Emerald roundtable: Oregon men’s basketball faces crucial two-game road trip against UCLA, USC

UCLA guard Zach LaVine (14) shoots a three pointer over Oregon forward Ben Carter's (32) head. The Oregon Ducks play the UCLA Bruins at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Ore. on Jan. 30, 2014. (Taylor Wilder/Emerald)

UCLA guard Zach LaVine (14) shoots a three pointer over Oregon forward Ben Carter's (32) head. The Oregon Ducks play the UCLA Bruins at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Ore. on Jan. 30, 2014. (Taylor Wilder/Emerald)

Posted by Victor Flores on Wednesday, Feb. 26 at 6:26 pm.

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 tomorrow’s road matchup between Oregon and UCLA, Saturday’s game at USC and the Ducks’ ongoing march towards an NCAA tournament bid.

1) Who or what has been the biggest key to Oregon’s three-game winning streak?

Kim — Defense and Mike Moser have been the biggest reasons for Oregon’s three-game winning streak. In addition to the Ducks allowing just 69 points per game to their opponents in the past three games, Moser has also averaged 18.7 points. These two have been key, in combination with playing at home.

Guernsey — A player that has stood out is Mike Moser. Over the course of the season the team has gone as he’s gone, and after a stretch in which both were struggling, Moser is the hottest player on a Ducks team with renewed confidence. He’s led the scoring attack in each of the last two games and is surely motivated to keep it going against UCLA (Moser struggled and didn’t score in Oregon’s first matchup with his former school). Another reason for Oregon’s recent success is a high field goal percentage. The Ducks have out-shot opponents in each of their last three wins, shooting 52.9 percent overall from the field. This team isn’t built to play lock-down defense or outrebound many teams, so a good shooting percentage is key, especially from deep.

Kostecka — My answer was going to be Damyean Dotson but since he didn’t play against WSU, that doesn’t work. I’m going to go with a team aspect and that’s composure. Against Oregon State and Washington, the Ducks showed great composure to stay within themselves, not try to do too much and finish out close games with good free throw shooting and stellar defense. Likewise, against WSU, Oregon had an awful first half but came out strong in the second half and ran away with the victory. Showing composure throughout all three games led to wins and it’s what was missing throughout the first half of Pac-12 play.

2) UCLA and Arizona are the two top teams in the Pac-12 and Oregon plays them both in the next couple of weeks. If the Ducks beat them both, will they cement an NCAA tournament bid?

Kim — Absolutely. Both Arizona (No. 2) and UCLA (No. 14) are high on the most recent RPI rankings and it would only help Oregon’s cause in receiving an NCAA tournament bid. The only real flack against the Ducks this season has been their lack of marquee conference wins and these two wins would only solidify their weakness. This would also be in addition to 20 total wins, which is usually enough for a bubble team (with marquee wins) to sneak into the NCAA tournament.

Guernsey — No. Wins over UCLA and Arizona will be huge, for sure. But two marquee wins coupled with losses against a 10-17 USC team and fellow bubble team Arizona State would effectively cancel out the wins and put Oregon in a tough position heading into the Pac-12 tournament. If the Ducks can win three of four, with the one loss being to Arizona, and win a couple games in Las Vegas, that should be enough to get them into the field of 68.

Kostecka — Cement? No. The Ducks will have to beat both USC and ASU (another likely tournament team) in order to cement a spot among the top 68. Wins over just UCLA and Arizona will look bad and the Ducks will need other bubble teams to falter AND have a good showing in the Pac-12 tournament. Wins against all four teams with UCLA’s coming on the road and on national television will give Oregon a bid.

3) What’s the most important matchup for Oregon against USC?

Kim — Byron Wesley will be the most important matchup for Oregon in round two with USC. Last game, Wesley had a team-high 19 points and managed to pick up his numbers despite the Ducks focusing their defense towards him. The Trojans do not have many scorers on their team, so it will be key to slow down Wesley as much as possible.

Guernsey — Controlling Byron Wesley, for one. Wesley is USC’s leading scorer and rebounder, so if he’s taken away, the Trojans will struggle in multiple areas. USC is also one of the worst teams in the country in terms of turnovers. They rank last in the Pac-12 in total turnovers (395), turnovers per game (14.6) and turnover margin (negative-3.4) and committed 22 in Eugene on Feb. 1. The Trojans also have one of the worst scoring defenses in the nation, so as long as Oregon plays up to par they’ll be fine.

Kostecka — It’s not one individual matchup but a team effort … and it’ll be on defense. USC turns the ball over more than any team in the Pac-12 and Oregon has a press that’s been lethal in conference play. That combination favors the Ducks heavily, so if the press leads to turnovers by USC and easy buckets for the Ducks, this game should be a runaway.

4) How will Oregon do this week against UCLA and USC?

Kim — Considering Dotson might be sitting out for at least the UCLA game, this will arguably be Oregon’s hardest road trip of the season. The Ducks lost a close game against the Bruins 70-68 at home in their last matchup and it will only get harder on the road. With the likelihood of Kyle Anderson having a much better game two, the Ducks will have their hands full on both ends of the floor. As for USC, the Ducks will need to not overlook the 12th-ranked team in the Pac-12. Every road game is tough and if the Ducks want to walk away with two road wins, they’ll have to carry over their level of play from their last three games.

Guernsey — Assuming Dotson returns, Oregon’s winning streak continues and they come out of Los Angeles with two wins. A close victory Thursday night against UCLA will give the Ducks a ton of momentum going into USC on Saturday, a game they should win easily. If Dotson is held out against the Bruins, it’s a toss up. Oregon didn’t look themselves in the first half against Washington State and can’t afford to have a repeat performance against a much better UCLA squad.

Kostecka — I’m a believer in Oregon and I think they get the SoCal sweep. The expected return of Dotson is going to be vital for the Ducks on Thursday night against UCLA and Oregon will find a way to pull out the close win in the end. In order to win, Oregon is going to have to look like and play like the team that was ranked No. 10 in the country at one point. Look for Joseph Young, Mike Moser and Dotson to score between 15-25 points each and Oregon’s free throw shooting in the last three minutes to be the difference.

Follow Hayden Kim on Twitter @HayDayKim
Follow Madison Guernsey on Twitter @guernseymd
Follow Ryan Kostecka on Twitter @Ryan_Kostecka