Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Monday, February 6, 2017 at 6:03 PM
The Oregon Ducks are flying high after an 85-58 dismantling of Arizona this weekend. The Ducks are tied with the Wildcats for first place in the Pac-12 and will surely move into the Top 10 in the polls when new rankings come out. They’re projected for a 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament by ESPN bracket guru Joe Lunardi. All is good in Eugene, but that doesn’t mean college basketball bettors can jump blindly on the bandwagon.
Let’s start with the positives. Oregon is an exceptionally well-balanced team. They have five players scoring in double-figures and the per-game averages range closely from 11ppg to 14ppg. You can’t put the focus of a defensive game plan all on one player.
The balance extends to their size through the lineup. They have true inside players in 6’10” Chris Boucher and 6’7” forward Jordan Bell. There’s a pure point guard in Dylan Ennis and a shooter in Tyler Dorsey, who knocked down six treys in the Arizona game. Dillon Brooks is a classic wing player, going 6’5” and the leading scorer. And if you need a fresh ballhandler in an exhausting game? Just summon Payton Pritchard, a little freshman who can take the burden off of Ennis and keep the offense flowing smoothly.
Brooks is also a player that’s peaking. He’s stepped it up since conference play began. In retrospect, Oregon’s December 28 upset of UCLA was a harbinger of league play. Brooks led the way with 23 points, the other starters were all in double-figures and the Ducks pulled out an 89-87 win.
You can also look at Oregon’s recent history in NCAA Tournament play and see a team on the verge of a breakthrough. Head coach Dana Altman has taken this team into March Madness each of the last four years. He’s made it out of the first weekend twice. In the other two years, his team gave an eventual Final Four team (Wisconsin in 2014 and 2015) all they could handle. Last year, the Ducks were a 1-seed and made the Elite Eight before losing to Oklahoma. The Final Four is a logical next step in the program trajectory.
So given all that, what’s the problem? It boils down to the fact Oregon is not exactly a secret in the betting market. The price for the Ducks to win a national championship is a relatively short 12-1, a figure that would make them the eighth-best team in the country. They might well be just that and more, but it’s no longer ahead of the curve to be on Oregon. And that’s translated into a pedestrian 13-10 ATS mark for the season, including a particularly mediocre 9-8 at home. Las Vegas seems to have a good handle on who the Ducks are.
There’s also reasons to be concerned in a purely basketball sense. The wins over UCLA and Oregon were impressive, but also the only noteworthy moments in a relatively soft schedule.
We’ll learn more about Oregon down the stretch. They play five of their final seven regular season games on the road and it starts Thursday with a showcase game at a UCLA team that will have revenge on its mind. Watch carefully.