Bubble Update: Kentucky among those teams with work to do

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As the roller-coaster college basketball season continues, the race for at-large bids to the 2013 NCAA tournament remains unsettled.  In the span of a few hours this past Saturday, six teams projected to be on the cusp of at-large selection all lost.  Which brings us here: an estimated 11 at-large spots are still available with Selection Sunday right around the corner.

Since last week’s update, only two teams (North Carolina and California) have moved into Should Be In territory and neither are absolute locks to stay there.  It’s going to be a critical 12 days for several teams, including the Kentucky Wildcats.  With a home game against Florida this weekend and the SEC tournament just ahead, UK will have a chance to play its way into the Field of 68.  The same can be said for about five other SEC teams.  It’s been that kind of year.

As conference tournament play gets underway, keep an eye out for bid thieves.  It’s not uncommon for one or more at-large spots to be taken by a surprise conference tournament winner.  This could easily happen in the Missouri Valley – which has proven quite unpredictable over the years.

Bubble Banter highlights the teams we believe are currently on the NCAA Bubble.  To be somewhat brief, teams listed are those with a realistic chance to be considered at the time of the update.  Given the current landscape, those teams could change in the coming few days.  So stay tuned.  RPI and SOS data is credited to InsideRPI at ESPN.

RPI data is for games played through Monday, March 4.

UPDATED: Tuesday, March 5

Total Spots (68): Number of teams in the Field.

