The #12 Oregon Ducks are playing the role of Cinderella in this year’s March Madness as the lone double-digit seed to advance to the Sweet 16.
The Ducks are one of the hottest teams in the country right now. Oregon won ten games in a row and ran the table in the Pac-12 Conference Tournament. Dana Altman’s crew won four games in four days to win the Pac-12 title and earn an automatic bid to March Madness.
With a #12 seed, Oregon picked off #5 Wisconsin in the Round of 64. The Ducks advanced to the Sweet 16 when the defeated UC Irvine.
Two years ago, Dana Altman guided Oregon (with a #3 seed) to a Final Four berth, but lost to North Carolina by two points. In 2016, the Ducks were the top seed in the West and advanced to the Elite Eight before Oklahoma knocked them out.
Oregon bubbled March Madness last season and they were expected to bubble again this season until they punched their ticket by winning the Pac-12 tournament.
The Zone That Looks Like Man-to-Man
Oregon hit a down cycle after losing leading scorer Bol Bol to a foot injury nine games into the season. The 7-foot-3 center, who is also the son of NBA’s Manute Bol, led the Ducks in scoring with 21 points per game. They missed his ominous presence and team struggled to adjust to life without Bol.
Dana Altman installed a tweaked version of a match-up zone instead of a traditional 2-3 zone. The young Ducks needed approximately 27 games or so to finally figure it out. Since then, they ran off ten-straight wins. Ehab Amin, a senior guard from Alexandria, Egypt, has become the Ducks emotional center on defense.
“It’s very difficult to learn,” said Ehab Amin. “I think that’s why we were kind of struggling early in the year, especially with so many new guys.”
After the Ducks perfected their zone, they held opponents to 54 or fewer points in 8 of their last 10 games. According to Ken Pomeroy’s stats, the Ducks have the best overall defensive efficiency rating in the country during their winning streak.
Oregon allows 62.5 points per game this season, which is ranked #12 in the country. The stingy Ducks held both March Madness opponents to only 54 points.
“The biggest thing is communication,” said head coach Dana Altman. “Our guys are just so much more connected. We were trying to play four freshmen and some new guys, but there’s just much better talk, much better communication, and that’s given them the confidence to play harder. When you’re not sure where you’re supposed to go or what you’re supposed to do, you’re kind of stuck in the mud.”
Ducks vs. Anteaters
The #13 UC Irvine Anteaters made a name for themselves when the Big West champions picked off #4 Kansas State in the Round of 64. Too bad that they ran into the hottest team in the country with Oregon in the Round of 32.
Oregon jumped out to an early lead in a fierce battle between #12 and #13 seeds. The Anteaters are one of those notorious second-half teams that come out of the locker room fired up at halftime. The Anteaters went on a massive run of their own and shut down Oregon’s offense. The Ducks found themselves down a bucket and dug in deep. They finally ended their scoring drought and unleashed their own counterattack. The Anteaters couldn’t crack their zone for the remainder of the game and the Ducks pulled away with a 19-point win.
Oregon is one victory away from another Elite Eight berth, or their third in the last four years. The Ducks face #1 Virginia on Thursday as an 8-point underdog.
Oregon is 10-0 against the spread during their hot streak. The under hit in 7 of those games including a push for a 7-2-1 clip.
According to the South Point Casino and Sports Book in Las Vegas, Oregon is one of the long shots on the board at 40/1 odds to win March Madness.