score they score in bunches, and when they score in bunches they put their opponents into the vice of their full court press. Johnathan Loyd has stated that Louisville may have the best press in the country and coincidentally he may be the key to beating the press. Loyd is one of the quickest players in the Pac-12 and since the injury to Dominic Artis, Loyd has had to pick up the slack coming into his own as a leader and ball handler.
The Ducks are tasked with facing one of the hottest and most dangerous teams in the NCAA and will have to play a near perfect game, but if they execute these three tasks, it's possible that Oregon could stay in the game. It's March Madness and anything can happen. Oregon will have to get a few breaks against the Cards, but a win and trip to the Elite 8 is not out of the question.