Automatic Bids (31): None at this time

  • Projected Locks (21): Teams who project to have secured a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
  • Should Be In (16): These teams are in solid position to receive an at-large bid.
  • Bubble: (27): Teams remaining who are projected to be under consideration for at-large selection.
  • Spots Available (11): Estimated number of openings after Automatic Bids, Locks, and Should Be Ins are considered.
  • RPI and SOS: RPI and SOS data are updated through games completed on Monday, March 4.
Atlantic 10
Locks: Butler, Saint Louis | Should Be In: VCU | Bubble: La Salle, Temple, Massachusetts
  • La Salle (20-7 | 10-4) | RPI: 39 | SOS: 95 | – The Explorers navigated through Rhode Island and Duquesne. They have one more landmine to avoid – George Washington at home. Then it’s off to Saint Louis for the regular-season finale. A significant issue for La Salle is the lack of a meaningful non-conference victory (best is Iona or Delaware). Will an impressive win at VCU and a one-point home win over Butler be enough? Hard to be certain. At 5-6 vs. Top 100 teams, La Salle has to stay on the bubble. A victory at SLU would certainly make the Explorers more comfortable heading into the A10 tourney.
  • Massachusetts (18-9 | 8-6) | RPI: 54 | SOS: 75 | – Wining at Xavier on Saturday was a must-get, because while the Minutemen are 7-7 vs. the Top 100, they are just 1-5 vs. Top 50 teams (and 9-9 overall against the Top 150). A home date with Butler is up next. UMass needs that one and must avoid a loss at Rhode Island to keep its hopes alive heading to Brooklyn.
  • Temple (21-8 | 9-5) | RPI: 42 | SOS: 51 | – The Owls rallied to beat Rhode Island and have now won five straight after a victory over Detroit last week. A tidy 9-5 mark vs. Top 100 teams is looking better all the time. Temple has also been helped by several other bubble teams losing during the same stretch. If the Owls can avoid a bad loss at Fordham, they close with VCU at home. Winning their last two will probably be enough to push them into the Field of 68. A split may require a little work at the A10 tourney.
ACC
Locks: Duke, Miami-FL | Should Be In: NC State, North Carolina | Bubble: Virginia, Maryland
  • Maryland (20-9 | 8-8) | RPI: 68 | SOS: 130 | – The Terrapins handled a had-to-have road game at Wake Forest. They had lost back-to-back road games to Boston College and Georgia Tech prior to that. Despite wins over NC State and Duke, Maryland really needs to sweep it’s last two (North Carolina, at Virginia) to improve a 3-7 mark vs. Top 100 teams. It’s also going to take a strong finish to overcome a non-conference SOS ranked around No. 300.
  • Virginia (20-9 | 10-6) | RPI: 60 | SOS: 133 | – The Cavaliers just can’t get out of their own way. They followed up a home win over Duke with yet another headscratching loss – this time at Boston College on Sunday. It’s the seventh (7th) sub-100 loss on their resume. How many such losses are too many? At the same time, Virginia has seven Top 100 wins and has put itself in position for at-large consideration with victories that include NC State, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Wisconsin – the latter at the Kohl Center during the Big10-ACC Challenge. A non-conference SOS ranked No. 306 is a major sticking point, too. A mediocre finish would keep the Cavaliers in very questionable territory. It could go either way.
BIG EAST
Locks: Syracuse, Louisville, Georgetown, Marquette | Should Be In: Pittsburgh, Notre Dame | Bubble: Cincinnati, Villanova
  • Cincinnati (20-10 | 8-9) | RPI: 48 | SOS: 15 | The Bearcats are breathing a little easier after holding off Connecticut this past weekend. It gave the Bearcats a fourth Top 50 win. Although UC lost at Louisville on Monday, as long as the Bearcats don’t lose to South Florida, they should feel okay heading into the BE tourney. Once they reach New York, avoiding a bad loss and/or early exit will probably be enough. UC has not lost to a sub-100 RPI team all season.
  • Villanova (17-12 | 9-8) | RPI: 55 | SOS: 30 | – Losing late leads against Seton Hall and Pittsburgh on the road have slowed the momentum gained from prior wins at Connecticut and over Marquette. Now, the closing game with Georgetown is huge. Beat the Hoyas, and the Wildcats would have Big East wins over Louisville, Syracuse, Georgetown and Marquette. Finding another bubble team with those credentials could be tough. What’s holding Villanova back is a non-conference performance that lacked much significance. Early victories over Saint Joseph’s and Purdue aren’t holding up as anticipated.
BIG 10
Locks: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin | Should Be In: Illinois, Minnesota | Bubble: Iowa
  • Iowa (18-11 | 7-9) | RPI: 86 | SOS: 118 | – Iowa has made a habit of losing competitive games. Saturday at Indiana was no exception as the Hawkeyes put up a game effort in Bloomington. But what they really needed was a signature victory. Given a very weak non-conference SOS number (321), the Hawkeyes have extra work to do. The good news: Iowa closes with Illinois and Nebraska at home. If they get both, they head to Chicago at 9-9 in B10 play. A couple of victories in the Windy City could make it interesting. The Hawkeyes best non-conference wins are Iowa State and Northern Iowa. What doesn’t look good is a 2-8 record in road games and a 7-10 mark vs. Top 150 opponents.
BIG 12
Locks: Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Baylor, Oklahoma, Iowa State
