Only four teams remain in this year’s NCAA Tournament, and this year’s semifinal games include three fresh faces to go along with one national powerhouse. After Gonzaga and South Carolina battle it out for the right for the winning school to have its first National Championship appearance, two schools who have hoisted the trophy before will play for the opportunity to do so again.
While Oregon and North Carolina both have experience in winning a national title, the two schools are even farther apart historically than they are geographically. The Tar Heels are one of college basketball’s finest, hoping to advance to and win the National Championship for the sixth time. The Ducks, on the other hand, won the first NCAA Tournament in 1939, and are now playing in their first Final Four game since. North Carolina only has three less players and coaches in the Basketball Hall of Fame than Oregon has had players drafted into the NBA. However, at this point of the season, history doesn’t matter. This year, Oregon has been every bit as good as North Carolina, and it will likely be the toughest game either team has faced all season long.
This could be the first game since the Pac-12 championship that the Ducks miss the length that Chris Boucher brings to the table. During Oregon’s 83-80 loss to Arizona, the Wildcats played four players as tall or taller than starting center Jordan Bell. Oregon was able to attempt to counter this by playing Kavell Bigby-Williams for 14 minutes. Still, Arizona’s big men combined for 30 points and the Ducks fell in their first game without Boucher.
Unlike Arizona, the Tar Heels don’t have any seven-footers for the Ducks to worry about, but have a size advantage at every position in the starting lineup except point guard. Oregon will likely play a zone defense for most of the game to compensate for the size disadvantage, but if the Ducks do decide to play man-to-man, an interesting strategy would be to put defensive pit-bull Dylan Ennis on Justin Jackson. Jackson holds a six-inch size advantage on Ennis, but Ennis plays as intense of defense as anyone on the floor and isn’t much smaller than Tyler Dorsey anyway, so putting him on Jackson to keep Dorsey fresh for the offensive end could be a solid strategy.
Sadly, there’s nothing anyone has to go on for this match-up but speculation. The Ducks squandered an opportunity to play North Carolina after a string of mediocre performances at the Maui Invitational back in November. Oregon and North Carolina were the two best teams involved in that tournament, and the Tar Heels took care of business to win, the Ducks did not. Without a prior match-up, there’s really no indication of how this game will go until it actually plays out on Saturday.
Given how much basketball has changed in the last 78 years, this is the biggest game in Oregon basketball history. The Ducks have never made it this far in modern basketball. To advance to the National Championship, the Ducks will have to beat a team that has Final Four experience, and is hungry to avenge the loss it suffered last year. Oregon will continue to be the underdogs at this point of the tournament, but that didn’t stop the team from dominating Kansas. North Carolina will be the most difficult team Oregon has faced all season, but that won’t stop the Ducks from trying to continue their dream season.