Surprise Pac-12 automatic bid Oregon aims to continue its momentum when it meets Wisconsin
Most visitors to Las Vegas leave with lighter bank accounts and possibly bad bouts of dehydration. The Oregon Ducks departed Sin City richer one NCAA Tournament bid. After a surprise run through the Pac-12 Tournament field, the Ducks take on Wisconsin for the third time in the postseason since 2014.
The Badgers closed out the regular season strong, goining 6-2 in their final eight with wins over NCAA Tournament teams Iowa and Ohio State. Bo Ryan successor Greg Gard returned Wisconsin to the winning track after a dip last season, and his team now aims for its third trip to at least the second weekend under Gard's leadership.
South Region: No. 12 Oregon Ducks (23-12) vs. No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers (23-10)
Time: 4:30 p.m. ET (Friday)
Where: SAP Center at San Jose (San Jose, Calif.)
Keys for Oregon
High hopes before the 2018-19 season tipped off, fueled in part by the stellar recruiting class coach Dana Altman signed, were quickly dampered. The star of Oregon's impressive crop of freshman, Bol Bol, went down with injury early into the campaign. A Ducks team already struggling to establish chemistry fell to 15-12 overall and 6-8 in the historically weak Pac-12.
In the month since dropping a second decision to UCLA, the Ducks are winners of eight straight. They've been outstanding on defense, has been the M.O. of most Altman-coached teams — this Oregon team ranks No. 18 nationally in KenPom.com adjusted defensive efficiency — but of late, have found an offensive rhythm.
A great defensive team like Oregon pairing up with Wisconsin (No. 3 in adjusted defensive efficiency) promises a rock fight. But after having scored 72 points or more in five of their eight straight wins, the Ducks are clicking enough on the offensive end to force Wisconsin of its comfort zone. Veteran Paul White has shown flashes of being a scoring option to complement Payton Pritchard and emerging freshman talent, Louis King.
Keys for Wisconsin
Frustratingly methodical offensive possessions and gnat-like pestering on defense: Such is the identity of Wisconsin basketball. The wildly efficient Badgers have continued the same brand of basketball under Greg Gard as was the hallmark of Dick Bennett and Bo Ryan.
Like in the latter portion of the Ryan era, Wisconsin's strategy flows through an excellent big man. Ethan Happ has taken over the starring role once manned by Frank Kaminsky, and he's thrived. Happ is an effective scorer inside the 3-point line (just not at the foul line), and an outstanding passer who facilitates the rest of Wisconsin's offense. With the gaping hole Bol Bol's injury left in the middle of Oregon's lineup, Wisconsin should be able to establish Happ and feed off him.
Aesthetically, this might be the least appealing of the even matchups in the first round. Oregon and Wisconsin make opponents fight for every look at the basket, which isn't the most visually satisfying style for casual observers. However, their similar styles makes for an intriguing showdown.
Wisconsin has the best individual player in this game with Happ, which often makes the difference in a seemingly even matchup. Oregon's outstanding play of late suggests the Ducks have finally tapped into the potential that made it a preseason Top 25 team, however. The result is likely to be directly correlated to the production Wisconsin gets from Happ, and what Oregon gets out of King.
Prediction: Wisconsin 58, Oregon 55