The Ducks are dancing in Los Angeles, and Oregon fans will get a chance to see their team participate in the NCAA tournament for the third year straight. Aside from making school history by earning a third straight bid to the...
EJ Singler has fought for four years. He’s fought for a team that finished 2-16 in the Pac-12. He’s fought for a team that lost its head coach. He’s fought for a team that had to rely on transfers to stay afloat. He’s fought for a team in a town overshadowed by the football team.
And now he’s finally fought hard enough. Hard enough to get the Ducks to the Sweet 16.
The Ducks were never expected to make it this far in the tournament, or be in the tournament at all. They were selected to finish 7th in the Pac-12 this season and were undervalued as a 12 seed coming into the tournament
But it goes deeper than that. It goes deeper than this season. It goes back to when Singler wasn’t even supposed to play his freshman year before becoming the only Duck player to play in all 32 games because injuries ravaged the team.
After that 2-16 Pac-12 season Ernie Kent was fired – the coach who brought Oregon to two elite eight appearances and led an early 2000’s revival of Oregon. And the job didn’t turn into a hot commodity. Numerous coaches turned down the job before Dana Altman finally accepted it.
In Altman’s first season the Ducks won the the College Basketball Invitational. And then they rushed the court. Thats right the College Basketball Invitational, the CBI, that’s how desperate fans were to be excited about anything for Oregon basketball.
That first season in Matthew Knight was a beading light for the Ducks. But even with the 228 million dollar new stadium, the Ducks struggled. They struggled both with attendance and on the court. The Ducks had a losing record in conference play and suffered six and four game losing streaks.
Altman says it comes back to that first year to appreciate the Ducks success today. In that year it was Joevan Catron that led the way for Oregon scoring with 16 points a game. The next year was good, but not much better as Oregon went out in NIT.
[gn_quote style=”1″]“This is Joevan Catron the first year getting us going, he gave us something to at least start with. We owe a lot to Joevan,” Altman said. “And then the senior group last year, Garrett, Devoe, Olu, JJ, Tyrone. Those guys all are apart of this, for us.”[/gn_quote]
Altman is building the core of the Oregon team and after winning the Pac-12 tournament championship he says the team needs more success to keep striving.
“It gives the younger guys a taste of what we’re playing for,” Altman said.” “They’re standing up on the podium, we get done and I told them I want you to remember this because I want you to remember why you’re going to the gym everyday in May, June, July and August – what you’re playing for.”
Now Oregon is returning the Furs, a historic reference to the 1939 team that won the school’s only national championship in program history. The firs are a hollowed figure for all long-time Oregon fans, backed when they were the “Webfoots” who played in the Pacific Coast Conference.
On the 75th anniversary of the Tall Firs Altman is looking to get back to that level of play, just under three years since he took over as the head man in Eugene.
“When we came three years ago, we didn’t know how long it would take, especially sitting there with six guys on the roster.”
It comes down to work for Singler even with those struggles, as it always has for the Medford, Ore. native.
“We’ve definitely had some ups and downs and making it this year is an awesome feeling,” Singler said “Just so proud, how much work we’ve put in.”
Even though this is a watershed moment for Singler and Altman, their quest is not over yet, and they’ll look to prove that Friday against Louisville.
These tidbits are a mix of interesting facts and musings, short analysis and things to watch out for in the Sweet 16 matchup between the Oregon Ducks and Louisville Cardinals.
**Louisville is known for its unyielding full-court press, spearheaded by veteran guards Peyton Siva and Russ Smith. During the regular season the Cardinals were second in the entire country in steals per game. In context, there are 347 Division I teams. In the first round against North Carolina A&T, the Cardinals broke a tournament record with 20 steals.
**When asked about getting ready to face Louisville’s bottom of the ocean-like pressure, Oregon coach Dana Altman said: “I guess you can compare it to people trying to simulate our football team’s speed. You can’t do it.”
**To break the press, the Ducks will need speed to get around it and control to survive it, meaning Johnathan Loyd and Dominic Artis may see significant time on the floor together. “It’s something against Louisville that has to be an option,” Altman said of playing his point guards simultaneously.
**The Ducks shot 31.9 percent from three in the regular season and missed their primary three-ball shooter, Dominic Artis, for most of the season. Thus far in the postseason, UO has shot 47.4 percent despite Artis going 1-for-4 from deep.
**Oregon is a 12-seed and Louisville is a one-seed. No 12-seed has beaten a top-ranked team, going 0-18 since the tournament expanded to 64 or more teams in 1985.
**On three different occasions since 2000, Oregon has beaten Louisville by 20 or more points including the latest matchup, a 27-point Ducks win in 2001.
**Louisville possesses higher one-man averages in points and assists than Oregon, as Russ Smith outscores E.J. Singler, 18.4 to 11.6 and Peyton Siva bests Dominic Artis, 5.9 to 3.3 in assists.
