Before this basketball season started, the program seemed to be in shambles. Only a few players remained from last year's roster, and it seemed as if the season was doomed before it even started. The Ducks will likely finish the season with at least 20 wins. Before this season started, I wouldn't have been surprised if they had lost 20 games. But somehow, Dana Altman found a way to work with what he had to get the Ducks to this point.
Now, with just five games left before the Pac-12 tournament, the Ducks find themselves in a tie for second place in the conference with UCLA. Oregon was picked to finish eighth in the preseason conference poll. Currently, ESPN's Joe Lunardi has the Ducks in his "Last Four Out" group, while Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com has Oregon as one of the last four teams in, playing Miami in the first round.
They Ducks have already exceeded expectations this year, but you can bet this team is hungry for more.
Oregon hoops' Joseph Young today: "We're going to the tournament. I just want to get that out right now. We're going to the tournament."— Andrew Greif (@AndrewGreif) February 17, 2015
You read that right. Joseph Young fully believes this team is going dancing this year, something that seemed impossible before the season started. That journey all starts this week with a crucial pair of games to cap off Oregon's home schedule.
First up for the Ducks is a matchup with the Colorado Buffaloes (12-12, 5-7 Pac-12) on Wednesday. Colorado has been a thorn in Oregon's side ever since they joined the Pac-12 back in 2012, winning five of the six games these two schools have played against each other. Oregon's lone win during that stretch came back in 2012 in a 90-81 win at Matthew Knight Arena.
However, after losing Spencer Dinwiddie to the NBA, Colorado has struggled this season. The Buffaloes currently sit in a tie for eighth in the Pac-12 along with Arizona State.
So why is Colorado such a key opponent?
In addition to needing some big wins, the Ducks also can't afford any ugly losses. The Buffaloes have an RPI of 111, second-worst in the Pac-12 behind Washington State (131) and USC (175). The only way they would go to the NCAA tournament would be by locking up the conference's automatic bid with a Pac-12 tournament title. Losing to a team with such a low RPI, at home nonetheless, might just burst Oregon's bubble. That would be classified as an "ugly loss."
The true test will come on Sunday when No. 9 Utah rolls into town. An upset win over the Utes would do wonders for Oregon's RPI (60) and might just help push them into the tournament. Nobody expects Oregon to come out on top in this game, and even going down to the wire with the Utes might be enough for the Ducks, as long as they rebound well enough on their final road trip of the season.
The silver lining is that these games are at home and not on the road. Thanks in large part to the altitude, Colorado and Utah both play remarkably well at home. This season, Utah has yet to lose at home, while 10 of Colorado's 12 wins have come at home. Instead, both schools will have to come through Matthew Knight Arena where the Ducks are 14-2 this year.
Of course, these last five games could become irrelevant if Oregon is able to make a miraculous run in the Pac-12 tournament to secure the automatic bid. But let's be real, nobody is beating Arizona in that tournament. If the Ducks want to go dancing next month, they'll have to treat every game as a must-win from here on out.