By Rob Moseley
As rousing as Sunday’s second-half dominance of Washington State might have been, UO coach Dana Altman remained sober in his assessment of Oregon’s NCAA Tournament hopes following the Ducks’ third straight victory.
“We played our way out of it,” Altman said, in reference to a 2-6 month of January. “Now we’ve played our way close to being back in it. We’ve got a great opportunity.”
Two weeks remain in the regular season for the Ducks (18-8, 6-8 Pac-12), beginning Thursday at UCLA (8 p.m., ESPN2). And sure enough, Oregon looks close to being back into the NCAA Tournament field, but not all the way back, with those games plus the Pac-12 Tournament left to play.
Appearing on the “Duck Insider” radio show Monday afternoon, CBS Sports analyst Jerry Palm said Oregon needs to avoid an upset Saturday at USC and probably also win at least once more in the next two weeks. In a bracket projection released Sunday, Palm has Oregon in the tournament field as a No. 11 seed, but noted that the Ducks have “yet to beat a sure tournament team.”
“These last four games for Oregon are really important,” Palm said, noting the trip to Los Angeles followed by home games against the Arizona schools. “… That’s three games out of four left in the regular season before the conference tournament (in which) you’ve got a chance to say, we’re capable of beating tournament quality teams. And I think it’s really important to do that.”
Oregon currently boasts an RPI of 40 and a strength of schedule of 46 nationally, according to ESPN, both solid numbers for tournament consideration. The Ducks are 8-8 against teams with an RPI in the top 100, and have five wins away from Matthew Knight Arena.
Those 16 games against top-100 opponents comprise two-thirds of the Ducks’ schedule, and Oregon hasn’t lost to a team outside the top 100, claims no other team generally regarded to be “on the bubble” can make.
But as Palm notes, the Ducks don’t have a win that is likely to make selection committee members really sit up and take notice. The best win on the schedule is over Brigham Young, the No. 35 team based on RPI.
The Ducks also have a win over Georgetown, which Palm has slotted into a play-in game. ESPN bracket guru Joe Lunardi, meanwhile, has Georgetown among his “first four out” and Oregon among his “next four out,” making the Hoyas a team that could help Oregon’s résumé with a few wins down the stretch.
Better yet, the Ducks can help themselves, Palm said. A win at UCLA on Thursday – a quality victory on the road – would be the best-case scenario, he said.
“You don’t ever want to throw yourself on the mercy of the court,” Palm said. “You want to go out there and take it.”