Elite 8 - Saturday Preview: West Regional Final

(1) Oregon vs. (2) Oklahoma

Initial Thoughts: Matchups like this are what I salivate for in the NCAA Tournament. Two teams that have been an absolute joy to watch all season finally meeting on a national stage with a shot at cutting down the Anaheim nets on the line – it’s going to be a pleasure. Oregon did us all a favor by excising Grayson Allen and Duke from the NCAA Tournament, and while I’m here, I want to laugh at Coach K the Rat being the ultimate sore loser and getting hurt that a team that just whipped his team’s ass celebrated a little bit, lied about chastising an opposing player, and then got exposed by game audio for that lie. Coach K – you’ve basically asked to be looked at as a villain nationally (emoji commercials?), teams are going to be pumped when they beat you (and just in general pumped to go to the Elite 8!!!). Why don’t you chill out because again, you coach Grayson Allen, one of the biggest schmucks in the college game.

Phew, rant over. Oklahoma surprised me by blitzing Texas A&M early and pretty much never letting it get close, and I love that this game brings two teams who are playing their best ball of the season. The Buddy Show is one of the best NCAA attractions in years, and I want to sit back and enjoy it for as long as we can.

Oregon on Offense: The strength of the Ducks is their ability to attack you in so many ways – their 7-deep rotation can basically all attack you off the dribble, and six of the seven can hit a 3 if you give them too much space. It all leads to mismatches all over the floor, as every guy puts pressure on help defenders by getting into gaps, leading to chaos defensively as the opponent rushes to keep up and rotate. They also pass the ball extremely well on the perimeter, so it’s not as simple as just going through the rotation motions.

Oklahoma is by far the best defense Oregon has played in this tournament, though, and California is really the only comparable one for the entire season. Both Oklahoma and Cal want to make everything difficult at the rim, but Cal is more of a run-you-off-the-line type defense and force you into their size inside, whereas Oklahoma just wants to wall off the paint completely and tell you “good luck” from the outside. Oregon isn’t a team of gunners, per say, but they will light you up if you give them easy looks.

Oregon is deadly in transition due to their athleticism and elite finishing – see all the times Elgin Cook or Jordan Bell beat his Duke defender down the floor for a dunk off a Casey Benson or Tyler Dorsey diagonal feed – but Oklahoma is going to (for the most part) try and negate those chances. Kruger’s teams will almost always play man, and Lattin/Spangler getting back on defense against whichever athlete they’re stuck guarding will be crucial.

The rebounding battle in this one will be a little strange – neither team is really into attacking the offensive glass (although Oregon will), and neither team is particularly effective at keeping you off of the glass. I mostly expect this to negate itself, but it’s an interesting note to watch.  

Oklahoma on Offense: Oklahoma is vaguely similar offensively to Oregon’s previous round opponent in Duke – not very deep, but elite guards that can spread you out with three-point shooting and drive effectively into the gaps created by such spacing. Oregon played an amoeba matchup zone, switching everything, due to their great athleticism 1-4 (and even Boucher and Bell are relatively comfortable jumping out on the perimeter if the matchup necessitates it), using phenomenal communication to avoid getting torched outside. I would guess they’ll roll with that again tonight, as Oklahoma, like Duke, doesn’t have a true inside scoring post threat. Spangler is better than Marshall Plumlee in that regard (and his teammate Khadeem Lattin), but it’s not his primary game – he’s more of a floor-stretcher, finisher of drop-off passes, and offensive rebounder.

Duke, like always, used a lot of iso and pick and roll on the perimeter, but against the Oregon amoeba (and all the length they have), it wasn’t super effective. Being able to switch everything is such a luxury against a team that wants to create mismatches off the bounce, and Oregon is pretty close to the pinnacle of that in college hoops. Having Boucher and Bell, two erasers, waiting along the back line doesn’t hurt either. Oklahoma will probably lean slightly more towards isolation vs. pick and roll, which could be more effective (focusing on Benson or Dorsey might work), but there’s still the issue of all the rotating athletes to deal with any threats.

The Sooners thrive in transition, and Oregon isn’t necessarily going to take away those opportunities – I’d be worried about Hield/Cousins/Woodard finding a plethora of spot-up opportunities on the break or the secondary break.

That brings up another great question of this game: which Jordan Woodard will show up? My colleague Matt loves to call him Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde due to his penchant to being either way on or way off (and I think the same can be said of Isaiah Cousins), but like I said in my Sweet 16 preview, if both of those two bring their A games, Oklahoma is nearly unstoppable. Cousins was the no-show against A&M (2 points on 1/8 shooting, although he did play a nice floor game with 8 assists against the Aggies’ ball-hawking guards), and I’d bet he’ll be back on for this game. Can Woodard bring it again? If both do (and you know Hield isn’t shying away from a Final Four chance), the Sooners could light it up.

Key Factor(s): Will the Oregon matchup zone communicate as effectively as it did against Duke? Oklahoma’s shooters are just as deadly, if not moreso, than Duke’s, and if the Ducks don’t bring the same laser focus defensively that they did to topple the mighty Devils, OU has the capability to light them up. Beating Duke is a gigantic emotional high for any team, and even with the spot in the Final Four on the line, I would be SLIGHTLY concerned about an emotional hangover for the Ducks.

Do I Trust the Coaches?: I definitely trust Dana Altman, that man can coach. He has unlocked this Ducks team, figuring out how to let them go nuts offensively with a relentless attacking offense (and their fair share of alley-oops), without sacrificing defensive discipline and focus. On the other sideline, Lon Kruger has been great this tournament too, and Altman had high praise for him when asked about preparing for the Sooners. I give a slight edge to Altman here, but it’s mostly a toss-up.

Predictions: I predict that this will be one hell of a game to watch, two teams with awesome backcourts and extremely fun individual talents getting up and down the floor. Expect more than a few Khadeem Lattin/Jordan Bell/Elgin Cook rim rattling dunks, at least 15 combined threes, and a coaching chess match of the highest order. As for who’s going to win…damn, I am not sure. I lean Oregon, but the Buddy factor is impossible to ignore, as is the awesome possibility of OU-KU III in Houston. I’m going to ride with Altman and the Ducks, but I would not advise emptying your bank account on this one. Just appreciate it for what it is.

SU Pick: Oregon
ATS Pick: Oregon -2
O/U Pick: Over 152