The Oregon Ducks were the talk of the Pac-12 at the start of the season. The Ducks’ talented veteran squad improving during the offseason was hyped to the point that UCLA’s top five recruiting class went under the radar. After a couple of disappointing losses for Oregon, and some impressive victories for the Bruins, it’s UCLA that heads into Matthew Knight Arena as the favorite to win the first marquee match-up in the Pac-12 this season.
Each team is looking to open up conference play with a win. UCLA is going in undefeated as the No. 2 team in the country, and has logged some big victories over teams such as Ohio State, Michigan, and most importantly Kentucky. UCLA’s dreadful 2016 campaign has made the Bruins a pleasant surprise to start the 2017 season. Many anticipated Oregon to join UCLA in being undefeated at this point, but two early season losses at Baylor and against Georgetown derailed those hopes. The Ducks have not managed to let those losses faze them, currently riding a nine game winning streak into Wednesday.
UCLA has been arguably the best offense in the country, scoring 95.8 points per game while shooting 55% from the field. UCLA plays up-tempo and efficient basketball. Oregon, on the other hand, is more of a grind it out team. The Ducks will try to beat teams with its defense-oriented frontcourt. Oregon’s early season offensive struggles have subsided some, now scoring 78.3 points per game, but the outcome of the game still mostly lies on the shoulders of its defense. The bad news for Oregon is that its defensive anchor Chris Boucher might not play Wednesday, as he is still recovering from an ankle injury. Boucher is listed as a game time decision, but the Ducks will probably want him in the lineup if they want any chance of containing the Bruins’ offense. Oregon’s key to the game will be to use its defense to control the pace of the game. If the Ducks try to get into a shootout with UCLA, they will lose. UCLA has too many offensive weapons for that strategy to work. Of course, Dana Altman will not likely be coaxed into playing that sort of a game. As long as he can get the team to stick to its brand of basketball, we should be in store for a good one.
Plenty will be on the line Wednesday night. UCLA’s undefeated record and position as the number two team in the nation will be in danger. Oregon is not undefeated, but has a 33-game home winning streak and its reigning Pac-12 title to defend. Whichever way this game turns out, there’s a long season of conference play to go. The two will play again in February and there’s a high chance that they will play for the Pac-12 championship in March. Before the season, I had UCLA and Oregon as the top two Pac-12 teams with Oregon coming out on top. On Wednesday, each team will have the opportunity to make the first statement on its position in the conference. If Boucher plays, expect Oregon to put together one of its best games of the season so far. However, I think a scorching UCLA offense will be too much to handle for the wounded Ducks, and Oregon will lose its first game at Matthew Knight Arena in almost two years.