Ducks Hope To Muzzle Bulldogs

Eugene -- The surprise No. 9-seeded Oregon Ducks (18-13, 9-9) are set to take on the No. 8 seed, SEC West-champion Mississippi State Bulldogs (22-10, 12-4) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday at 4:25pm, PST.

Although the Oregon Ducks were considered a team solidly on the bubble, and a team that was undoubtedly on the edge of their seats for Selection Sunday, it seems that the nerves were unwarranted in the eyes of the tournament selection committee. The Ducks, who finished sixth in the Pac-10 Conference, were placed in the East region as the number nine seed: a seed generally given to a team that lies just outside the Top 25. It may have surprised many, but the Ducks are hoping to come out and prove that they are not just a one-hit wonder.

"We're not satisfied with just making the field," Bryce Taylor said. "We definitely want to do our best to win as many games as possible. We got that great feeling last year—what it feels like to get on a roll in the tournament—and hopefully we'll be able to do the same thing this year."

The Ducks are going to have to make some adjustments from typical Pac-10 play when they match up against a big, athletic Mississippi State team.

"They're not as big as Stanford, but I think they are more like playing USC," Head Coach Ernie Kent said. "What you draw from watching them play is just how athletic they are. They can score the ball, they transition very well up and down the floor, they've got guys that score from all over, and they are the best defensive team in the country when it comes to field goal percentage because they've got not one but two great shot blockers."

Mississippi State has four players who average double-digit points per game: Charles Rhodes (14.9), Barry Stewart (12.0), Ben Hansbrough (10.3), who is a National Player of the Year Candidate Tyler Hansbrough's younger brother, and leading-scorer Jamont Gordon (18.1). Gordon is a strong, 6'4'' point guard, who has been guarded by mostly two-guards throughout the season. That trend is likely to continue with Oregon starting 5'6'' Tajuan Porter at the point guard position. Bryce Taylor stated that he believed both he and LeKendrick Longmire, a Mississippi native, would be given the assignment of guarding Gordon.

"We have to make it difficult on (Gordon)," said Taylor. "He's a point guard who is my size and much stronger. He likes to drive to the hole, use his body. He's a good shooter, as well. It's definitely going to be a challenging match-up, but we've seen a lot of good players in this conference, from O.J. Mayo to the UCLA guards."

The Bulldogs' talent does not end there, however. Senior Jarvis Varnado leads the nation with 4.6 blocks per game, 2.1 blocks per game better than Pac-10 leader Taj Gibson (2.5). On January 15 against Kentucky, Varnado registered a triple-double, scoring 10 points to go along with 12 rebounds and 10 blocks.

"They do a great job of funneling everything inside and playing pressure defense on the wings, forcing you to drive into the paint and go against those shot-blockers," Kent said.

In its most recent contest, Mississippi State lost a 64-60 SEC semi-final game to Cinderella-story Georgia, a team that was playing its second contest of the day. Georgia won the SEC tournament after finishing last in the SEC during the regular season. The loss likely dropped the Bulldogs, a team that expected to be no lower than a seven seed coming into the conference tournament, to the number eight spot, forcing them into a first round game against a veteran, postseason savvy Oregon squad.

The Bulldogs have not played against the Oregon-style offense much this season, and the Ducks hope that their three-point shooting ability will help them to overcome Mississippi State's dominant inside defense. Oregon will look to Maarty Leunen to hit from the perimeter, forcing Mississippi State's posts out of the paint.

Although both teams were surprised with their seeding – Mississippi State expected to be higher, while Oregon expected to be a 10 or 11 seed – it seems the match-up certainly fits its billing.

"It's your typical 8-9 match-up," said Taylor. "Both teams are close in their level of play. It's going to be a really competitive game."

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