KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Just hours from the tip between No. 1 Kansas and No. 3 Oregon in the Midwest Regional Final and we can't help but notice the star power. This game will showcase next-level talent like Josh Jackson, Frank Mason III, Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey just to name a few. Yet, Jordan Bell will be the difference maker in the 2017 Elite Eight showdown.
The Long Beach native took off in Oregon’s victory against Michigan. Outside of Pac-12 circles, if you didn't know Bell before the Sweet 16, you know him now.
I was shocked how many Michigan people contacted me after the game saying they had no idea Bell was that good. I simply asked them if they watched the Ducks at all the last three years? He is better than good.
His 16 points, 13 rebounds, one assist, one steal and a blocked shot led the Ducks past Michigan by a single point. But, it was his two key offensive rebounds that buoyed the victory.
“I think we can really win this thing,” Bell said.
Besides the fact that he was the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and on the Pac-12 All-Defensive Team, everyone outside of Oregon thought this team was dead after the loss of Chris Boucher. It has been quite the contrary.
Midway through this current season, I believed Oregon was the best overall team in the nation. After CB’s catastrophic injury, I still believed the Ducks were a Top 5 team.
After witnessing an undersized Villanova team stampede to the national title last year, I couldn't help but notice the similarities between this UO team and that Nova squad. The reason everything is working to plan, minus Boucher, is due to Bell’s presence on the floor.
People forget, not Duck fans, but Jordan Bell is the all-time leading shot-blocker in Oregon basketball history. His 221 career rejections has him atop the Duck ranks by a nice margin over the next best, Boucher (189). His record will stand for quite some time.
Kansas and Oregon feature 4-guard starting line-ups. Bell will be one-on-one with Landen Lucas in the post all night. He should have his way with the Portland native, who is more of an offensive threat.
The stars that will be on the court Saturday night will be mesmerizing. Just don’t envision Bell being phased by any of them. He will look to steal some of their spotlight.
This season, Bell is averaging 10.9 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.3 SPG and 2.0 BPG in 37 games played. The 6-foot-8 beast is shooting an incredible 63 percent from the field and 70 percent from the charity stripe in 28.5 minutes per game.
Since Boucher’s injury, Bell is amassing 14 points per game and 12 boards a night. He has not only stepped up his play, but the big man is making the difference down low.
These two teams are prepared to fill it up, but if anything does clang off the rim Bell will be there to snatch it. Look for him to make a huge impact tonight with 15 rebounds and 13 points, alongside two blocked shots, two dimes and two stolen passes.
If Oregon’s shooters keep the game close, Bell can dictate the tempo. Purdue’s All-American Caleb Swanigan was swallowed whole by the Jayhawks. Regardless of his 18 points, his team lost by 32 points and couldn't keep up. He made no difference whatsoever.
Fortunately, Oregon has more weapons than Purdue, but that won't make much difference if Kansas is allowed second-chance opportunities. That is when they don’t lose. And that is why Bell is my difference maker. He will not allow Kansas more than one opportunity per possession. He may even try to “reject” some outright.
There is not much you can do if KU is hitting on all cylinders. It all starts with their guards and trickles down. Just don’t forget, Bell is the only big man in this tournament who can guard an opponents center or their starting point guard (Michigan’s Derrick Walton Jr.). JB is the most limitless defender in college basketball. We’ll see if defense does indeed win championships.
The stage is set for the No. 3 Oregon Ducks (32-5) vs the No. 1 seed 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.