  • Baylor (16-13 | 8-9) | RPI: 67 | SOS: 31 | – The Bears absorbed a brutal defeat Saturday and followed it up with a loss at Texas on Monday. Given the above, Baylor has to find a way to beat Kansas this weekend. If nothing else, a victory over KU would put them in position to do some work at the B12 tourney. The Bears are 4-10 vs. Top 100 teams and have a troubling 9-13 mark vs. the Top 150. An early win at Kentucky isn’t what it once was. The mounting loss total has to be a concern, too.
  • Iowa State (19-10 | 9-7) | RPI: 53 | SOS: 65 | – Oklahoma put it on the Cyclones in Norman on Saturday. While that’s not what ISU needed, they have a home game with Oklahoma State up next. Win that, and the Cyclones are back to where they were a week ago – which is probably among the final few teams in the Field of 68. At the same time, there’s no escaping a 2-7 mark vs. Top 50 teams and a 3-8 record in road games. Right now, ISU has just two wins against NCAA teams (K-State, Oklahoma). And there’s the ugly loss at Texas Tech. Best idea: beat OSU this weekend and win at least one game at the B12 tourney.
  • Oklahoma (19-9 | 10-6) | RPI: 23 | SOS: 7 | – After pounding Iowa State on Saturday, the Sooners appear in pretty decent shape at this point. Their computer profile (RPI, SOS) numbers are strong and might be good enough to get OU in at this point. Especially with a 10-6 mark in the B12. Even so, we can’t completely move the Sooners off the bubble. They have two final hurdles to clear – West Virginia and TCU. Win both and it’s probably a done deal. Losing either might require at least one win at the B12 tourney to feel safe.
CONFERENCE USA
Locks: None | Should Be In: Memphis | Bubble: Southern Miss
  • Southern Miss (20-7 | 11-3) | RPI: 36 | SOS: 78 | – Other than some decent computer numbers Southern Miss doesn’t have much too offer. The Golden Eagles’ best wins are Denver, East Carolina, and UTEP, and they were swept by C-USA leader Memphis. If there is a positive, it’s that everyone around the Eagles keeps losing. At some point, that has to help.
MISSOURI VALLEY
Locks: None | Should Be In: Creighton | Bubble: Wichita State
  • Wichita State (24-7 | 12-6) | RPI: 40 | SOS: 100 | – While the Shockers are in good shape given the current landscape, it might not be wise for them to exit the MVC tourney quickly with a bad loss. If for no other reason, it leaves open the possibility of being squeezed if bids tighten between now and Selection Sunday. With a 3-1 mark vs. Top 50 teams and eight Top 100 wins, again, it’s hard to see WSU not making it. But when you break it down, the Shockers have only two wins against projected NCAA teams at this time (Creighton, VCU). Win a game in St. Louis and it’ll likely be a short stay on the bubble list.
MOUNTAIN WEST
Locks: New Mexico | Should Be In: Colorado State, San Diego State, UNLV | Bubble: Boise State
  • Boise State (18-8 | 8-6) | RPI: 44 | SOS: 89 | – Few teams had a better weekend than the Broncos. Most importantly, they beat Colorado State at home for a third Top 50 RPI win. Secondly, most of the other so-called bubble teams around them lost. The Broncos close with UNLV and San Diego State. At this point, splitting those two games might be enough. It would guarantee BSU of a winning MTW record and add another Top 50 victory to their list. A non-conference win at Creighton is a potentially nice wildcard, too. If the Broncos lose their last two, however, it may require a couple of wins at the MTW tourney to feel secure.
PAC 12
Locks: Arizona, UCLA | Should Be In: Oregon, Colorado, California | Bubble: Arizona State, Washington
  • Arizona State (20-10 | 9-8) | RPI: 92 | SOS: 132 | – A three-game road trip to end the season has resulted in two losses thus far (UCLA, USC) and really puts the Sun Devils on the outside looking in. Although ASU has four Top 50 wins (including a sweep of Colorado), their overall SOS is very suspect and they have played 16 games against teams ranked 150 or lower in the RPI (and gone 14-2 in the those games). At this point, the Sun Devils have to win at Arizona this weekend and probably grab a couple of more W’s at the P12 tourney. It’s hard to imagine ASU making it with their current profile.
  • Washington (16-13 | 8-8) | RPI: 81 | SOS: 37 | – Given a weak bubble, we’re adding the Huskies, but there’s a lot of work to do – beginning with home dates against UCLA and USC this week. They have to win both to have a fighting chance for any at-large consideration during the P12 tournament. A 7-9 mark vs. Top 100 teams is worth mentioning, but there are also four sub-150 RPI losses included three at home. UW’s best wins are Saint Louis in November and California before the Bears turned things around.
SEC
Locks: Florida | Should Be In: Missouri | Bubble: Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee
  • Tennessee (17-11 | 9-7) | RPI: 56 | SOS: 25 | – They won’t be playing “Sweet Georgia Brown” anytime soon in Knoxville. After a very productive two weeks, the Volunteers dropped a 10-point decision at Georgia – giving the Bulldogs a season sweep. On the plus side, those two losses are the only sub-100 RPI losses on the Vols’ resume. Given the current status of the bubble and eight (8) Top 100 wins overall, Tennessee is still in position to claim an at-large bid. But … Tennessee has to beat Auburn to close the SEC season, and given the Vols’ 3-7 road mark that’s no guarantee. After that, it may come down to elimination games in the SEC tournament among several conference bubble teams.
