Duke Now

Duke vs. Oregon: Ask a Ducks’ beat writer

Now that Duke is firmly on the West Coast, let’s learn a little bit more about the No. 4-seed Blue Devils’ opponent, Oregon. Tyson Alger, who covers the Ducks for The Oregonian, offers his take on the No. 1 seed. Follow Tyson on Twitter for more, and check out his work here.

1. So I think the college basketball world (or at least the part of it not on the West Coast) was pretty surprised when Oregon was given a No. 1 seed. Did you think what the Ducks had accomplished merited a No. 1 seed and why?

I do, but I was honestly as surprised as anyone when it actually happened. It’s been a weird college basketball season, and Oregon being on the receiving end of a one-seed is a great example. The Ducks just don’t have the feel of a one-seed. There are no star players, they have a coach with little buzz and, of course, they are on the West Coast. But the numbers back up their case. Oregon won the Pac-12 regular season title and the tournament title – which, before last weekend, seemed like an accomplishment. The Ducks finished No. 2 in the RPI, were 5-1 against the top 25 RPI, 12-3 against the top 50 and 22-4 against the top 100. In comparison, Villanova had four top 25 wins, North Carolina had five top 50 wins and Michigan State, one of the teams thought to be snubbed, had only 13 wins against teams in the top 100 of RPI.

But numbers don’t really mean much. Do the Ducks play like a No. 1? Yes, at times. Oregon’s top-end is as good as anyone in the country. You saw that in the 31-point win over Utah in the Pac-12 title game and January’s 83-75 win at Arizona, snapping the Wildcats’ 49-game home winning streak.

They do have lapses in focus, though. They have three relatively bad losses – UNLV, Boise State, Stanford – which most No. 1s generally avoid.

2. Athletic is the first word I always hear or see when Oregon comes up. Versatile tends to be next. Those are nice descriptors, to be sure, but what do they mean in reality? Are the Ducks, quick, long, deep, etc.?

Versatile is the best way to describe Oregon. Outside of Casey Benson, who plays the point, just about every other piece in their starting lineup is interchangeable. Dillon Brooks, Elgin Cook and Tyler Dorsey can all play down or play up. Chris Boucher, Oregon’s 6-foot-10 shot-blocking machine, can matchup inside, but he’s fast enough to run the floor and shoots the three at a decent percentage. Senior Dwayne Benjamin, Oregon’s top player off the bench, can play anywhere on the floor. It’s really the perfect team for coach Dana Altman, who prefers to have options rather than stars. Teams have struggled to shut Oregon’s offense down because Boucher, Brooks, Cook, Benjamin and Dorsey can all potentially lead the team in scoring on any given night. And on defense, the majority of those guys are in the 6-5 to 6-7 range with long arms, making it tough to penetrate their zone.

The length is really noticeable with Boucher and Jordan Bell. Last year, Bell broke Oregon’s single-season record with 94 blocks. Boucher has topped that this year with 109. When they’re both on the floor, it’s tough to get easy buckets inside because they’re quick enough to close if the other gets beat.

3. Tell me more about the Oregon offense. I know the Ducks play without a traditional post presence, and I saw some sets Sunday night with one guy at the free throw line and pretty much everyone else behind the 3-point arc.

Like I mentioned earlier, the Ducks like to have their options. Brooks has been their most consistent threat, and he’s generally the one that spots up at the top of the key, trying to find that soft spot inside of a zone – sort of a four out, one in offense. With Oregon’s starting five, everyone can shoot the three, so they like to have their options on the perimeter. If they go inside, Cook and Brooks are the best at posting up. Boucher would really benefit to learn some more post moves.

Altman’s mantra this year has been “simple plays” and it’s worked. When the Ducks are playing well, they don’t turn the ball over. Before beating St. Joe’s on Sunday, the Ducks had gone three straight games with fewer than 10 turnovers. A lot of that has been sparked by Benson. He’s not one of Oregon’s scorers, but he has just 23 turnovers in 1028 minutes this season.

4. Let’s not overthink this next question: How about some more info on the Oregon defense? Is it normally a matchup zone-type deal? And there is a press involved, too, right?

Yep, usually a matchup zone. Nothing special here. They run a base 2-3 and will occasionally go man for stretches. As of late they’ve really been favoring a press and trap, which might be one of their advantages against Duke. A really good point guard can maneuver through them, but if they find a team that doesn’t have one, they’ll keep the pressure on from the start of the inbounds. This really worked wonders for the Ducks while coming back from seven points down against St. Joe’s.

5. If you were talking to an audience who knew virtually nothing about Oregon, what else would you mention? How’s Dana Altman? Anything particularly unique or noteworthy about covering the team? Is there a closet overflowing with a zillion different highlighter-toned uniforms and Nike shoes? Does Phil Knight like basketball, too?

Dana Altman is one of the best coaches in college basketball. He is also one of the dullest, and I think he prefers it like that. He’s a country, Midwestern-type who tries to draw little attention to himself. I remain convinced that he would be completely fine coaching Friday’s game in a barn with nobody watching – as long as he won. He’s an “aw-shucks” type off the court, but he transforms into something fierce on it.

The uniforms are aplenty. Probably not as many combinations as the football teams, but there are still too many.

The really interesting thing about this team is how, at times, little they impact campus. Oregon is becoming a perennial top 25 contender, but this is definitely still a football school. Attendance doesn’t really pick up until midway through the conference schedule and the building was only sold out twice this year. Maybe that changes after this year’s success, but basketball is really still a hidden gem in Eugene.

Thanks to Tyson for his time.

Laura Keeley: 919-829-4556, @laurakeeley