There are plenty reasons for Oregon to be disappointed with its NIT bid this season. The Ducks are, after all, coming off their first Final Four in almost 80 years. The NIT was not what they had in mind.
But Oregon isn’t looking at the postseason tournament with a glass half empty perspective. The Ducks say they’re fortunate for the opportunity to keep playing, even if that means being in the “second-best” postseason tournament, as MiKyle McIntosh puts it.
The Ducks host Rider (22-9) on Tuesday at Matthew Knight Arena in the first round of the NIT. It’s the first NIT bid for Oregon since 2012, when the Ducks won two games before losing to Washington in the quarterfinals. It’s not the position the Ducks wants to be in, but they’re embracing the opportunity at a few more games, with hopes that a deep run will carry some much-needed momentum into next season.
To do so, they’ll need to get through sixth seed Rider first. The Broncs finished the season 22-9 and won the MAAC conference outright with a 15-3 record, but were upset by Saint Peter’s in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. They’ll now head to Eugene for a chance to play for their own upset.
Oregon, a three seed, isn’t taking the matchup lightly. Rider had four players earn all-conference honors, including Dimencio Vaughn, a redshirt freshman who was named to the first all-conference team after averaging 16.1 points and 6.6 rebound a game this season. As a team, Rider has six players who average over seven points per game and five in double figures. They score about 82 points per game, the 30th best mark in the country.
“[They’ve] got young guys that can really score,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman said. “Athletic, I mean I watched them on film. They are athletic.”
The Ducks don’t have much time to prepare for Rider. Oregon practiced on Monday and will face the Broncs at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.
“You gotta kinda scout on the fly,” said McIntosh, who played in the NIT twice during his time with Illinois State.
He added that the experience will be valuable for Oregon’s younger players.
“It’s just something you’ve got to go through,” McIntosh said. “As young players, you still got more games to play.”
McIntosh and Altman both hope that this experience conveys into next season, one where this year’s freshmen will find themselves in bigger roles with more individual responsibility. Altman remembers the benefits firsthand from Oregon’s NIT 2012 appearance. The Ducks followed that season with a trip to the Sweet Sixteen in 2013.
“It was a big factor there,” Altman said. “It helped us.”
Like the NIT does every so often, there will be several rule changes in place for this year’s tournament. The three-point line will be pushed back, the lanes will be widened, the game will be played in quarters instead of halves, bonus free throws will start at five fouls, and the shot clock will reset to 20 seconds instead of 30 on offensive rebounds.
Altman isn’t concerned with the changes. He said he doesn’t think they’ll affect how the Ducks play, and just wants his team to focus and play hard. As does Payton Pritchard.
“We know this is our last couple games this year,” Pritchard said. “So might as well give it everything we got, play hard, make something happen and try to win the NIT.”
Follow Gus Morris on Twitter @JustGusMorris
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