Richard Amardi

Is No. 7 Oregon heading for another surprise NCAA Tournament run?

AP Photo

MILWAUKEE — After No. 7 seed Oregon’s 87-68 win over No. 10 seed BYU on Thursday, the Ducks’ locker room wasn’t the typical scene you would expect after a big Oregon win.

Milwaukee-native Elgin Cook had a career game of 23 points and eight rebounds so the television cameras and reporters in the locker room crowded around the redshirt sophomore reserve forward as Oregon’s starters mostly sat around waiting to be addressed by reporters.

“Elgin was definitely the player of the game. He really gave this home crowd something to take home with them,” Oregon senior forward Mike Moser said. “You could say it’s kind of a surprise, but we see him every day and he’s one of the most athletic guys on the team so when we see him take the ball and dunk it on somebody’s head, it doesn’t surprise us. It’s more of, ‘It’s about time.'”

With reserves like Cook stepping up for a deep Oregon team, is it about time for the Ducks to make another surprise NCAA Tournament run?

The Ducks advanced to the Sweet 16 as a No. 12 seed last season after winning the Pac-12 Conference Tournament, and Oregon appears to be peaking at the right time heading into Saturday’s game against No. 2 seed Wisconsin in the West Regional’s Round of 32.

Performances like the one Cook had against BYU — in which Moser sat most of the second half with foul trouble and the Ducks shot only 2-for-13 from the three-point line after shooting 39 percent as a team this season — show why this Ducks team is once again a major threat to win multiple games in March. Oregon didn’t come close to bringing its ‘A’ game and still easily got past BYU on Thursday. The Ducks flew to the ball for most of the game, got 49 bench points and generally looked the part of a team that wants to make a statement in March.

“It’s definitely special, but it wouldn’t mean a thing if we didn’t get the win,” Cook said. “I think our guards did a good job of getting in the middle of the BYU zone and they found where I was comfortable at. My role is to come in, continue to play hard and play Oregon basketball and play as a team.”

Since an early February swing in which the Ducks lost by a combined total of four points to NCAA Tournament teams, Arizona and Arizona State, Oregon has rattled off nine wins in its last 10 games, with its only loss coming to 2014 Pac-12 Conference Tournament champion UCLA.

Ten different players played at least 23 games, and averaged 10-plus minutes a game for Oregon this season, so it doesn’t matter to the Ducks if a player like Moser gets in foul trouble in the second half of an NCAA Tournament game. Oregon’s players have the confidence that someone else will step in and fill the void.

“I was getting back loose and getting ready (to come back in), but thankfully we had guys step up and really close the game out,” Moser said of being on the sidelines in the second half. “I told them to just keep playing, even up 20. (At that point) I’m just a coach, (telling them to) just keep playing, play your heart out and don’t let them come back.”

Cook downplayed his special hometown performance on Thursday, a performance that included his mother appearing on the Bradley Center jumbotron smiling ear-to-ear and the sophomore getting a standing ovation from the Oregon faithful when he exited the game.

The sophomore didn’t know how many family and friends came out to see him play on Thursday, but said, “my phone is going crazy right now,” as he occasionally looked down at the white iPhone buzzing in his hand.

Oregon appears pretty comfortable in Milwaukee at the moment, even as a sea of Wisconsin red stuck around to see to see the Ducks dismantle BYU. Oregon will basically be playing a road game at Kohl Center East on Saturday against No. 2 seed Wisconsin, but that didn’t seem to faze them much after the game.

“I feel if we get stops and we can rebound it won’t be a slow-paced game (like Wisconsin wants),” Moser said of facing Wisconsin. “If that happens, we can impose that will that we want to run.”

With reserves like Cook stepping up for Moser and solid guard play from Joseph Young, Jason Calliste, Johnathan Loyd and Dominic Artis, the Ducks are confident heading into Saturday’s game against Wisconsin.

“The only thing that matters right now is that we continue to win,” Cook said. “I’ve never played at this level, so it’s definitely special, but it matters more if we win games.”

WEEKLY AWARDS: Denzel Valentine’s big week, Kansas makes a statement

Denzel Valentine
(AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Denzel Valentine, Michigan State

In the title game of the Wooden Legacy, a game that was billed as a matchup between the two best players in college basketball — Valentine and Kris Dunn — Valentine was downright bad …

… by his standards. He finished with “just” 17 points, six assists and five boards. I say “just” because, in the previous two games of the tournament, the Spartan superstar averaged 30.5 points, 10.0 boards and 8.0 assists. He’s been, hands down, the best player in college basketball this season, and that didn’t change this week.


  • Ben Bentil, Providence: Kris Dunn is the guy that is going to get all the national praise, but it was Bentil’s emergence that was critical for the Friars. He averaged 21.7 points and 6.0 boards in three games in the Wooden Legacy, carrying PC when Dunn was battling foul issues.
  • Wayne Selden, Kansas: The highlight of Selden’s week was scoring 25 points on 8-for-11 shooting in the Maui title game win over No. 19 Vanderbilt. For the week, he averaged 19.3 points and shot 12-for-17 from three.
  • Justin Robinson, Monmouth: Robinson averaged 25.7 points in three games for Monmouth at the Advocare Invitational. The Hawks beat No. 17 Notre Dame and USC in the process, only losing to Dayton by three.
  • Justin Jackson, North Carolina: Remember when Justin Jackson was struggling? He averaged 21.5 points, 9.0 boards and 5.0 assists in wins over Northwestern and Kansas State. That came on the heels of a 25-point performance in the loss at Northern Iowa.
  • Henry Ellenson, Marquette: Ellenson notched three straight double-doubles for the Golden Eagles this week, which included 16 points and 11 boards in a win over Ben Simmons and LSU.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Kansas Jayhawks

Kansas headed out to Maui as a team that many weren’t really sure what to make of. They looked good against Michigan State for 30 minutes, then they blew that game as Denzel Valentine went bananas. They had as much depth as anyone in the country, but Brannen Greene was suspended, Cheick Diallo was ineligible and Wayne Selden was the most notable of a handful of talented players that had been somewhere between inconsistent and ineffective this year.

