ANAHEIM, Calif. – Oregon came into the NCAA Tournament as the lowest No. 1 seed, and one that a lot of pundits felt didn’t deserve the honor after rolling through a Pac-12 Conference that had no teams other than the Ducks reach the Sweet 16.
After a second-round scare from Saint Joseph’s, it seemed like that tag was true. The Ducks erased that idea pretty quickly in a 14-point win against Duke. Oregon led almost the entire game and pulled away in the second half.
The Ducks went unseen for much of the season, toiling on the west coast where great basketball teams are rarely notices. Well, everyone has taken notice now.
“We wanted to come out and show that we're confident in ourselves,” Oregon point guard Casey Benson said. “To get a win against a program like that is special for our team. It's another steppingstone to where we want to get to.”
The Ducks (31-6) are a handful for anyone trying to get in their way.
Oregon basically plays position-less. There are five players on the court who can score from just about anywhere, and against the Blue Devils, they actually played 5-out on multiple possessions – when all five players were outside of the paint.
Oregon set a program record for wins this season, the Sooners' second-straight opponent in the tournament to have done that, and won both the conference regular season and tournament titles for the first this in school history.
“We just want to be the best team that we can be,” Benson said. “It's pretty special to win 31 games. It shows that you're playing with one another and just enjoying it. We just want to have as much fun as we can and continue to lay it all out there and just play as long as we can.”
What makes Oregon a serious contender to keep playing is its balance.
The Ducks have four players averaging in double figures, and Dwayne Benjamin (8.1 ppg) and Jordan Bell (6.9) come off the bench to add a punch.
Benson is the only starter not averaging double figures, but he has a 4.7 assist-to-turnover ratio. The Ducks are averaging more than 80 points in the NCAA tournament, and all five starters stand 6-foot-3 or taller.
Six-foot-10 forward @Chris Boucher had 110 blocks and 38 made 3s through Thursday’s win. For comparison, Oklahoma forward Khadeem Lattin has 76 blocks this season, and Ryan Spangler has hit 32 3-pointers all year.
“It's a great opportunity for us,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “You know, it's been a long time coming for our school. It's been a long time for our coaching staff. So we are very excited about the opportunity.”
After having proven that the Pac-12 Conference might not be the basketball abyss that it appeared to be through the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, Oregon presents some serious mismatch problems for teams still in their way.
Oklahoma is that next team.
“Oklahoma's a great team,” Benson said. “We've seen them a decent amount. They can really score, so it's just a matter of making it tough on them defensively and just coming out, laying it all out there, playing as hard as we can and enjoying it, having fun with it. But knowing that they're a good team, we've just got to get ready for them, watch the film and study them.”