Oregon's out for its first Final Four since 1939, but Kansas is red-hot heading into the regional final
Oregon won the first NCAA Tournament championship in 1939. The Ducks have not been back to the semifinal round since then, but seek to remedy that drought Saturday in the Midwest Region final. In their way stands arguably the hottest team in the nation right now, the Kansas Jayhawks.
While Oregon eked out last-minute wins over Rhode Island and Michigan in the last two rounds, Kansas used huge runs to blowout Michigan State and Purdue. The Jayhawks looked like the best team in college basketball in those wins, combining stifling defense with explosive offense.
In Oregon, however, Kansas faces the most talented team it's seen in this postseason – and arguably the most versatile bunch the Jayhawks will face all season long. The Ducks play great defense and can score in their own right, which should make for an intriguing Elite Eight showdown.
Midwest Region: No. 3 Oregon Ducks (32-5) vs. No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks (31-4)
When: 8:49 p.m. ET (Saturday)
Where: Sprint Center (Kansas City, Mo.)
Line: Kansas -6.5
Keys for Oregon
In all three of its NCAA Tournament wins, Oregon went on lulls. One such period of stagnation against Iona allowed the Gaels to shoot their way back into competition. Rhode Island used a Duck vacation to build a sizable lead, which Oregon had to rally to overcome. Against Michigan in the Sweet 16, the Ducks missed an opportunity to build an insurmountable early, despite the Wolverines' offensive woes.
Should Oregon have another period of ineffective offense and halfhearted defense, there won't be any recovery. As the Jayhawks proved against Michigan State and Purdue, turning close games into one-sided routs over just a few minutes, Kansas is uniquely adept at exploiting any downturns in productive.
Oregon's big three of Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey and Jordan Bell have all come through offensively, with Bell and Dorsey in particular stepping up to a higher level this postseason. But the Ducks need offensive production from other sources like Dylan Ennis and Payton Pritchard. Oregon ranks as one of the most offensively efficient teams in college basketball, but the workload needs to spread out some in this Elite Eight showdown. That, in turn, can spread the Kansas defense out.
Those rare teams that have had success against Kansas this season, like Iowa State, did so with torrid offensive performances. The Jayhawks do not defend the 3-pointer particularly well, a weakness neither Michigan State nor Purdue was equipped to expolit. Dorsey's been red-hot in the postseason, connecting on nearly 70 percent of his attempts from deep, but Oregon needs to keep the Jayhawks honest on other players to free up the sharpshooter.
Keys for Kansas
Phenomenal freshman Josh Jackson has come up huge in the NCAA Tournament, but its veteran Frank Mason III who keys the prolific Jayhawk offense. Oregon head coach Dana Altman has a decision to make when it comes to defending Mason: Does he put talented Brooks on Mason, which leaves the smaller Pritchard or Casey Benson on someone like Devonte' Graham or Svi Mykhailiuk? Or, do the Ducks take their chances with Pritchard or Benson guarding Mason?
The matchup problems Mason creates dictates how Kansas can attack otherwise. It's likely Altman puts the remarkably athletic Bell on Jackson. Though Bell's primarily a post player, he's more than capable of guarding the perimeter. That puts the onus on Mason to create off the dribble. If he gets to the rim, the absence of injured Chris Boucher could loom large. Carlton Bragg and Landen Lucas could see more scoring opportunities as a direct result.
Should that draw Bell off Jackson, it will be time for the freshman to go to work.
Few teams in college basketball match Oregon's sheer versatility. Kansas doesn't match it, but takes the same look to a whole other level. The Jayhawks are clicking right now, playing with a kind of fire and employing an exciting brand that warrants comparisons to all-time greats like the 1990 UNLV Runnin' Rebels, or the 1994 Arkansas Razorbacks.
Other great Kansas teams have fallen short shy of the Final Four, but this team won't be one of them. Look for Bill Self to get back to the Final Four, with his best shot at a second championship.
Prediction: Kansas 82, Oregon 68