That all changed in Maui — well, other than Greene’s suspension — as Kansas rolled over Chaminade, UCLA and Vanderbilt to bring home the tournament title. Blowing out Chaminade was to be expected. But beating down a talented UCLA team? Dominating a very good Vanderbilt squad? That’s the Kansas we’ve been hoping to see show up for a few years now. The question is whether or not it’s sustainable, and at least on paper, it appears to be. Selden’s shooting percentages will come back to earth, but his raw numbers are less important than his confidence and aggressiveness. Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham are going to continue to take pressure off of each other in the back court. Perry Ellis isn’t going anywhere.

I questioned whether or not Kansas was truly one of the nation’s elite when the season started. I think they answered that question for me.


  • Xavier: The Musketeers not only won the Advocare Invitational in Orlando, they blew out in-state — and former Atlantic 10 — rival Dayton in the finals.
  • Syracuse: The Orange are going to be a factor in the ACC this season. How much? I don’t know. But after winning the Battle 4 Atlantis by knocking off No. 18 UConn and No. 25 Texas A&M, it’s clear they’re going to be involved all season.
  • Northeastern: The Huskies picked up a road win against No. 15 Miami on this buzzer-beating jumper.
  • Arkansas-Little Rock: The Trojans picked up their second huge road win of the year, going into Tulsa and knocking off the Golden Hurricane. They’re now 5-0 on the season, having also won at SDSU.
  • Tournament winners: West Virginia knocked off Richmond and San Diego State to bring home the Las Vegas Invitational title, No. 24 Cincinnati beat Nebraska and George Washington in the Barclays Center Classic and Marquette knocked off LSU and Arizona State to win the Legends Classic.


Tuesday: No. 2 Maryland at No. 9 North Carolina, 9:30 p.m.
Wednesday: Butler at No. 24 Cincinnati, 7:00 p.m.
Wednesday: Louisville at No. 3 Michigan State, 7:15 p.m.
Wednesday: No. 13 Indiana at No. 6 Duke, 9:15 p.m.
Saturday: No. 11 Arizona at No. 10 Gonzaga, 3:15 p.m.

As good as they’ve been, No. 3 Michigan State has yet to play their best

Bryn Forbes, Ryan Fazekas
Associated Press
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Sunday night’s Wooden Legacy title game matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence was billed as a matchup of the nation’s two best players, and rightfully so. Michigan State senior Denzel Valentine (17 points, six rebounds, five assists), who already has two triple-doubles to his credit this season, and Providence redshirt junior Kris Dunn (21 points, five rebounds, seven assists) have more than lived up to the preseason expectations and more of the same was expected in Anaheim.

And while both had their moments, it was Michigan State’s supporting cast that made the difference in their 77-64 victory. The scary thing for future opponents on Michigan State’s schedule is that Tom Izzo’s team is nowhere near being a finished product.

With Valentine dealing with first-half foul trouble Bryn Forbes stepped up, scoring 13 of his 18 points to help the Spartans take a two-point lead into the half. As for the 11-0 run that Michigan State produced to take control of the game late, a host of players stepped forward in regards to scoring, rebounding and defending.

Freshmen Deyonta Davis and Matt McQuaid combined to score nine points over the final 5:32, with transfer guard Eron Harris adding six of his 12 points during that stretch. The Spartans outscored the Friars, who aren’t as deep, 22-7 during that stretch to close out the game, hunting for quality shots and hitting the offensive glass while making things difficult for Providence on the other end of the floor.

The end result was a final margin that does not indicate just how close the game was. While Providence seemed to run out of steam Michigan State received contributions from multiple players, which is undoubtedly a good sign for this group moving forward.

The Spartans will return the currently injured Gavin Schilling later this season, giving them another big man alongside Davis, Matt Costello and Colby Wollenman. He was a player they missed Sunday night, as he can defend opposing big men both in the post and on the perimeter. His absence was a main reason Michigan State didn’t have an answer for Providence’s Ben Bentil (20 points, seven rebounds) defensively.

The key for this group is going to end up being role definition, which is especially true in the case of Harris. A transfer from West Virginia, Harris came to East Lansing with the reputation of being a big time scorer. He’s struggled through the first two weeks of the season, but he got on a roll on Sunday night, finishing with 12 points, three boards and three assists. He showed he’s capable of doing a variety of things on the perimeter, and fitting into a “Swiss army knife” kind of role would make Michigan State that much more dangerous.

There’s no denying that Michigan State has been one of the nation’s best teams thus far.

But there’s also no denying that the Spartans have yet to hit their ceiling, which is definitely a positive moving forward.