  • Alabama (18-10 | 11-5) | RPI: 59 | SOS: 98 | – There’s no shame in losing at Florida, and the Crimson Tide put up a quality effort. But for a team that lacks a signature win, time is of the essence. Alabama lacks a Top 50 RPI win (Kentucky fell to No. 51 in this update). The Crimson Tide have a split with Tennessee and they beat Villanova. But there are also four sub-100 RPI losses – which include Mercer and Tulane. Closing games at Ole Miss and home to Georgia can set the stage for the SEC tourney. A pile of SEC wins on its own merit isn’t enough to lock up an NCAA berth this year.
  • Arkansas (18-11 | 9-7) | RPI: 75 | SOS: 79 | – Arkansas did what’s its done most of the year Saturday against Kentucky – win at home. But the Razorbacks won’t have any home games in the SEC tourney (or beyond). And the Hogs are a yucky 1-8 in road games (their lone road win is at Auburn). Other than that, the Razorbacks’ profile is decent – with victories over Oklahoma, Florida and Missouri. The one really bad loss is at South Carolina.
  • Kentucky (20-9 | 11-5) | RPI: 51 | SOS: 70 | – A good effort from the Wildcats fell short at Arkansas – which was no real surprise. Assuming UK can get past Georgia in Athens (no guarantee), this weekend’s game with Florida is huge. The Wildcats’ NCAA aspirations (at least prior to the SEC tourney) likely come down to beating the Gators. How the Selection Committee ultimately judges Kentucky without Nerlens Noel remains to be seen. In all likelihood, how UK performs at the SEC tourney will be a significant factor.
  • Mississippi (21-8 | 10-6) | RPI: 58 | SOS: 164 | – No team suffered a more damaging loss than Ole Miss on Saturday – losing at Mississippi State. It’s especially bad on the heels of a loss at South Carolina – both sub-200 RPI teams. For a team with just one Top 50 win (Missouri at home) and a non-conference SOS among the bottom third in the nation (290), those two losses are potentially devastating. Can the Rebels’ regroup? They close with Alabama and LSU. Win both and the Rebels still have an at-large chance entering the SEC tourney.
WEST COAST
Locks: Gonzaga | Should Be In: None | Bubble: St. Mary’s
  • Saint Mary’s (25-5 | 14-2) | RPI: 41 | SOS: 126 | – Saint Mary’s is playing some pretty good basketball these days. But will the “eye test” surpass the resume test? That will be huge for the Gaels. SMU took care of Santa Clara over the weekend and is poised for the WCC tournament. A potential semifinal with BYU might still be important, although the Gaels’ odds have gone up recently with other bubble losses. If they get past the Cougars, a good showing in the WCC final (assuming its against Gonzaga) could still be enough. Keep in mind, however, that SMU’s win over Creighton is their only Top 50 victory of the year, and their only win over what appears to be an NCAA team.
BEST OF THE REST
Locks: None | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Middle Tennessee, Belmont, Bucknell, Akron, Louisiana Tech
  • Akron (22-5 | 13-1) | RPI: 46 | SOS: 136 | – It’s unfair to expect any team from any conference to have to go through an entire league season without a loss. But we also know that teams like Akron tend to have a smaller margin for error and that’s why Saturday’s loss at Buffalo can’t be overlooked. If the Zips go ahead and reach the MAC title game, they’ll still be in decent position. But after Saturday, there is less room for any early exit from the MAC tourney. It also means the Zips might be more easily passed if available at-large spots shrink.
  • Belmont (22-6 | 14-2) | RPI: 24 | SOS: 72 | – The Bruins closed their regular season on a four game winning streak that included a win over Ohio in the BracketBusters game. Good scheduling and a 6-2 mark vs. Top 100 teams has the Bruins on the radar for at-large consideration. Their resume includes a victory over Middle Tennessee at home. Of Belmont’s four sub-100 losses, only the one to Northeastern at home would be considered bad. It’s fair to think that Belmont has an at-large chance if they reach the OVC title game. After that, it all depends on what the at-large field looks like.
  • Bucknell (24-5 | 12-2) | RPI: 52 | SOS: 189 | – Given a mid 50’s RPI and SOS numbers that aren’t great, the Bison might be the least likely of this bunch to garner serious at-large consideration. What they have is early wins over La Salle and at Purdue, plus a close loss to Missouri in Columbia. The rest, including an 18-2 mark vs. sub 150-RPI teams, isn’t much help.
  • Louisiana Tech (25-3 | 16-0) | RPI: 50 | SOS: 251 | – Even with a high volume of wins, the Bulldogs’ at-large chances are still questionable. The good news is this: a few of their victories have improved from an RPI standpoint, leaving Tech with a 5-2 mark vs. Top 100 teams. Of those, the best is Southern Miss, and none are against projected NCAA teams. An overall strength of schedule ranked above 250 suggests that an at-large bid is unlikely. Fair or unfair, Tech has played just one game against Top 50 teams (So. Miss). They are 18-1 against teams ranked 150 or below.
  • Middle Tennessee (27-4 | 19-1) | RPI: 25 | SOS: 131 | – A solid RPI and strong non-conference SOS ranked No. 9 in the nation are nice starting points for the Blue Raiders. What hurts, however, is a 1-3 mark vs. Top 50 teams that included losses at Belmont and Akron – two teams on this list. MTSU really needs Ole Miss to turn it around as that’s their signature win. You have to wonder if good computer numbers are enough. History would suggest they might not be.

