#1 Oregon vs #4 Duke
It’s no secret thatboth teams have been underwhelming in the West region. Let’s start with Duke. The Blue Devil’s first round victory came against UNC Wilmington. Now, I understand that the Seahawks were a fairly good 13 seed, but Duke yielded 85 points. The Blue Devils had an incredibly hard time guarding the three-point line and the game was incredibly close because of it. [player: Grayson Allen] struggled some from the field, but got to the free-throw line and still scored his points. Duke rebounded well, which is one of their weakness, but really won the game because of [player: Marshall Plumlee]. The senior center scored a career high 23 points against a shorter front-line and Duke won the game scoring inside.
The Yale game was another matter for Duke. The Blue Devils started out fast and eventually led Yale by a whopping 27. Now, there are never any “gimmes” in the NCAA tournament, but the Bulldogs stormed back, eventually cutting the lead to five. The good thing about this game for Duke, they won playing defense. Yes, Yale shot a poor percentage, but credit Duke for playing fairly good defense, holding the Bulldogs to just 64 points. All in all, the Blue Devils are an incredibly tough team to read. Their issues are glaring, defense and rebounding, but two weaker teams were unable to capitalize on them.
Oregon’s first round victory over Holy Cross was really a wash, Holy Cross never had a chance. The second round game against a good St. Joes team was another matter. The Ducks trailed by up to seven points with just a couple minutes remaining, but eventually overcame the deficit and won the game. Really, not enough can be said about [player: Dillon Brooks]. The sophomore forward kept the Ducks in the game with a couple of timely three-point shots and drove to the basket with gusto, hitting some and-one layups. Oregon is the last hope for the Pac-12, but just like Duke, it’s really hard to get a read on the team. Clearly, the Ducks are talented, but can they actually put it all together against much better teams?
In the actual matchup, it is quite simple for the Ducks. They must limit both Allen and [player: Brandon Ingram] and crash the offensive glass. If Oregon can prevent Allen and Ingram from getting hot, this game should go in their favor. However, Coach K will not make it easy on the Ducks. I expect Duke to actually slump in and protect the paint, forcing an average three-point shooting team in Oregon to beat them from deep.
My Pick: Oregon 72 Duke 65
The Ducks have too much depth to throw at the Blue Devils, they should honestly win this game handedly. I expect Brooks to continue to force the issue in the paint and draw some fouls on Plumlee and Ingram. If the refs let Duke get away with some fouls, this can be a completely different story. However, too much depth from the Ducks, and too much rebounding from every position.
#2 Oklahoma vs #3 Texas A&M
Where do you start with the Aggies? Clearly, the team shouldn’t even be here. However, with a couple of boneheaded mistakes from Northern Iowa, Texas A&M made perhaps the greatest comeback of all time, and forced overtime, eventually making it to the Sweet 16.
The Aggies seem tough to read on the outside, but you have to believe that the Northern Iowa game gave the team a ton of confidence. Seriously, making up 12 points in 44 seconds is unbelievable. I was watching the game with some of my roommates and literally changed the channel, declaring the game over. Throughout the game, it seemed like senior [player:Alex Caruso] was the team’s X factor. While he did turn the ball over a bit, the ball kept finding him. To his credit Caruso drove, sunk some shots, and never let the Aggies quit. While everyone else struggled form the field, a player that scored just 8 points per game in the regular season (and some Northern Iowa turnovers) brought the Aggies back from the dead.
Simply put, Oklahoma has been impressive in its first two games. [player: Buddy Hield] has been a legend. Really, even when he is having a bad game, you expect Hield to heat up at any time, and just drop buckets. While the first round was an easy win, the VCU game was still close. However, Hield would just not let the Sooners lose and scored a whopping 29 points for the Sooners. The Rams had some fight and stormed back, but was the game really ever in doubt?
In the actual game, the game plan is quite simple for the Aggies, limit Hield. Hield is much to the Sooner as Steph Curry is for the Warriors. The senior gives the team its swagger, their edge. If Hield never heats up, Oklahoma would suddenly look mortal and will have nobody to turn to.
My Pick: Oklahoma 80 Texas A&M 75
Yes, this is the boring pick, but too much Hield for the Sooners. The senior is playing out of his mind and it would take a near superhuman effort from everyone on Texas A&M to win this game. Simply put, it seems like the Aggies are just overmatched in this one.
In the Elite Eight matchup, the country gets what they wanted, the number one vs the number two seed. The game should be incredibly close, with both teams deserving a shot to make the Final Four. Alas, both teams do not get a chance to make it.
In the actual game, again, it’s all about how much the Ducks can limit Hield. The problem with the senior guard is that he can score from anywhere on the court and is clearly not afraid to shoot at any given moment. [player: Chris Boucher] could limit the scoring from the inside, but Hield and the Sooners wouldn’t really care, they would fire up threes all game. The challenge for the Ducks will be how to defend Oklahoma. I actually expect coach Dana Altman to funnel Oklahoma’s guards away from the three-point line and play much like Arizona, forcing the Sooners to make 12-15 foot jump-shots and floaters. It seems like the only way to beat Oklahoma how they are currently constructed.
From the opposite side, Oregon seems like they would be easier to defend, but this is just not the case. The Ducks can score from every position on the court and are deep to boot. Yes, Brooks can go off at any time, but [player: Elgin Cook], [player: Tyler Dorsey] and Boucher are more than capable enough to pick up the slack if Brooks struggles. Again, I would cover Oregon by forcing them to shoot threes and defending the paint. If Oklahoma rebounds well and prevents second chance points, they should win this game.
My heart lies with the Pac-12, but my head says Oklahoma. I’m sticking with my Final Four pick before the tournament started and going with my heart. Hield cannot possibly keep this up forever, right?
Oregon 72 Oklahoma 70