With the March Madness festivities already underway with the conference tournaments, it’s hard to not look forward to the ultimate post-season extravaganza that is the NCAA Tournament. While perennial post-season contenders such as Arizona and Florida are looking to lock down their well-deserved number one seeds, other programs are simply attempting to make a name for themselves. Although the Oregon Ducks made a impressive run to the sweet sixteen last year, this red hot team is seeking a much more prominent achievement that is reserved for only the most accomplished teams in college basketball. It may take a heart felt concerted effort for the tenacious Ducks to exceed what they accomplished last year, but this team has valiantly proven that they are up to the challenge.
While the Ducks season started well enough when they won their first 13 games, this intriguing burst of unabated athleticism was eventually marred by a poor start in conference play. After narrowly edging out Utah in overtime, the Ducks would go on to lose six of their next seven conference matchups. Although the majority of these devastating defeats weren’t embarrassing blowouts, it was somehow even more mentally debilitating that this underrated Ducks squad couldn’t find a way to win when it mattered most. For nearly a month and a half, the Ducks would consistently find ways to choke when it seemed that victory was within their grasp. For a team that was once ranked in the top 10, it seemed that the Ducks fall from grace would become another horror story of a team that just couldn’t rediscover their illustrious magic.
That seemed to be the case, until the never say die Ducks faced their in state rival Oregon State on February 16th.
As quickly as the Ducks had succumbed to bitter defeats, they somehow reversed their fortunes by getting back to what they had done best in their first 13 victories: playing lights out offense. In their eight conference losses, the Ducks averaged an underachieving 75.8 PPG. However, during their home stretch seven game-winning streak, the mighty Ducks 78.8 PPG. Although this three point differential may not seem like much of an improvement, for a team that was losing game after game by the smallest of margins (their last three losses were by two points), a three point boast meant all the difference in the world to this resurrected Ducks program.
Thanks to the innate confidence of junior guard Joseph Young, the Ducks were able to rally around a distinguished leader who could not only keep his team in games with his exceptional scoring capabilities, but who could also revitalize his team tenacity by simply just being on the court. During the Ducks seven game-winning streak, Young exploded has an essential prolific scorer as he averaged 17.7 PPG and shot a sensational 47.9% from beyond the arch. Although Young struggled in the Ducks miraculous home victory over the third ranked Arizona Wildcats, it was a testament to how far this team had come rather than their sole reliance on a streaky shooter.
Still, despite the Ducks honorable desire to persevere no matter how bad their future may have seemed, it was easy to dismiss the Ducks triumphs as nothing more than a desperate effort go where they had no business being. Historic basketball programs such as UCLA and Arizona had always prided themselves on having intimidating basketball teams that could always find favor with the critics because of their illustrious successes. For those teams, the Ducks were simply a pesky collegiate organization that was only delaying the inevitable. But then, the Ducks went to Sweet sixteen as an underrated twelfth seed and everything changed for this now highly respected programs.
In the end, the Ducks have the intangibles and offensive capabilities to not only match their inspirational accomplishments of yesteryear, but to also exceed the expectations of those who have watched this team go through its ups and downs. Although the Ducks still have to make a impressive impact in their conference tournament, their insatiable drive down the stretch of their regular season can’t be denied. If the Ducks can continue to push their offense the way they have as of recently, they could be poised to make another deep NCAA Tournament run.