When No. 1 Oregon fell to No. 2 Oklahoma in the West region of the 2016 Elite Eight, the Ducks began to prepare for their next run. Well, next year is here and of course, not everything went according to plan.
Let’s just get it out of the way right now, Chris Boucher can’t help this team physically. We can never underestimate how important he was to this team. And yet, he is still there for his teammates emotionally.
“Whatever he sees that the coaches don’t, he helps us with,” said Tyler Dorsey in reference to his teammate. “He comes into the huddle individually and gives us those tips. He's been a great teammate. I know it’s hurting him. He wants to be out there with us, but we’re definitely going to do this for him. He's a great teammate off the court.”
Somehow Oregon has won three straight games in the 2017 NCAA Tournament without him. It was terrible how everyone dismissed the Ducks after their loss, but nothing compared to what the Boucher family is going through currently.
He was the unquestioned leader of this talented bunch, but the Ducks are playing for him during their postseason run.
“I just feel so bad for Chris,” said head coach Dana Altman. “I just don’t know what to say. He’s probably our most popular player. He’s been a pleasure to coach the last two years.”
Just having CB on the bench is a boost to his teammates.
Covering this team on an intimate basis, I can not help but admire their character. These are good guys, not just great talents. They play for one another, unselfishly throwing away individual glory for team goals. There is nobody more deserving of a long March run than this Oregon squad.
Here is what every title contender needs to make that 6-game tournament run:
Six of Oregon’s top eight players are upperclassmen. The lone youthful contributors are sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey and true freshman point guard Payton Pritchard.
Dylan Ennis is a sixth-year senior after stops at Rice University and Villanova. He is an unquestioned leader. Ennis can run the point, shooting guard or small forward position with ease. Ennis has the ability to get to the rim and draw fouls at any time. Erase his two missed free throws against Michigan. That was an aberration.
Although the Ducks’ depth has been cut down by one, they still boast a solid 7-man rotation that can be pushed to eight with Keith Smith lately. Kavell Bigby-Williams and Casey Benson will be invaluable down the stretch. Both juniors have made an impact already.
Bigby-Williams is the reigning NJCAA Player of the Year. The 6-foot, 11-inch athlete could make a sizable imprint on the Oregon defense against Kansas. His minutes have been rising, minus the Michigan contest. KBW recorded six boards, three points and two blocked shots against Arizona’s big front in the Pac-12 Tournament finale.
Benson was a starter for every game last season. He doesn’t make mistakes and adds insurance to the guard unit. You can also count on him for the occasional offensive barrage. Benson shot 41 percent from downtown this season.
It’s tricky, but thankfully Jordan Bell is here to calm your nerves. The 2017 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year is coming off an incredible junior campaign. His NBA stock is rising after his 3-game tournament run, but he is only worried about one thing.
“I think we can really win this thing,” Bell said.
The Pac-12 All-Defensive Team selection averaged 10.7 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.3 SPG and 2.1 BPG in 2016-17. He amassed 16 points and 13 rebounds in Oregon’s thrilling win against No. 7 Michigan, 69-68.
The aforementioned Bigby-Williams will play a pivotal role for the Ducks. If Altman can trust him with more minutes, UO may be rewarded heavily. He has a limited offensive skill-set, but can provide easy buckets with his athleticism.
UO has them in spades. Every guard on the roster now has experience in the NCAA Tournament. The true freshman has started every game at point guard this season. Not to mention, the lone Oregonian on the roster won four state titles in high school at West Linn. He has not been phased by the moment.
Dorsey and Ennis play brilliantly next to one another and understand where everyone is on the floor. Dorsey and Benson were integral pieces of Oregon’s Elite Eight run last year, but are seeking more in 2016-17.
The LA kid and Pritchard will be the straws that stir the collective drink for Oregon. Dorsey has six straight games with 20 points or more. He has been carrying the offensive load as of late. Any offensive production from Pritchard is a bonus to the Ducks with the elevation of his defensive intensity.
Dillon Brooks, enough said. Do we really need to give you the resume of this man? He is the most polarizing player in college basketball aside from Grayson “Trip” Allen. Brooks LOVES that people hate him, it drives him daily.
“I’m just so locked in,” Brooks said calmly. “It starts with me and trickles down to everyone else. If I’m locked in and ready to play every day and every time at practice, it’s follow the leader. Guys are getting ready every day. The main thing is to win the National Championship.”
The Pac-12 Player of the Year and 2nd Team All-American is coming off a 12-point performance where he shot 5-for-13 from the floor. DB is taking this tournament personally. You can feel a gigantic night on the horizon.
With one loss on a horrible Saturday, the Ducks were dropped from committee approval into the Midwest region. The No. 2 seed Arizona had the easiest road to a Final Four appearance, but tripped on Cinderella’s glass slipper against No. 11 Xavier.
This has NOT gone unnoticed by Brooks. And for someone who actively searches for motivation, he is on a mission to win six straight games to conclude his junior year in college.
Altman has led his respective teams to 20 straight winning seasons. Not to mention, he helped guide Oregon to the tournament in five straight years, a program first. The Ducks are one of five teams to win at least one tournament game in each of the last five seasons. Oregon secured its sixth Pac-12 regular season crown with their sterling 32-5 record, 16-2 in conference.
The head man has been tested this March like never before. He literally had five days to completely reshape his defense after “the injury” to Boucher. Yet, he did it.
“Without that rim protector, we gave up more points inside to Arizona than we have in a long time,” said Atlman. “We’re going to change things up a bit defensively. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
If anyone can do this, it is Altman. Most teams would pack it in and start looking ahead to next season after the CB loss. However, that is not how Dana Altman was raised in Nebraska.
These are the moments that can change a program forever. In a matter of hours, the head coach will have an opportunity to make history for the green and yellow.
Ready or not, here we go. The stage is set for the No. 3 Oregon Ducks (32-5) vs the No. 1 seed of the Midwest region in the form of the Kansas Jayhawks (31-4). The winner of the regional semifinal will advance to the 2017 Final Four in Phoenix.
The Elite Eight showdown will tip at 5:49 p.m. PT from the Sprint Center in Kansas City. The “KU home game” will be televised on TBS.