As we hit the final day of the first weekend of the madness, it has had very little, how can I say this? Madness? The tournament hasn’t been without drama or upsets, but for the most part, this is one of the chalkiest first weekends I can remember. All of the one, two, and three seeds in each region are all still alive, and last night’s slate of games were a bit underwhelming as the favorites all won and did so with little resistance. That has made for a bit of a boring first two rounds, but it does set us up for a really great second weekend as we are going to have all kinds of blockbuster matchups between elite teams.
There is one regional though that has been somewhat crazy, and that is the South region, where three double-digit seeds survived the first round. Two of those teams will match up this evening as the twelve seeded Oregon Ducks, the champions of the PAC-12, will square off against the thirteen seeded UC Irvine Anteaters, the Big West conference champions.
The Ducks finished the season on fire as they reeled off nine straight wins to close out the regular season and made an improbable run to the PAC-12 tournament championship. Oregon easily managed to dispatch a very good Wisconsin team in the round of sixty-four, holding the Badgers to just fifty-four points in a blowout victory.
For the Anteaters, they are likely the only thirty-win team in the country you haven’t heard of, and they shocked the nation with what is likely the biggest upset in the tournament thus far when they snuck past the Kansas State Wildcats in the first round. The Anteaters haven’t lost a game since January 16th.
The Ducks are -5-point favorites. The game total over-under is set at 126 points. Tipoff is scheduled for 6:40 PM PST from the SAP Center in San Jose, California.
The Oregon Ducks came into the season with one of the best recruiting classes in the country, and many expected them to dominate the PAC-12. But when superstar recruit Bol Bol went down with a season-ending injury early in the year, it looked like it was going to be a blow the Ducks wouldn’t be able to recover from. Oregon finished the non-conference with four losses, including a head-scratcher to Texas Southern.
And when they lost four out of their first six league games, it looked like the season was going to end in disappointment in Eugene. But when highly touted recruit Louis King joined the team, after missing several weeks with an injury, things started clicking for Oregon. With King on the floor it opened things up a lot for sharpshooting guard Payton Pritchard to do his thing, and just like that, the Ducks started winning games.
Oregon has yet to lose in March, and they have beaten Washington and Arizona State both twice in that stretch, the two best teams in the PAC-12 this year. When they hit the tournament as a twelve seed, they were a sexy upset pick and came through with the big upset. Now just one game later, they find themselves in a different position, as they are now favorites in the round of thirty-two against UC Irvine.
The Anteaters of UC Irvine are a typical small conference school. They were the class of their league but had very few opportunities to play big conference foes, and when they did get the chances, they mostly lost. They got a nice gift in the first round as their opponent, Kansas State, was forced to play without their best player, Dean Wade. The Anteaters took advantage of the weakened Wildcats, and Irvine came away with the upset victory. You can only beat the team that is in front of you, so I will give them credit, but it will be interesting to see what they can do tonight against a red-hot Oregon team.
To me, the most important thing to have going into March Madness is momentum. We have seen teams that were great all season long but stumbled down the stretch and were immediately dispatched from the madness. Marquette and Nevada are perfect examples of teams that were very talented but struggled late in the season, and we saw what happened to them in the tournament as they were both sent packing early.
The Ducks are on the exact opposite end of that spectrum as they are on fire and they are beating great teams right now. I think that hot streak continues tonight. This team spent time in the top fifteen nationally earlier this year, and without Bol on the court, they certainly aren’t on that level anymore, but this was never a one-man team. This team should be feared, and nobody wants to see them in their bracket right now.
I think they will end up being too much for UC Irvine in this one. The Anteaters were able to steal a win over a weakened K-State team, but I think their Cinderella run ends tonight. Pritchard has finally started to find his stride as he has scored double-digits in nine out of his last ten games, and I expect big things from the junior guard tonight. Give me the Oregon Ducks laying -5-points tonight from San Jose!