Oregon looks to rewrite history on Saturday afternoon when it tangles with No. 1 seed Kansas in the Elite Eight.
The Ducks have never won an elite eight game, going 0-4 with Final Four implications on the line. Just a year ago, Oregon lost to Oklahoma, 80-68, after defeating Duke, 82-68, in the Sweet 16.
This year’s squad isn’t concerned about what happened last year. Despite losing shot-blocking extraordinaire Chris Boucher to a torn ACL in the Pac-12 tournament, the Ducks have won 29 of their 32 regular season games. At one point during the season, Dana Altman’s group won 17 in a row.
The Ducks are coming off a thrilling 69-68 win over Michigan in the Sweet 16, a game in which Tyler Dorsey scored the go-ahead layup in the final seconds. Oregon breezed past Iona in the opening round before escaping with a 75-72 win over Rhode Island in the round of 32.
Oregon has won a school-record 32 games this season, but the Ducks are searching for something more significant: Its first National Championship in program history.
Here’s why the Duck will do just that.
Tremendous amount of talent
Oregon is led by Pac-12 Player of the Year Dillon Brooks, who leads the Ducks in scoring at 16.4 points per game. Brooks does it all for Oregon, either playing as a stretch-four or running the offense from the point. In the absence of Boucher, Brooks has stepped into his power forward role.
Guard Tyler Dorsey is Oregon’s second-leading scorer at 14 points per game and 3.4 rebounds per game. The sophomore has scored 20 points or more in six straight games.
Junior forward Jordan Bell is close to averaging a double-double at 10.8 points per game and 8.3 rebounds per game. Bell was the best defender in the Pac-12 this season, winning the Defensive Player of the Year award. Dylan Ennis, a senior guard for the Ducks, is averaging 10.7 points per game and 4.4 rebounds per game.
It’s silly to think a third-seeded Oregon team could be viewed as a sleeper or an underdog, but that’s exactly what they are. When Boucher suffered his torn ACL, everyone outside of the program counted the Ducks out.
“That’s just people’s opinions. We don’t care about that stuff,” Bell said on Friday.
Despite knocking down each opponent in front of them, many continue to doubt the Ducks. Few believed Oregon would avoid being upset by Rhode Island and now even fewer believe they’ll upset one-seeded Kansas. The Ducks are using the doubt to fuel their NCAA Tournament run.
“We’ve been playing hard since the start of the season, and we don’t worry about if people aren’t giving us respect,” Oregon senior guard Dylan Ennis said. “If anything, it just puts a chip on our shoulder.”
With the chip on their shoulder continuing to grow, Oregon has something to prove. They’ll play for the name on the front of their jersey and the guy standing next to them. A team playing for one another and nothing to lose is a deadly combination.
Oregon has come ready to play in their biggest games of the season to this point. The Ducks defeated No. 2 UCLA, blew out a top-10 Arizona team and defeated a Cal team fighting for its tournament hopes. With the Ducks talent, athleticism and experience, Oregon has a sound formula to win it all.
While previous Elite Eight games haven’t gone in the Ducks’ favor, they’ve been in this situation before and that counts for something. The hostile crowds awaiting them won’t affect the Ducks as the veteran laden team won’t shy away from the big stage.
This March, we’ve seen many teams struggle in late game situations. Some teams can’t run a competent offensive possession or while others just melt in the moment. Oregon has already proved they can get the job done in crunch time this tournament beating Rhode Island 75-72 in a close one and Michigan 69-68 on a late layup from Dorsey. The Ducks have multiple guys who aren’t afraid to step up and put the team on their back. Brooks and Dorsey have both hit buzzer beaters this season.
When they square off with Kansas on Saturday evening, Oregon will be just 45 minutes away from the Jayhawks’ campus in Lawrence. The crowd will be full of Kansas fans out for blood. If Oregon can get past the Jayhawks and their faithful, the Ducks will run into rowdy crowds in the Final Four and the National Championship game. These crowds might cause an inexperienced bunch to go into shock, but behind Oregon’s leadership, it’ll only fuel the Ducks.
No. 3 Oregon and No. 1 Kansas are set to tip-off at 8:49 p.m. ET on Saturday night.
Edited by David Bradford