Every week during men’s basketball season, our sports staff will discuss different topics surrounding an upcoming game(s). Today, sports reporters Hayden Kim, Madison Guernsey and Ryan Kostecka discuss tonight’s matchup between Oregon and Arizona and Saturday’s game between the Ducks and Arizona State.
1) How crucial is this Arizona road trip for Oregon’s NCAA tournament hopes? Do they need to beat both Arizona schools or just one?
Hayden Kim – With just nine games remaining this season, the Ducks understand just how important each and every game is from here on out. Sitting at ninth in the Pac-12 and 42nd in the most recent RPI rankings, the Ducks will need to at least split their upcoming road trip. The Ducks won’t be favored against No. 2 Arizona by any means, but if they can manage to pull off an upset following the Wildcats first loss of the season, it would most likely solidify a spot for Oregon in the NCAA tournament.
Madison Guernsey – Oregon needs to win both games to have a good chance at making the NCAA Tournament. With a 3-6 record in conference play, zero wins against AP top 25 teams and just one win against a top 55 RPI team (Ole Miss), these two games are huge in terms of building Oregon’s tournament resume. Arizona is No. 2 in both the AP poll and RPI rankings, and Arizona State has the 46th best RPI. Per the current AP poll, Oregon has just two games remaining against ranked opponents, both against Arizona.
Ryan Kostecka – Because of the Pac-12’s lack of star power combined with how poorly the Ducks played in the beginning of the conference season, Oregon needs at least a split to have a chance. A clean sweep of the Arizona schools would put them in the tournament but two losses would take them out. The best scenario is a sweep but a split is needed. It should be noted that Oregon gets both Arizona schools on the last weekend of the regular season at home, so the Ducks will once again have to split if they win out to that point or win both games if they continue to struggle.
2) Have the Ducks shown significant improvement these last three games (wins over Washington State and USC and a two-point loss to UCLA) or are they still mostly similar to the team that lost its first five Pac-12 games?
Hayden Kim – From a confidence standpoint, the Ducks are near where they were prior to going on their five-game skid. Though the Ducks haven’t looked anywhere near as good offensively since beginning conference play, they are doing just enough to stay competitive in games. These past three games have shown improvement on the defensive end and it may just be the late- season spark the Ducks have been looking for.
Madison Guernsey – It’s tough to say. A win over the lowly Cougars of Washington State doesn’t give Oregon’s apparent turnaround any validity. The Ducks played well against UCLA but couldn’t finish. After an awful first half against a bad USC team, they applied full-court pressure and looked like a different team. They’ve gotten better defensively, although they allowed the poor shooting Trojans to hit 49 percent of their field goals. When it comes down to it, Oregon has improved, but not enough to be an entirely different team. Long answer short, they’re mostly similar to the team that lost its first five Pac-12 games.
Ryan Kostecka – This is a completely different Ducks team from the squad that lost five straight, but that’s only purely from a confidence standpoint. Oregon is back to shooting decent (especially from Joseph Young and Jason Calliste), so they have every reason to be confident against a weakened Arizona team. Defensively, they’re pressuring the ball more and showing more effort but anything short of 40 minutes of hard work will result in a loss.
3) How much of a blow is Brandon Ashley’s injury to Arizona’s outlook against Oregon and the rest of the season?
Hayden Kim – There is no question how big a loss Brandon Ashley’s season-ending injury is to the No. 2-ranked Wildcats. Ashley, who was averaging 11.5 points and 5.8 rebounds was one of the vital players in a strict Sean Miller lineup and now they will have to look elsewhere. Luckily for Arizona, they have a formidable replacement in Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who is more than capable of giving the Ducks some trouble in the paint. In regards to the rest of the season, the Wildcats won’t be at 100 percent, but with how much depth they have, that shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
Madison Guernsey – It hurts, no question. But the rest of the Pac-12 is nowhere near Arizona’s level and can be beaten on any given night. The Wildcats should still easily win the conference outright and probably the conference tournament, but Ashley’s injury may be more prevalent come March.
Ryan Kostecka – This is the Wildcats most complete team I’ve seen since I lived in Arizona 15 years ago. Ashley’s injury hurts, not for the Pac-12 but more on a national scale. The Wildcats are still head-and-shoulders above the conference so the injury won’t hurt their conference championship hopes much. He’s been Arizona’s most consistent big man all year, but apart from Hollis-Jefferson, the Wildcats don’t have much depth down low. This injury has the possibility of leaving a lasting scar.
4) Who wins the Arizona and Arizona State games, and why?
Hayden Kim – I think the Ducks will give Arizona a good game tonight and lose by less than 10 due to their recent spurt in confidence and improvement in defense. In order to do so, however, the Ducks will need to get the Wildcats big men in early foul trouble. Against Arizona State, the Ducks will pull out the win by winning the paint. The Sun Devils aren’t among the better rebounding teams in the conference and that will allow the Ducks to play their game smoothly.
Madison Guernsey – No upset alert for Arizona, although the Ducks will play the Wildcats tough and stay within reach until late in the second half. The ‘Cats are too good and Oregon’s been too inconsistent to pull off an upset of this magnitude. Saturday’s game against Arizona State will be much more competitive, but Oregon will have a tough time containing Jahii Carson and ASU’s three-point shooting (40.4 percent). They’ll also have to deal with 7-foot-2 center Jordan Bachynski, who unlike USC’s Omar Oraby, is very productive. Plus, the Sun Devils are 11-1 at home.
Ryan Kostecka – Neither of these matchup’s favor Oregon. Oregon is going to need to beat up Arizona down low and get the big men into foul trouble, but the Ducks don’t have enough strength in the post to do so and the guards will find it tough to penetrate against Nick Johnson and T.J. McConnell of Arizona. Oregon will stay close in the first half before being run out of the McKale Center with a 15-20-point loss. Arizona State has one of the best guards in the country in Jahii Carson and given how weak the Ducks’ defense is, Carson could go off for 30-plus. Combine him with Bachynksi, the Ducks will be traveling back to Eugene 0-2.