Streaking Ducks look to knock off top-seeded Cavaliers in Louisville
Virginia is finally living up to expectations in the postseason. Can the Cavaliers keep it going while facing an Oregon team that is embracing a rare underdog role? That's a question that doesn't offer an easy answer.
The Ducks aren't your typical No. 12 seed. Injuries dropped Oregon from a preseason Top 25 ranking. Now healthy again, the Ducks have ripped off 10 straight wins and dominated Wisconsin and UC Irvine to get to the Sweet 16. They have won their first two NCAA Tournament games by an average of 18.5 points while holding their opponents below 40 percent shooting from the field.
Virginia seems capable of taking the next step forward after reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2016. The Cavaliers overcame a shaky first half to dispatch Gardner-Webb and were never really threatened by Oklahoma in the second round. They are winning with trademark smothering defense and patient offense.
Virginia and Oregon played a home-and-home series in 2010 and '11. The Cavaliers won both games by an average margin of 14 points.
South Region: No. 12 Oregon Ducks (25-12) vs. No. 1 Virginia Cavaliers (31-3)
Time: Approximately 10 p.m. ET (Thursday)
Where: KFC Yum! Center (Louisville, Ky.)
Keys for Oregon
Attacking Virginia from the perimeter seems like a counterproductive move on paper. The Cavaliers allow opponents to shoot just 27.8 percent from long distance, which ranks second nationally. Oregon needs to make it rain from outside to have a chance to pull off the upset. The Ducks shot 47 percent from 3-point range against Wisconsin and 52 percent against UC Irvine. Louis King is shooting 70 percent from 3-point range in the NCAA Tournament, while Payton Pritchard and Paul White are each making threes at a 36 percent clip.
Oregon should put as much pressure on the ball as possible. The Ducks are good at forcing opponents to make bad passes and getting transition baskets off turnovers. They created 14.0 turnovers per game against the Anteaters and Badgers. Oregon's defensive pressure is a big reason why it pulled away in the second half of both games. Virginia typically takes care of the ball but also doesn't face that many teams willing to pour on the pressure like the Cavaliers do.
Keys for Virginia
One reason why Virginia avoided early upsets this time around in the postseason is that the Cavaliers have dominated their opponents on the glass. Oklahoma and Gardner-Webb didn't get many second-chance baskets because Virginia allowed just 5.5 offensive rebounds in its first two games. The Cavaliers averaged 35.5 rebounds in those two games and is plus-21 in rebound margin through two NCAA Tournament games. Oregon is good at crashing the glass, so getting to the boards early and often will help keep the Ducks' potent offense in check.
Virginia has three players who really key their offense De'Andre Hunter, Kyle Guy, and Ty Jerome. Hunter and Guy both average around 15.0 points per game. Jerome adds 13.0 points to go with 5.3 assists and 4.0 rebounds. All three players need to be at the top of their game to handle Oregon's pressure. The Ducks will try to disrupt passing lanes and speed up Virginia. If the Cavaliers get caught up in it, Oregon could put them on their heels for the better part of 40 minutes.
Only one No. 12 seed has ever reached the Elite Eight and none have ever lasted until the Final Four. Oregon seems well equipped to end that narrative. The Ducks can match Virginia blow for blow on defense and have a much more potent offense than the Cavaliers. Don't be surprised if Virginia makes yet another early exit that shakes up the South Region after drawing an opponent that's a Cinderella team in name only.
Prediction: Oregon 63, Virginia 60
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.