Morale shifted drastically for Oregon fans in a span of 24 hours. On Friday night, the Ducks had just defeated Cal 73-65 to move on to the Pac-12 championship game. A couple hours later, Arizona beat UCLA, and the rematch from early February was set. The Ducks had confidence they could win the Pac-12 title after blowing out the Wildcats in the first match-up.
Then, for truly the first time this year, disaster struck for the Ducks.
Just hours before the Pac-12 Championship, it was announced that forward Chris Boucher had suffered a torn ACL during the first half of the Pac-12 semifinals. Boucher didn’t think the injury was serious, and played in the second half. It wasn’t until the MRI the next day that he learned the severity of his injury.
It was obvious that Oregon was affected by the loss of Boucher in the first half of the conference championship, shooting only 35.5 percent from the field. The Wildcats went into halftime with a 6-point lead, that quickly grew to 14 in the first few minutes of the second half. The Ducks looked lost and defeated.
Then, Tyler Dorsey got hot, scoring 21 points in the final fourteen minutes, after only scoring 2 prior. The Ducks refused to go away. The team kept the deficit slim for most of the final ten minutes, and made it a single possession game a couple times in the final two minutes, but couldn’t get the stop they needed to complete the comeback. The Ducks finally fell 83-80, but they sent a message to their NCAA tournament opponents: they won’t go down without a fight.
After speculation that the team might get a one-seed for the second year in a row if it won the Pac-12 tournament, Oregon was knocked down to a 3-seed in the mid-west region. This may have been seen as insulting to some Oregon fans, but the path to a Final Four may not be as impossible as some think. Assuming the Ducks get past Iona, the potential path of Creighton, Louisville, and Kansas looks extremely tough on paper, but all three teams have potential season-derailing weaknesses.
Creighton started off the year as a solid team with the potential to make a deep tournament run, but they caught the injury bug much earlier than Oregon when they lost Maurice Watson for the season. After starting 18-1, Creighton has gone 7-8 since losing Watson, and is not the same team we saw two months ago.
Louisville is a balanced team without many weaknesses, but the main issue with the Cardinals is that they don’t really excel in anything either. They’re a better defensive team than offensive, but nothing really jumps off the board for them. Louisville is also 2-3 in their last five games and is only 4-6 against teams ranked in the top 20 on KenPom.com (Oregon is ranked 16th).
Kansas was the potential number one overall seed before being defeated by TCU in the first round of the Big 12 tournament. Kansas didn’t have star Josh Jackson, but it’s still concerning for the Jayhawks that they couldn’t put away a team that didn’t even make the tournament. Kansas is among the best teams in college basketball this season, but has also struggled against some mediocre teams. If Oregon can catch them on a bad day, there’s a solid chance the Ducks could win the potential Elite Eight match-up.
It’s easy for Oregon fans to say “next man up” in regards to Boucher’s injury, but what he gave to the team will be difficult to replace. No other big man on the roster stretches the floor the way he does, while also being a dominant inside threat. Kavell Bigby-Williams had a solid game in the Pac-12 Championship with 6 rebounds and 2 blocks, but he doesn’t have the same impact as Boucher. However, Oregon is deep. There haven’t been many times this team has shown its full strength this season, but if Brooks and Dorsey can carry the load on offense while the role players get hot, Oregon’s dreams of holding up the trophy on April 3rd might still be alive.