Oregon doesn’t have very long to relish in its comeback victory over Rhode Island. Just hours before Tyler Dorsey brought the Ducks back with a heroic performance, their Sweet 16 opponent was winning its seventh straight game.
In a year that was almost entirely devoid of major upsets in the first round, the Michigan Wolverines have wound up America’s Cinderella team for 2017. Anyone who has closely followed college basketball for the last month knows their story. This was a team that was underachieving compared to its usual standards, but started to gain some momentum towards the end of the year.
At the start of the Big Ten tournament, the Wolverines dealt with a frightening situation when their plane went off the runway. The team decided to continue playing in the conference tournament and eventually won it all. After shocking Louisville 73-69 in the second round, Michigan is just four victories away from glory, a place no one thought this team would be even just a month ago. It’s gotten to the point where the Wolverines have been called the “team of destiny”. That theory is unconfirmed, but what is known is that Michigan is currently playing great basketball. Throwing destiny into the mix will just give the Ducks an even bigger handful.
Much like Oregon, the Wolverines have multiple players who will be a headache to defend. Leading scorer Derrick Walton had 26 points and 11 assists in the win over Oklahoma State. When Walton had a poor shooting day against Louisville, Moritz Wagner stepped in and scored 26 of his own. It isn’t just those two getting it done either, the Wolverines had four players in double figures in both of their tournament games.
The biggest issue with the Wolverines is that they rely too heavily on their starters. They’re currently running a rotation where they only go eight men deep, and four starters played 35 minutes or more in the win over Louisville. The Ducks only played eight guys as well, but only asked for two starters to play over 35 minutes. The difference is only slight, but could mean a great deal over a tough game, much like the match-ups both teams were just in.
Given that the Ducks were the easy favorite, it’d be easy for fans to hope that the team forgets the last game against Rhode Island and prepare for the remaining games in the tournament. However, there are a lot of positives that the Ducks can take from what could seem like a disappointing performance on paper.
The main takeaway that Oregon can get from the win over Rhode Island is that the Ducks were the better team for the majority of the game. Oregon outplayed Rhode Island for 33 minutes of the game, the only issue is that the seven minutes the Ducks allowed Rhode Island to outplay them were so bad that it nearly cost the team its season.
During that seven minute stretch, Oregon was outscored 27-8. The Ducks won the rest of the game 67-45. Whenever a team outscores its opponent by 22 points during any major stretch of the game, that usually results in a comfortable victory. Oregon was just the victim of sloppy turnovers and Stanford Robinson getting hotter than anyone ever thought he was capable of for a small portion of the game. If Oregon repeats what it did for the majority of the game, it should have no problem taking out the Wolverines on Thursday.
On paper, Oregon is clearly the better team, and have been all season. But in March, regular season accomplishments mean nothing, and it’s all about who’s hot at the right time. Just because a team isn’t ranked near the top doesn’t mean it can’t be dangerous. Even as recently as 2014, the National Championship was played between a 7-seed and an 8-seed. Also, having the more talented roster doesn’t mean the favored team will come out on top (see: Duke and Kentucky almost every year). Oregon should be the victor on Thursday, but that doesn’t mean that a team as hot as Michigan won’t go down without a fight, especially with an Elite 8 berth on the line.