**Who is your favorite wealthy elder – Colonel Sanders or Phil Knight? Oregon plays its home games in Matthew Knight Arena while Louisville calls the KFC Yum Center its haven.
**Of the remaining 16 participants in the bracket, Oregon (according to seeding) is the third-worst team left, in front of only 15-seeded Florida Gulf Coast and 13-seed La Salle. Louisville is the tournament’s overall top seed.
**Dana Altman has never reached the Sweet 16 as a head coach. Louisville’s coach Rick Pitino has made it to the Sweet 16 on 10 occasions, taking three different programs to the final four.
**Americans favor Louisville quite heavily to win the whole tournament, as one-third of online bracket entries have the Cardinals slotted as eventual champions. President Barack Obama picked Louisville to make to the ultimate twosome but Indiana as the 2013 kings.
The 12 seed University of Oregon Ducks (28-8, 12-6) will play the top overall seed Louisville Cardinals (31-5, 14-4) in the Sweet 16 Friday in what should be a hotly contested matchup.
After blowout victories in its first two tournament games, Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said about the Ducks, “This basketball team to me is maybe the most underrated ever to play in the tournament.”
However, Louisville will prove to be quite the challenge Friday. The first thing that stands out about Louisville is their press defense, which is the most ferocious in the nation.
That press has led to the Cards’ 12-game win streak, including four wins against ranked opponents. Louisville won the Big East regular season title and the Big East Tournament title.
Louisville’s ferociousness on defense makes them elite in a couple different statistical categories. The Cardinals are 4th in the nation in scoring margin, outscoring their opponents by 16.3 points per game, and 2nd in the nation in turnover margin. Louisville forces more than 19 turnovers a game and are led by junior guard Russ Smith on the wing.
Smith, the 6’1 guard from Brooklyn, NY, leads the team in scoring with 18.4 points per game and also grabs more than two steals a game. Smith has scored 20 or more points in 17 games this season, including four of his last five games.
Smith teams with his backcourt mate Peyton Silva to make a deadly combo. Silva is second in the big east in steals with 2.28 per game.
Oregon head coach Dana Altman said Louisville’s speed and pressure from their press can’t really be simulated in practice because there’s nothing like the live experience.
[gn_quote style=”1″]“You can compare it to people trying to assimilate the football team’s speed, you know you just can’t do it,” Altman said. “You can’t put 15-20,000 of their fans in the stadium, you can’t add the pressure of a Sweet 16 game, and you can’t simulate their speed.”[/gn_quote]
Turnovers have been a huge problem for the Ducks all season, as they finished the season last in the Pac-12 in turnovers with 15.1 a game. Even in both two tournament games, where the Ducks beat Oklahoma State and Saint Louis by a combined 30 points, Oregon committed 18 turnovers.
Another thing Oregon must do to win is start the game strong early. Against UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament, the Ducks were down early 10-4 as they committed seven turnovers in the first 5:38 of the game. In their matchup against Oklahoma State, Oregon committed five turnovers in the first six minutes. And to continue the trend, Oregon gave the ball away four times in the first five minutes to Saint Louis and were down 7-4.
Oregon cannot continue this type of play against the Cardinals. The Cardinals are too talented and if the Ducks dig themselves in a hole early, they will not be able to get out of it.
A key matchup in the game will be in the backcourt between the veterans of Louisville and the youth of Oregon. Oregon’s two freshmen starters, Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson, are integral to the Ducks’ success and the two play beyond their youth.
Dotson has been explosive offensively for the Ducks in the tourney. Oregon, as a team, has been on fire from the three point range in the tournament, shooting 48 percent in the thus far in large part due to Dotson.
Dotson set a career-high with 23 points against Saint Louis and has been shooting lights out from deep in the past few games. Dotson is 8-15 from three-point range in the tournament and 16-30 in his last five games.
Artis will have to play up to his potential for the Ducks to have a chance to win as well. Artis had a strong showing against Oklahoma State in the second round, but struggled mightily against Saint Louis to the tune of zero points on 0-7 shooting.
One aspect where Oregon holds a clear advantage is rebounding. The Ducks are 20th in the nation in rebounding margin, grabbing more than six more boards than their opponents per game. Arsalan Kazemi is indispensable for Oregon and will have to have another standout performance for the Ducks to stay in the game. Pitino highlighted the Ducks physicality as the thing that stood out to him.
[gn_quote style=”1″]“The speed and quickness of this Oregon team is different than any other team we’ve faced this season,” Pitino said.[/gn_quote]
Oregon has the ability to play with and beat Louisville, but they must play at their A game by keeping the turnovers down, starting the game strong early and continuing to hit three pointers. With those keys, Oregon will make its way to the Elite 8 and all of the glamour that goes along with it.
To win Oregon needs to keep down the turnovers, start the game strong early and keep making three pointers.