Elite 8 Preview: Sunday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images
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No. 4 FLORIDA (-3) vs. No. 7 SOUTH CAROLINA, 2:20 p.m., CBS: If you’re a fan of uptempo, wide-open basketball, of teams running beautiful offensive sets, spreading the floor and using the three-point line like it should be used, this game probably is not going to be for you.

This is going to be as physical and as tough as any game you watched all season long. Both the Gamecocks and the Gators are top five teams in defensive efficiency, and both of them get out and pressure defensively, Florida in the full court and South Carolina in the half court. They shun shooters for the toughest athletes on their roster. They pride themselves in being tougher, both mentally and physically, than whoever they end up playing.

And they think that a game played in the 50s is beautiful basketball.

So bet the under if you can.

But the pick I like is Florida here. Their ability to defend is going to make it very difficult for South Carolina’s offensive renaissance to continue, and their guards will be able to make the plays offensively that South Carolina dares you to make.

PREDICTION: Florida (-3)

No. 1 NORTH CAROLINA (-2.5) vs. No. 2 KENTUCKY, 5:05 p.m. CBS: This is the rematch we all wanted, right?

Ever since that day three months ago, when Kentucky got 47 points from Malik Monk in a 103-102 win over North Carolina in Las Vegas, I don’t think there is a soul in the country that would have told you otherwise.

There are two major differences between these two teams now and those two teams then. The biggest is the presence of Theo Pinson, North Carolina’s best perimeter defender. Pinson has dealt foot injuries all season long, and when these two got together in December, he was not yet healthy enough to play. I assume that he will draw the assignment of Malik Monk, chasing around the man that had definitively been Kentucky’s most dangerous scorer. Pinson will make life more difficult for Monk than it was the first time around.

