For casual college hoops observers, seeing the name Oregon at the top of the West Region was probably a little bit jarring. Oregon, really? Is this team really that good?
The Ducks did have a banner season in 2016, going 28-6 and capturing both the Pac-12 regular season and conference titles. But they weren’t highly ranked in the preseason, and certainly weren’t expected to end up with a No. 1 seed entering the Big Dance. Head coach Dana Altman, the man who built Creighton into a national name, has done a terrific job up in Eugene.
Oregon is led by four players who average in double figures in scoring, including 6-6 forward Dillon Brooks, who averages 16.8 points, 5.7 boards and 3.1 assists. The sophomore has been one of the nation’s more underrated players this season. Elgin Cook (14.5 ppg), Tyler Dorsey (13.8 per) and Chris Boucher (12.1) are also scoring threats for this club, which ranks 46th in the country in points per game (78.8).
So, is Oregon really that good?
Well, this team lost to Boise State, UNLV, and Stanford. They were blitzed by Cal, 83-63, and by Oregon State, 70-57. But the Ducks have won eight in a row, beat Arizona in overtime in the Pac-12 semis and toppled Utah in the final. They’re 14-2 in their last 16 games, so they’re entering the tourney on a hot streak. But to be honest, it’d be an upset if this team reached the Final Four. Often times a surprising No. 1 seed doesn’t make it out of its region, and this team reminds us a little bit of Washington in 2005, which earned a No. 1 seed but fell to eventual regional champ and fourth-seeded Louisville in the Sweet 16.
Teams that can beat the Ducks:
Cincinnati. This team gave Kentucky a heck of a fight in the second round last season before running out of gas against the undefeated Wildcats. They’re long, play great defense (led by 6-10 senior Octavius Ellis) and have a clutch, experienced point guard in Troy Caupain (13.2 ppg, 4.8 apg), who scored 37 in the Bearcats’ four-overtime loss to UConn in the AAC first round. If you’re feeling bold, take Cincinnati to upset Oregon in the Round of 32.
Baylor. The Bears are loaded with talent and have a hard-to-stop front line led by Rico Gathers (11.4 ppg, 9.1 rpg). Scott Drew’s Bears have made runs to the Elite Eight in 2010 and 2012.
Duke. The Blue Devils are always a threat to reach the Final Four, and although they’re not as talented this year as in years past, they still have some game-changing players in guard Grayson Allen and forward Brandon Ingram. Oregon wouldn’t look forward to a Sweet 16 matchup with Duke.
Texas A&M. This is a deep, balanced group that should have enough to at least reach the Sweet 16, though we think they might be ripe for a stunning first-round upset as well. If the Aggies meet up with Oregon in the Elite Eight, we like Danuel House and company’s chances.
Oklahoma. This is our pick to win the region. The Sooners have National Player of the Year candidate Buddy Hield (who in our opinion, should win the award), a stretch-four who can be a difference maker in Ryan Spangler, and good guard play in Isaiah Cousins (13 ppg, 4.6 apg) and Jordan Woodard (12.6 ppg, 3 apg). We’d absolutely take the Sooners over the Ducks in the Elite Eight.