Photo by Allan Johnstone
Oregon Basketball

How Can Oregon Beat Virginia?

March 26, 2019

On Feb. 23, Oregon was 15-12, good for 10th place in the Pac-12 at 6-8. Then came 10 wins in a row, and suddenly it is the last Pac-12 team standing in March Madness. Crazy what just a month can do for a basketball program.

But now comes Oregon's biggest test: first-seeded Virginia.

Under head coach Tony Bennett, Virginia has made a name for itself as one of the best defensive programs in the country, and this year’s team is no different. The Cavs also don’t make a lot of mental mistakes. That’s why ESPN has Virginia as 8.5-point favorites and only gives Oregon a 7.2 percent chance of winning Thursday night.

Here is what I think needs to happen for the Ducks to upset Virginia in Louisville and punch their ticket to the Elite 8.

Virginia might have a longer history as a defensive powerhouse. But the Ducks have shown this season that they can disrupt and shut down opposing offenses with their length and athleticism.

On the season, the Ducks rank 12th nationally in points allowed per game. In nine of its last 10 games, Oregon has held opponents to 62 points or fewer. So far this postseason, the Cavaliers scored 71 points in their first-round win over Gardner-Webb and only 63 in a win over Oklahoma.

If Oregon can make Virginia uncomfortable on offense by applying full-court pressure and pushing the pace of the game, the Ducks have a chance. Oklahoma was able to get Virginia’s elite shooter, Kyle Guy, out of his rhythm. As a result, he went 0-10 from behind the arc and scored only 4 points. De’Andre Hunter scored 10 points, but he didn’t shoot the ball all that well, either.

Virginia has a deep bench, but getting its starters out of rhythm would go a long way in disrupting the Cavs. Just like UC-Irvine, Virginia is a team that likes to play deliberate basketball. But the Cavs have shown that they can tire out and get sloppy if their opponents control the speed of the game.

Another reason for pushing the pace of this game is because it will increase the Ducks' chances of being successful on offense. Virginia has a top 25 defense when it comes to both 2-point and 3-point field goal percentage. The Cavs' defense is incredibly successful at preventing teams from driving, by suffocating the post, applying ball pressure and closing out well.

The best way to beat that defense is by not letting them to set it up in the first place. The Ducks have shown that they can successfully create turnovers on defense and score quickly in transition. That will need to become a big part of Oregon's game plan against Virginia.

A weak spot in Virginia’s offense is its true freshman point guard, Kihei Clark, who has already turned the ball over 5 times in March Madness. Exploiting that weakness will be a key factor in getting Oregon’s transition offense going.

Another key factor is how accurate Oregon can be from behind the arc. Against the Anteaters, the Ducks shot an impressive 52 percent from deep, making 13 threes. Most impressive was Ehab Amin, a 31 percent three-point shooter, who went 4/4 from behind the arc -- including one that I think could have warranted an and-one opportunity.

Louis King is another Duck who has really stepped up his game from behind the arc, making 4/7 threes against the Anteaters. Paul White and Payton Pritchard also have shown that they can shoot the ball well from deep.

I think threes are going to be a big part of this game because the paint is going to be clogged on both ends of the court. Oregon has length and athleticism on defense, anchored by safety net Kenny Wooten, who already has 11 blocks in this tournament. Virginia has Mamadi Diakite, who ranks in the top 30 nationally in block rate, and Hunter, who was the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year.

I have been a big proponent this whole year of Oregon getting points in the paint. But against Virginia, the Ducks are going to need to be able to shoot the three-ball well to get Virginia’s defense uncomfortable and out of place.

So far in March Madness, the Ducks have done a good job from behind the arc, shooting better than 40 percent. That compares positively to a regular season when they were lucky to get a handful of threes per game. Getting and making quality attempts from deep must continue if they want to challenge Virginia.

Oregon has gotten this far in the postseason thanks to everything clicking into place at exactly the right time. The most crucial elements:

The late-season heroics of Pritchard, who has emerged as a dominant floor general and is averaging 16.3 points and 5.4 assists a game while turning the ball over only 19 times in the last 19 games;

The high-flying efforts of Wooten, who has started to get more recognition nationally because of his athleticism and defensive dominance;

Highly touted freshman King, who has emerged as an elite scorer in the Ducks' past 10 games and who has been snagging key rebounds as well;

And role players like Ehab Amin, who have also stepped into their roles and are experiencing a new kind of success.

Most experts have Oregon’s Cinderella run coming to an end against the Cavaliers. But I think the Ducks can pull this game out and propel themselves into their second Elite 8 in three years and the fourth this century.

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