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MBB: Ducks don’t belong in the NCAA Tournament

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An inexplicable double-digit loss at home to lowly California has all but squashed Oregon’s chances at the big dance, and it’s probably a good thing.

NCAA Basketball: California at Oregon Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

After blowing a huge lead at home and losing to Colorado, I stated that a slip-up like that couldn’t happen again if Oregon wanted a shot at the NCAA Tournament.

Following that it was a waiting game to see if Oregon would make that happen, and after toying with that outcome in Salt Lake City, the Ducks face planted Saturday in Eugene, losing 78-64.

After going up 12-5 early in the game, the Ducks melted like a snowcone in Phoenix, allowing the 10-15 (3-11 in Pac-12) Cal Bears, who recently stopped a 10-game losing streak by eeking out a win over fellow bottom-dweller Oregon State, to run right past them.

Cal stayed in control the entire second half as Oregon never even cut the lead to single digits. The defense was baffled, the offense stuck in quicksand, and at this point I think it may be fair to say that even the most loyal of Duck fans have to be accepting the truth: that Oregon doesn’t belong in the NCAA Tournament.

It had been an inspiring thing to see Oregon climb out of the hole they dug themselves early in the season and get back to the top of the conference. The way Oregon played in huge road wins at UCLA, USC, and Colorado made you think they had a decent Tournament run in them.

Then came the game in Salt Lake City, where Oregon seemed to almost be giving the game away to a vastly inferior Utah team but somehow managed to escape with a win.

On Thursday the Ducks just could not seem to put away a decent Stanford team, even after at times it seemed like an Oregon runaway.

But this...getting plastered at home by a basement-dwelling team that was missing one of its best players?

A team that allows that to happen doesn’t deserve to be in the big dance.

NCAA Basketball: California at Oregon Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Oregon plays down to the level of its opponents. It expects that inferior teams on paper will simply welt at the sight of the big, bad Ducks. It seems to think that only the “big games” deserve their full attention and effort.

That is not what Tournament teams do. Tournament teams understand their success means every team will be gunning for them. They know that if they have a chance to go for the throat that they don’t hesitate. They play all 40 minutes as if it is, in fact, a tournament game.

Oregon is doing none of these things.

I’ve seen Dana Altman do some pretty remarkable things to get Oregon into the dance when they seemingly had no business being there. You really are setting yourself up for failure if you bet against the guy.

Could an Altman-led team still win the Pac-12 Tournament? Of course. Could an Altman-led team defeat Top 25 opponents Arizona, UCLA, and USC all in a row to somehow overshadow what they did against Cal? I wouldn’t be shocked.

Problem is, this year’s squad seems like it could just as easily drop a game at Arizona State, Washington State, or even get knocked out of the conference tournament early on by a bottom-dweller.

There’s just no real trust that the same Oregon team (or at least a similar version) will show up game in and game out.

Maybe being humbled by a trip to the NIT is what Oregon needs. The last two times the Ducks played in the NIT, they followed it up with a run to the Sweet 16 the next year.

Oregon may still get in somehow. Maybe they have enough big wins left in them. Maybe their masterful coach or the pull of the flashy name brand is enough for them to overtake a less “attractive” team. I don’t know.

All I do know is that if the Oregon team that showed up Saturday shows up to an NCAA Tournament game, they’ll be packing their bags by halftime.

Right now Oregon is out of the Tournament. As well it should be.