But is he going to spend the entire game on him?

Because after De’Aaron Fox’s 39-point outburst against UCLA on Friday night, it’s fair to wonder whether or not Pinson may be better suited to taking on the task of keeping Fox from getting into the paint. Whatever Roy Williams opts to do, the bottom line is pretty simple — if he needs to find a way to keep Kentucky’s back court in check.

The other difference between now and then is that Bam Adebayo has been playing up to his potential for the past six weeks. He was solid earlier in the year. He can be dominant at times now, and that is going to be critical for the Wildcats, who are going to be outsized by a significant margin by UNC’s front line. The Tar Heels lead the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, and they are one of the only elite teams that thrives playing two bigs at the same time. In other words, one of Wenyen Gabriel or Derek Willis are going to have to deal with Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley. That’s a matchup that favors UNC, which is why Aebayo is going to have to play up to his size.

In the end, I think Pinson’s presence and North Carolina’s size advantage will be too much.

But if Fox and Monk play their game, they can carry Kentucky a long, long way.

PREDICTION: North Carolina (2.5)

Lawrence Police Department trolls Bill Self following Elite Eight loss

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Kansas had its season ended with a 74-60 loss to No. 3 seed Oregon.

The Jayhawks were the top seed in the South region. They were playing a de facto at the Sprint Center, which is 40 miles away from the school’s campus. As you can imagine, fans in Lawrence were likely unhappy, especially since it’s the second year in a row KU has been bounced one-game shy of the Final Four.

The Lawrence Police Department, while prepping for potential riots, couldn’t help tweeting a joke at the future Hall of Famer’s expense.

Bill Self’s teams have been eliminated seven times in the Elite Eight during his tenure at Kansas. He’s led the Jayhawks to a pair of Final Fours, winning the national championship in 2008.

Kansas finished the season 31-5.

Gonzaga passes the title of best program without a Final Four to Xavier in win

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In 1999, Gonzaga was not yet “Gonzaga”.

A No. 10 seed in just their third NCAA tournament, the Zags won three games against high-major competition, coming within a possession of reaching the Final Four in a loss to No. 1 seed UConn.

UConn, at that point, was one of the best programs in the country under Jim Calhoun, but the knock on the Huskies at that point was that they couldn’t win the big one. They had been to three Elite 8s and three more Sweet 16s in the previous eight seasons, but it wasn’t until they knocked off that Gonzaga team that they finally were playing on college basketball’s biggest stage.

For 18 years, Gonzaga tried and failed to get to a Final Four, becoming one of the nation’s premier basketball programs without having the postseason success to legitimize themselves in the eyes of idiots around the country. That ended on Saturday night in San Jose, as No. 1 seed Gonzaga ended No. 11 Xavier’s thrilling run to the Elite 8 and passing on the torch that UConn passed to them.

Xavier can now claim the title of the best basketball program that has yet to make a Final Four, which is both a compliment and a curse.

The Musketeers have been to the NCAA tournament 25 times since the bracket expanded to 64 teams in 1985. They’ve been to nine Sweet 16s and three Elite 8s. They had a winning record in NCAA tournament play until Saturday’s loss and now lay claim to the title of the team with the most NCAA tournament wins without an appearance in the Final Four.

Xavier is going to get there eventually. Chris Mack is one of the best coaches in the business. Hell, if Trevon Bluiett and Edmond Sumner both return to school, it could very well be next season that they snap that streak. It’s coming at some point.

I don’t even think it’s an insult to say this about Xavier. I don’t think it’s a shot at the program or the coaches that have come through it. Getting to the Final Four is hard. Bill Self is a lead-pipe lock to be a Hall of Famer, and he’s been to just two Final Fours in his career. He’s 2-7 in the Elite 8, and if Derrick Rose could make his free throws, the discussion of just how good of a coach Self is if he can’t win a title would be raging with the Jayhawks flaming out of the tournament on Saturday night.

