After beginning the season 13-0 Oregon went through an incredible rough patch, starting Pac-12 play 3-8 and looking nothing like the team that managed to run and gun its way into the top ten of the national rankings. They weren’t particularly good defending on the perimeter, and offensively the pieces just didn’t seem to fit as they did during much of non-conference play.
Head coach Dana Altman clearly had some questions to answer, and by the looks of that 3-8 stretch the solutions did not appear to be readily available. Oregon (22-8, 10-8) would prove that assumption to be incorrect, closing the regular season with seven straight wins after beating No. 3 Arizona 64-57 in Eugene. And as a result of that victory, the Ducks will head to Las Vegas for the Pac-12 tournament next week in very good shape with regards to making the NCAA tournament.
The difference on Saturday afternoon was simple: Oregon has more capable perimeter shooters than Arizona. The Ducks made ten of their nineteen shots from beyond the arc, outscoring the Wildcats (2-for-11 3PT) by a margin of 30-6 on three-point shots. Senior Jason Calliste was responsible for four of those makes, and his fourth shot gave Oregon a 56-51 lead with 3:43 remaining. That shot was part of a 16-4 run, turning a 50-45 deficit into a 61-54 lead with just over a minute left in the game.
Even with Arizona’s (28-3, 15-3) lack of consistent perimeter shooting, the Wildcats still entered the game ranked third in the Pac-12 in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy’s numbers. Their ability to hurt teams on the offensive glass while also taking care of the basketball two reasons for this, but against Oregon the Wildcats weren’t able to take advantage of their athleticism on the boards. Arizona scored just eight second-chance points, which matched Oregon’s output in that statistical category.
During this 7-0 stretch Oregon has looked like a team more comfortable in its roles, with Calliste, Johnathan Loyd and Joseph Young seeing the majority of the minutes on the perimeter and Mike Moser posting a double-double in four straight games. Moser’s improvement has been one of the biggest reasons for the turnaround, as he’s reached double digits in all seven games. Doesn’t seem like a big deal? Well, during that 3-8 run Moser reached double figures in five of those 11 games.
Instead of having a plethora of players receiving minutes Oregon’s pared things down some, and that has worked to their benefit. And now that the Ducks have a good grasp on who they are and where they’re most effective, Oregon’s playing its best basketball at just the right time.
It’s worth noting here that Derek Willis is not left-handed, yet he dunks this with his left hand.
No. 8 North Carolina knocked off Pitt on the road on Saturday afternoon, picking up an 85-67 win that clinched at least a share of the ACC regular season title for the Tar Heels this season.
It’s the second straight season and the eighth time in the 14 years that Roy Williams has been the head coach of the Tar Heels that they can make such a claim. For comparison’s sake, Mike Krzyzewski and Duke have won just three ACC regular season titles in those 14 years and they haven’t won one since 2010.
So this is a pretty good run that Roy Williams is on, and that’s before you consider the two national titles — plus a third national title game — that he’s won during that stretch.
And this year may be as impressive as any job that he’s done during his career.
This UNC team is different than past UNC teams in the sense that it’s the first time that one of his great teams doesn’t have a front line anchored by a future first round pick that is a killer on the block and a stallion running the floor in transition. There’s no Brice Johnson or Tyler Zeller or Tyler Hansbrough or Sean May. Joel Berry II is a really good college guard, but he’s not Kendall Marshall or Ray Felton or Ty Lawson, and his inconsistency is one of UNC’s bigger question marks heading into the tournament. Justin Jackson has turned into a killer this season, which is not something we would have said about Justin Jackson in any other year.
Put another way, this team is not a team that you can look at and know will be a title contender.
But they are.
They hold a two-game lead over an ACC that might get 10 teams into the NCAA tournament with two games left. If they win at Virginia next week, they will be playing for pride and for seeding when they take on Duke in the season finale.
I’d go as far as to say that the Tar Heels are as good, or better, than anyone in college basketball this season. They’ll probably end up as the No. 1 seed in the south and could very well make another run to the Final Four this season.
Considering just how good Williams has been throughout his career, and particularly during his tenure in Chapel Hill, you can understand what it means to say that this may very well be the best coaching job of his career.
Duke will be without star junior guard Grayson Allen on Saturday.
According to a report from Greg Gumbel of CBS Sports, Allen will miss the Blue Devils’ road game at Miami with an ankle injury.
The 6-foot-5 Allen is averaging 15.0 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game this season as he’s battled a few different injuries as well as getting suspended for another tripping incident. Duke is used to playing without Allen and the Blue Devils should still have enough to stay in this one against Miami but it is going to be a tough game to win on the road.
Duke is coming off of a road loss to Syracuse earlier this week as the No. 10 Blue Devils are trying to finish out a tough regular-season schedule these next three games.
Drake senior center Jacob Enevold received a special surprise on Saturday afternoon as his parents flew all the way from Denmark to surprise him for Senior Day.
The 7-foot-1 Enevold appeared perfectly content to take part in the Senior Day celebrations when his parents appeared on the floor and he ran to greet them.
Starting freshman guard De’Aaron Fox will be out for Kentucky on Saturday as the Wildcats host Florida in an important SEC showdown.
The 6-foot-3 Fox has a knee contusion, and without him, the Wildcats will start senior Mychael Mulder. Fox is averaging 15.5 points, 5.3 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game as he’s been one of the country’s best two-way freshmen this season.
Kentucky and Florida both enter Saturday’s game at 13-2 in SEC play but the Gators took the first matchup by 22 points between these two teams in Gainesville on Feb. 4.