Oregon a Deceptive Underdog in Sweet 16 Clash with Virginia

Oregon a Deceptive Underdog in Sweet 16 Clash with Virginia

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One storyline that’s remained consistent in recent NCAA Tournaments features one team riding a ridiculous season-ending hot streak to a Sweet 16 (or deeper) appearance.

This year’s example is Oregon which has comfortably reached the second weekend following back to back wins over Wisconsin (72-54) and UC Irvine (73-54).

The Ducks may be a No. 12 seed, but they might be one of the most overpowered lower seeds in recent memory.

And it certainly doesn’t hurt for March Madness betting fans to know that they’ll be going for the program’s third Elite Eight in four years Thursday night.

Massive Injury Derailed Ducks’ Season

The Ducks were looking like a threat to win a less than stellar Pac 12. Their centerpiece: freshman phenom Bol Bol, son of the late Manute of early 90’s NBA fame.

Bol was averaging almost unthinkable numbers through his first nine games as an NCAA player (21.0 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game).

Then Bol’s Oregon career came to a screeching halt as he suffered a non-displaced fracture of the navicular bone in his left foot.

With the 2019 professional draft looming the highly touted NBA prospect announced he would not take the court again for the Ducks. They proceeded to go 9-9 in their next 18 contests dipping way below the national radar.

Things seemed to come to a head when towards the end of February the Ducks lost three straight games to hated rival Oregon State, USC and UCLA. That put Oregon at 15-12 with any shot at the NCAA Tournament looking bleak.

But that would mark the beginning of a stunning streak of 10 consecutive victories that propelled the Ducks from mediocrity to their fourth Sweet 16 in five years.

Pritchard, King, Wooten Key in Win Streak

The incredible turnaround can be attributed to two major factors, or in this case the response of several important players.

Point guard Payton Pritchard took control of the team becoming its unquestioned field general, while Kenny Wooten, freshman Louis King and the rest of the Ducks’ frontcourt dominated the paint to complement Pritchard’s outside threat.

In the three straight losses preceding the streak, Pritchard averaged 9.0 points and 5.0 assists in 37 minutes per game. His efficiency was lacking to say the least.

In his last five games he’s put on a show averaging 19.0 points and 7.0 assists while leading his team to a Pac 12 title and the second weekend of the NCAA tourney.

King has been equally impressive in that stretch averaging 17.4 points and 5.0 rebounds per, while Wooten has recorded an otherworldly 19 blocked shots since March 15 (he got seven against UC Irvine last round).

While getting their act together on offense was one thing, the Ducks’ ability to clamp down on defense collectively just in the nick of time has been wondrous to behold.

Over their vaunted 10-game stretch they’ve scored 72.1 points per game while holding opponents to a measly 54.2 points per game. For those bad at math, that’s a differential of almost 20 points.

The Ducks haven’t just been squeaking out wins, they’ve been running their opponents out of the gym. And that trend has continued in the NCAA Tournament.

Wooten and King

Cavs Poised to be Ducks’ Biggest Challenge Yet

So it may have taken the Ducks a while to rediscover their identity in the wake of a massive injury, but they certainly appear to have done so.

The last 10 games have been their awakening as a physical team that can take it to opponents in the paint at both ends of the court with a legitimate true point guard and perimeter threat in Pritchard running the show.

That’s a dangerous one-two punch in the NCAA Tournament, and their results so far back that up.

Still, the Cavaliers are by far the best team the Ducks have faced since the streak began and possibly all season long.

If the Virginia team that was present for most of the regular season shows up tonight, the Ducks are likely roasted.

But that scenario occurring, given recent history, is not even close to a guarantee.

The ‘Hoos are a phenomenal 31-3 on the season, but they have yet to play to that lofty record during the postseason. After an early exit from their conference tournament, they struggled past their No. 16-seeded opponent again and with the Oklahoma Sooners in the Round of 32.

The team that bounced the Cavaliers from the ACC Tournament, Florida State, is a big, smothering defensive squad that beat them at their own game.

The Ducks might just have the personnel, confidence and coaching to be the next team to do so.

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How to Bet Oregon in the Sweet 16 Against Virginia

At the very least, based on what we’ve seen out of Oregon to this point, it's a really solid pick to beat SugarHouse’s 8.5-point spread.

As for the totals, this matchup has the lowest over/under (119) of the Sweet 16. It seems justified by the way these teams play, but bear in mind that all but one of Virginia’s last seven games have been over 119, while Oregon has been under 119 twice in their last seven.

The best bet would appear to be Oregon +8.5 and the Over for those looking to parlay the end result. While the Ducks look like a strong choice against the spread, they’re also awfully tempting on the money line at +335.

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