But as with Gonzaga and UConn before them, Xavier is going to have that monkey on their back every time they suit up in March.

VIDEO: Tyler Dorsey hits dagger after dagger in upset of Kansas

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Tyler Dorsey is building himself quite the reputation for being a big-shot maker.

He hit the game-winner that got Oregon to the Sweet 16. He hit two threes at the end of the first half to push Oregon’s lead to 11 points over Kansas. And he hit this three, the dagger through the heart of Kansas:

Dorsey finished with 27 points. He’s scored at least 20 points in every game since the NCAA tournament began.

No. 3 Oregon heading to first Final Four in 78 years

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Oregon, the No. 3 seed in the Midwest region, made what looked to be a smooth path to Phoenix into a bumpy road. But after 78 years, the Ducks are going back to the Final Four, defeating No. 1 Kansas, 74-60, in Elite Eight on Friday night in Kansas City.

Everything went right for the Ducks in the first half. Josh Jackson was called for two fouls in the less than three minutes. The Jayhawks were limited in transition. Tyler Dorsey’s two 3-pointers in the final 40 seconds gave them a double-digit lead at halftime. Oregon stretched it to as many as 18 in the second. Kansas couldn’t buy a basket from three (a far cry from the 3-point barrage it put on Purdue two nights earlier). When the Jayhawks drove to the basket, it was Jordan Bell (11 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks) who either blocked or altered their shots.

However, the Ducks not only left the door open for the Jayhawks, they held it open. Kansas’ comeback attempt was a mix drink that was equal parts KU putting the clamps on defensively, Oregon playing a bit of hero ball, and the Ducks playing not to lose instead of to win. Up six with less than two minutes remaining, Dorsey (27 points) buried a dagger 3-pointer that all but sealed the win — and a spot in next week’s Final Four — for the Ducks.

Oregon will play the winner of the South region, which will either be No. 1 North Carolina or No. 2 Kentucky on Saturday.

The slogan of the NCAA Tournament is “The Road to the Final Four”.

Outside of Duke, the runaway preseason favorite, and it’s months-long narrative of “Is Duke back?”, you could make the case there wasn’t a Final Four contender with a journey filled with more ups and downs than Oregon.

Weeks following a season-ending loss to Oklahoma in the Elite Eight, Oregon learned that both Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey would return to school for the next season. In July, Dylan Ennis was granted a sixth-year of eligibility. With Chris Boucher and Jordan Bell returning, and Payton Pritchard joining the program, the Ducks were an easy choice for a preseason Final Four pick.

Brooks’ offseason foot surgery — and the recovery that followed — raised concern about whether or not Oregon could fully reach its preseason potential, entering conference play without a notable win. Brooks’ Pac-12 Player of the Year season put to rest the status of his foot, leading the Ducks to a 16-2 Pac-12 record.

Hours before Oregon was set to battle with Arizona, it was announced that Chris Boucher had torn his ACL and would be out for the remainder of the season. Not only could this have played a role in the team’s seeding by the selection committee, but Boucher offered more than rim protection, as he helped space the floor given his ability to step out and shoot from the perimeter.

After fending off a good fight from Iona, the Ducks looked to be part of a Rhode Island’s magical postseason run. Tyler Dorsey ended that. In the Sweet 16, Oregon was matchup with Michigan, dubbed as the team of destiny. Bell and Dorsey, Oregon’s two tournament stars, stepped up in critical moments once again. Slated as an underdog for the second straight game, Oregon proved its Final Four worth by handing Kansas its worst tournament defeat of the Bill Self era in a regional final game that was played 40 miles away from the KU campus.

“I’m happy for our team,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman said following the game. “I’m happy for, as I mentioned, our university and our state. It’s been a long time coming and now we just need to go continue to play well.”

For Oregon, its road to the Final Four has come full circle.