We’re almost 24 hours from tip between No. 1 North Carolina and No. 3 Oregon in the 2017 Final Four from Glendale, Arizona. Entering the weekend, questions began to arise about Oregon’s undersized starting five vs UNC’s massive front. To counter that, Kavell Bigby-Williams should start on Saturday for the Ducks.
The phrase “starting line-up” is overblown by the media. The starters are simply the first unit a team presents in a game. For a team like Oregon, arguably their most skilled player came off the bench this season in the form of Chris Boucher. The team a coach starts with does not always mean they have to finish with the same unit.
Oregon’s primary weakness this season has been second-chance points. Especially in the second half of the season, the Ducks were allowing far too many second-chance opportunities to their opponents.
Now, I am not saying Bigby-Williams should play 27-30 minutes or anything like that. I am just offering a different view on how to start the game. What better way to throw a wrench into the mindset of Roy Williams and North Carolina?
If anything, inserting KBW into the starting five would match North Carolina’s overwhelming size and length. No longer would UNC’s size be a strict disadvantage for Oregon. Every minute Bigby-Williams can provide will be invaluable to UO’s interior presence in limiting second-chance opportunities.
Altman can even allow KBW to foul out without consequence. As long as someone, besides Oregon’s best players, is recording fouls on UNC easy-bucket opportunities, the Ducks will be in a favorable position entering the final moments of the ballgame.
We have talked about it all week. North Carolina is one of the most challenging teams Oregon will face this season. Not only are they athletic, but they are oversized with four starting forwards. It’s quite the contrary from Oregon’s Elite Eight opponent No. 1 Kansas.
Not to mention, the Tar Heels average height of their starters in 6-foot-6. Kennedy Meeks is 6-foot-10 and the big man that starts it all. He will be seeking to get Oregon in foul trouble early on Saturday night.
“With only having two big guys, pound it inside and get those guys in foul trouble,” said Meeks.
Isaiah Hicks is their 6-foot-9 power forward who would match-up with DB under normal circumstances. Their small forward is 6-foot-8 with a promising NBA career on the horizon.
Even UNC’s shooting guard is 6-foot-6, luckily he doesn’t shoot like the old 6-6 UNC guard that wore the No. 23. Sorry, I had to get a Michael reference in this week.
Regardless, the point guard Joel Berry II is their only player undersized at 6-foot-0. This presents a problems for every team they face.
Williams has built a successful 27-year career around getting the opposition in foul trouble. It’s his philosophy above all else.
“We feel like it's extremely important to get the other team in foul trouble,” said Williams. "The biggest way to get their big guys in foul trouble is to go inside. That's something that's been important for us ever since I started coaching, and I still believe that.”
Oregon can’t afford to go into this game with the same mindset as the Kansas contest. To ignore the facts in front of them would be negligent. I know Dana Altman doesn’t let anything slip by him. And he knows Bigby-Williams is a key to success vs UNC.
“Have to be a part of the equation,” said Altman in reference to KBW.
True freshman starting point guard Payton Pritchard seems to be trapped in an offensive slump. He is averaging seven points per game in four tournament games. At times, he seems apprehensive to shoot when open. It was apparent against Kansas he was going to facilitate more than score.
It’s no big deal for Pritchard, outside of a simple slump. Yet, this is the time of the year when no coach can afford it. Enter the 2015-16 National Junior College Player of the Year.
Imagine inserting him into the line-up. We all know Altman has the caginess to pull off a move like this. For the last seven years, we have watched the Oregon head coach make adjustments on the fly. Changing defensive strategies without hesitation. Switching up his starting five to match-up better with an opponent.
I get it, Bigby-Williams doesn’t have great hands. He doesn’t have the same athleticism or versatility of Chris Boucher. He certainly can’t shoot the ball from deep. Not to mention, this is his first tournament experience. However, for everything KBW can’t do, there are some glaringly obvious talents he does posses.
At 6-foot-11, the London big man would be the tallest player in the Oregon vs North Carolina game, period. He is third on the team in blocked shots (27) behind Bell and Boucher and he is third on the team in altered shots. His presence alone could cause havoc for the ACC’s finest.
The junior is amassing 11.6 minutes per game in his last five games. Not to mention, he is explosive under the rim when he holds onto the basketball. At times, that is a big “if.” However, his size and length would prevent UNC from attacking the paint. Additionally, KBW can take some early fouls away from Oregon’s stars.
“I think all the guys have picked it up a little bit, just knowing that Chris isn't there,” Altman said. “But we will have our work cut out for us on Saturday. North Carolina is probably the best rebounding team that we faced all year. They score pretty good on the first shot, but their offensive rebounding numbers are off the charts.”
The best part about Dana Altman is his fearless nature. He is not afraid to make a decision that could determine the outcome of a game. This type of move fits his DNA precisely.
Insert KBW and he can start at center, guarding Meeks and using early fouls on him instead of Bell. Then, you can slide Bell over to the power forward spot to guard a less explosive Hicks. Bell would dominate that match-up.
After that, you move Brooks into the All-American showdown we’ve been anticipating between himself and NC’s junior Justin Jackson. Both players are near 6-foot-8 with athleticism. This battle would be a real treat for everyone.
If Brooks is guarding Jackson, then 6-foot-4 Tyler Dorsey can defend Theo Pinson at the shooting guard position. With Dylan Ennis giving away nearly six inches to Jackson, it would have been a very difficult mismatch. Instead, let Dorsey guard the defensive-minded Pinson and allow him to keep his energy for the offensive end.
Meanwhile, Oregon’s senior guard Dylan Ennis can guard Berry. The 6-foot-2 Canadian vs the 6-foot-0 Floridian would be a brilliant showdown.
Either way, you can move around Oregon guards from bench to starting slots without much hesitation. Instead of Ennis running the point guard duties with Dorsey, you could insert Casey Benson. Some people may want to bench Ennis, I can’t understand why, but it is possible with KBW on the floor.
Who would you start? What other changes can we make? Do you keep it consistent with the same starting five and risk being undersized? These are all questions Altman and his staff have been weighing since Sunday. These are the questions every coach faces when playing North Carolina.
Oregon’s bench depth is a major strength for the program. Regardless, KBW opens the playbook a bit and may even throw off North Carolina for a few minutes. Yet, at this time of the season, all you need is a few minutes to steal a victory. Winning means a date with destiny on Monday evening.
No. 3 Oregon (33-5) will square off against No. 1 North Carolina (31-7) in the 2017 Final Four. Tip is set for 5:49 p.m. PT from the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona on Saturday. UO is seeking their first title appearance in 78 years. The game will be televised by CBS.