The University of Oregon Ducks Men's basketball team is just two more wins away from playing in the National Championship on Monday, April 8th, and is relishing destroying “March Madness” brackets across the nation as they unseated former #1 Louisville 75-70 on Friday night.
No, you are not dreaming, and you did not over sleep. The game hasn't happened yet. However, tonight at 7:15est/4:15pst, the Ducks will embark on a journey that could end in confetti a week from Monday.
That starts with dethroning the favored #1 overall seed Cardinals (that's number one in the nation by the way, not just one of the number one seeds in the tournament), with a trip to the Elite Eight going to the winner, which would be the first such trip for the Ducks since the 2006-2007 season.
Having seen that Louisville is favored and donning my “Captain Obvious” cape, I have to think that odds-makers must believe that the odds are not in Oregon's favor. You're probably nodding in agreement.
Never tell me the odds. By midnight this morning, Eastern Time, two of the #1 seeds have been taken down, first Gonzaga last Saturday night, and then Indiana's not particularly “Cinderella” season struck midnight at, well, midnight.
Leaving only Louisville and Kansas as the remaining number ones.
And yet with Kansas tipping off against a red-hot Michigan team just twenty minutes later than Oregon-Louisville, it is possible that soon after the time Oregon finishes off Louisville, there may not be a number one left at all.
Do not get lost in that statement. Yes, I am predicting a Ducks victory over the favored and vaunted Cardinals. And no, I do not have any statistics to prove why this is likely or even possible. And I do not need them.
Oregon will make it past Louisville. And... Why? Well, not to play the devil's advocate, but why not.
What does Louisville have that is so intimidating? A future hall of fame head coach? Length, speed, and athleticism? A high scoring offense and one of if not the best defensive systems in the nation? So what.
The talking heads are going to tell you that Oregon does not have a puncher's chance of making a statement in this game, let alone winning it. That the Cardinals' full court pressure defense will force the Ducks in to a multitude of mistakes, many of which will cost them the game. Wrong.
The Ducks can run with any offense and against any defense. They steal passes, block shots, and rebound fairly well also. They have a decent zone defense. It is not anything to write home about, but it gets the job done. In order to win in basketball, you must score more points than your opposition. It really is that simple.
Yes, many things included defense and staying focused and not getting complacent are required to actually outscore the other team. But it all starts with scoring, and the Ducks are one of the best offensive teams in the nation.
Now, it is not my intention to make you believe that Dominic Artis and Arsalan Kazemi are going to shut down Russ Smith and Gorgui Dieng, but then, again, why not? Would that be so farfetched? To believe that one of the better on ball defenders is going to handle one of the NCAA's better scorers? Or that an undersized in body (but not in heart) rebounder is going to get the upper hand over one of the longer and taller as well as skilled centers in the nation?
It's not so hard to believe. And it will be even less difficult to believe once it sinks in. Once Oregon emerges victorious, it will not be hard to believe at all. And once they win this one, their road is fairly clear. Beat the winner of MSU/Duke, and then face the winner of Ohio State/Wichita State, for Oregon' first trip to the NCAA final in the span of one orbit of Haley's Comet (75 years).
Louisville can be beaten. They have not faced an offense like Oregon's, and certainly not one that was labeled a twelve seed that wanted nothing more than to shock the world.
I can and could throw all of the stats around that you want. Record vs. record, conference vs. conference, points vs. points, steals vs. steals, top 25 wins vs. top 25 wins, but it really boils down to this:
These two teams, exactly as they are, have never played each other.
And it will be a game for the ages. A game for the ages that half of the nation will not see.
Yes, it stinks that the game is at 4:15, but then again, most of the nation will either be finishing up work on the west coast, home for over two hours on the east coast, or be one of you lucky people still in school, who are, this week, not in school, and therefore free to schedule time to watch the game with interested parties.
Sulking over the schedule aside, the second half is what will be interesting, as that is when Oregon will make its final push, aided by the offensive play of Damyean Dotson and E.J. Singler, and the defensive pressure of Artis and Kazemi.
A blowout by either team is unlikely, as both sides are extremely capable of cutting in to a lead, if not taking it back outright. A back and forth affair is the most likely, and an edge of the seat game to watch if we are all lucky.
Whichever side you end up on, and even if you are not in Oregon's corner tonight, do Oregon a favor. Do not rule them out. Because if you do, I will have to bring up Butler in 2010 (and 2011), Villanova in 1985, NC State in 1983, and Texas-Western in 1966. All of these teams were underdogs, some extreme, some not, but they all had the odds stacked against them. Villanova in 1985 is the lowest (8th) seed to ever win the tournament, how great would it be for the Ducks to shove their number twelve ranking in the faces of the selection committee? How great would it be for them to thank the selection committee's lack of vision, at the trophy presentation, for their historic run?
How great that will be? We will see.
It's the magic and mayhem of March Madness, and the Duck's aren't out of the hunt yet.
Bring on the Cardinals.