Defense: The Missing Ingredient For a Spot in the Sweet Sixteen

Many have heard the adage “Offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships” but is that the truth?  Though some question the validity of the statement, the Oregon Ducks have proven that for them, defense has been a crucial part in their 2013-14 late-season success.

The Ducks showcased both heart and skill in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament proving the seven months of hard work paid off.  However, none expected Oregon to take the route full of trials and tribulation in order to be a part of the Madness.

Obviously, every team wants to have a winning season and be a shoe-in for the tournament.  However, that is less commonly how it works.  Most teams face adversity at some point in the season.  The Ducks were one of these teams.

With 13 straight wins to open the pre-season, U of O looked exceptionally promising and expected to make an appearance in the NCAA tournament.

When the Ducks fell into a losing slump, the 17 Oregon players had to practice resiliency in order to keep their tournament seeding alive.

Oregon defense cut the opponents' average final score from 81 points at the beginning of the season to 71 points at the end of the season.

Oregon defense cut the opponents’ average final score from 81 points at the beginning of the season to 71 points at the end of the season.

The Ducks’ record reflected 13-0 but head coach Dana Altman was neither satisfied nor confident that pure offense would be enough.  He told his team they would have to start guarding opponents in order to continue getting the W.

Oregon was scoring enough points to win games.  Of their first 13 contests, 10 contained a final score of 80 points or more with four hitting 100+ points.

Although they started out strong, the Webfoots would swim circles part way through conference play.

The next eight out of 10 games resulted in losses for the Ducks.  The opposing team scored an average of 81 points versus the 76 points scored by Oregon.  This directly reflected the fact that six of the eight games were lost by a couple of possessions or less.

Now one must not be too quick to judge because many more statistics should be taken into consideration.  Whether playing at home or on the road, the personnel each team carries and the pace of the game can make a difference in points scored.  Remember, every team is different and will have different strengths and weaknesses when matching up.

Getting a "stop" on defense means preventing the other team from scoring. This can be a game-winning factor.

Getting a “stop” on defense means preventing the other team from scoring. This can be a game-winning factor.

While it is commendable to score an immense amount of points, games cannot be won by offense alone.  Likewise, the best way to beat a team is to keep them from scoring.

A team that loses 110-100 may be happier than a team that loses 60-50 because at least they scored 100 points.  By keeping a team from running up their points, it crushes their morale.

In the last 10 games the Ducks have played, they have held their opponents to an average of 71 points per game.  By limiting the total points scored, Oregon also increased their average total game points by three, to 79, thus winning nine games.  This helped solidify a seat for Oregon in the NCAA tournament.

Other keys to Oregon’s late season success would have to be Waverly Austin’s presence inside, the offensively-minded Joseph Young, Jason Calliste’s three point shooting and the Oregon native Mike Moser returning home.  Austin contributed to the Duck’s late-season wins such as the game against Arizona St. when he had five points and 10 boards. Joseph Young averaged 20 points per game while Jason Calliste’s average behind the arc shooting was a stunning 46 percent during the last half of the season.  Calliste was 5-9 against UCLA, 4-5 against Arizona and 3-4 against Oregon St. in three-point shooting.   Yet, one of the biggest boosts Oregon received this year was the return of Moser after playing for UCLA and UNVL. The 6’8″ forward was a force not to be reckoned with this year.

Good news for the Ducks — JaQuan Lyle has decided he will wear the Oregon name across his chest when suiting up for the 2014-15 season.  The 6-5, 215 lbs point guard from Huntington Prep will be a great asset to the Ducks because of his ability to handle the ball as well as being a coveted five-star shooting guard.  Hopefully Oregon can utilize this 41st ranked (out of ESPN’s top 100) Evansville, Ind. native on their journey to another NCAA appearance next year.

Help-side defense is a great example of the importance of a team having each others' back.

Help-side defense is a great example of the importance of a team having each others’ back.

In the first round against Brigham Young University, Oregon was able to hold the Cougars to just 68 points.  They accomplished this by out rebounding BYU 37-32 on top of poor FG shooting on BYU’s part.

In the second round against Wisconsin, the Ducks came out strong and lead at halftime 49-37.  The Badgers ruffled the Ducks’ defensive feathers in the second half, scoring 48 points.  Wisconsin converted 85 total points, which was above the opponent average in previous games.

Could this have been why Oregon lost?  There are many other factors that play into the final score of this season-ending game: scoring droughts, personal fouls and the multitude of Wisconsin fans in the stands to name a few.

It was no coincidence the Oregon jerseys said “Fighting Ducks” on the front.  Against the odds, honor was still brought to the University of Oregon through the never-ceasing effort by the men’s basketball team.  Not only did they fight throughout the season to make it to the top 32 teams, but they fought to the very end of their last game of the season.

Thank you, Ducks, for your dedication to getting the most out of your personnel – there is much of which to be proud.

Top photo by Steve Francis


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