Who: 1 Louisville (31-5) vs. 12 Oregon (28-8)
When: Friday 4:15 p.m. PT
Where: Midwest region - Indianapolis, Ind.
In a tournament where it has seemed like every team, no matter how big, no matter how strong, has been vulnerable, these two teams have bucked the trend and controlled their opening two games with ease. Both of these teams are experienced, deep, athletic, can shoot and like to run and that should make for a very fun game to watch. The Cardinals are the clear favorite, but if the Ducks can come out and keep playing with a chip on their shoulder this could be very interesting.
Who are the stars?
Russ Smith Jr. G Louisville
Like the Ducks, the Cardinals can play some great team ball, but unlike the Ducks, the Cardinals have a clear cut lead scorer in the small, but quick Smith who loves to push the ball up the court as much as any player in the country. The Ducks need to be very careful to not let Smith get rolling, because he can start piling on the points in a hurry while also sparking the rest of the Cardinals offense. He has scored 27 and 23 in the Cardinals' first two games and probably could have scored more had they needed him to. Add in the fact that he is very adept at getting steals (He had 8 in their opening round game) and you have a guy that is a nightmare to play against.
Arsalan Kazemi Sr. F Oregon
No one in the tournament is rebounding as well as Kazemi who has grabbed 16 and 17 in the Ducks' two wins, with a good sized chunk of those coming on the offensive glass. He doesn't score a ton of points, but the amount of extra opportunities he gives the Ducks with his offensive rebounds is just as valuable and the fact that he always cleans the glass on the other end makes him an underrated defender.
Gorgui Dieng Jr. C Louisville
The big man from Senegal is the finisher inside for the Cardinals and like Kazemi, a huge asset on the offensive and defensive boards, averaging nearly 10 a game. What sets the 6'11 junior apart though and might give the Ducks the most trouble, is his presence underneath the basket. Dieng averages nearly two and a half blocks a game and is actually pretty good at staying out of foul trouble.
Peyton Siva Sr. G Louisville
Siva might not have the stats that Smith and Dieng do, but he is the leader and the centerpiece of the Cardinals' offense. The tough point guard loves to distribute and averages nearly six assists a game while also being able to score when he needs to as he averages nearly 10 per game.
What are the key matchups?
Can the Ducks keep up?
The Ducks like to run with their speedy backcourt of Dominic Artis, Damyean Dotson and Johnathan Loyd, but the Cardinals might be the fastest team that they have faced all year and getting into a track meet and shootout might not be the best idea. They might not have a choice though and it will be up to the Ducks to not only score in the transition, but also hang onto the ball against the Cardinal defenders who are as good as creating steals as any team in the country.
Can the Ducks stay hot from the outside?
Basketball is a complex game, but sometimes in the tournament it just comes down to who can put the ball in the basket, especially who can put it in from behind the three-point stripe. The Ducks were a scorching 8-11 from three-point land against Saint Louis, and a team that shoots that well from deep is simply very, very hard for anyone to beat. It will be nearly impossible for the Ducks to match that percentage, but they will have to at least shoot well from outside to keep things equal with the supremely talented Cardinals.
You're a Pac-12 fan, why do you want Oregon to win?
The Ducks already smacked the selection committee in the face for disrespecting them and the Pac-12 by taking care of Oklahoma State and Saint Louis, but a win here would be the biggest that a Pac-12 team has had in the NCAA Tournament since Derrick Williams and Arizona embarrassed Duke in the 2011 Sweet 16. The Ducks and Arizona (And Cal to an extent) have already done their jobs and shown that the Pac-12 is back, but an Oregon win over the number one overall seed in the tournament would do wonders for the conference and show that the Pac-12 can produce legitimate national title contenders.
The Cardinals are the only number one seed in the tournament that has yet to be challenged and in these modern day, parity filled NCAA Tournaments they are simply due. The problem here though is that the Ducks are also due to cool off from outside and they can't afford to not have a great game and expect to compete so it's a tough call.
The Ducks play so well that I don't see them getting blown out and if Louisville does run, I see them being able to go toe-to-toe with them and keeping it close for about three-fourths of the game at least. The Ducks will keep it close, and maybe even have the lead until late in the game, but I think they will run out of steam late and not be able to match Louisville's scorers at the end without a go-to-guy.
Louisville 86 Oregon 80