The soap opera that is college football's National Signing Day is over. I'm sorry that I don't have a fresh scoop on a new commit. It's difficult for me to watch football because of the injuries and head trauma, so I hope you forgive me. As much as I love the craziness and irrational hype of NSD, I must break the stream of football posts with a preview of the men's basketball team's huge game at Oregon.
With Arizona, Cal and Utah all underperforming their high preseason predictions, a new team has emerged as the Pac-12's best. Given the title of this article, it's no surprise to you. That school is Oregon, they of an 18-4 (7-2) record and an accompanying 16th ranking in the AP Poll. The alchemist that is Dana Altman should never be doubted.
Since Colorado beat them in a thrilling 91-87 contest that few of us watched entirely (Von Miller was filmed abusing hapless linemen), Oregon hasn't dropped a contest. The Ducks' home sweep over then-No. 21 USC and UCLA was impressive, but it wasn't the least bit surprising. With a fresh spot in the Top 25 the following week, Oregon flew down to Tucson and beat down Bear Down to snap a 49-game home win streak. Altman would have stolen Sean Miller's soul if he had one to steal.
Oregon finished off the Arizona road trip with a blowout of the Sun Devils.
Oregon's latest road sweep and their blowout of Utah in SLC shows that despite their relative inexperience, these Fighting Ducks are road warriors who can beat anybody anywhere. Except Colorado in Boulder, which they've never been able to do before. I'm pointing this out for two main reasons: (1) I'm still sad and bitter that Colorado football blew their upset chances against Oregon football, and (2) that home win over Oregon could end up as their retrospective signature win.
You know what would be Colorado's obvious signature win? A shocker in Eugene. I should mention here that Oregon is unbeaten at home and they've topped two menacing opponents in Cal and No. 15 (then No. 20) Baylor. With a pressing defense and a high-octane offense, Oregon plays a style that is especially deadly at home where each big play energizes the home crowd.
SB Nation's Ricky O'Donnell wrote up a great piece on what makes Oregon a potential sleeper to reach the Final Four. Since he's better at explaining that me, I'll move on to how Oregon matches up with CU.
At center for the Ducks is Chris Boucher, he of the million blocked shots. Though the Montreal native didn't start playing basketball until he was 19, he has quite the skill set for being 6'11. Boucher is a bit skinny -- he weighs 190 on a good day -- but he makes up for that with speed and agility that's rare at the 5. To make matters worse, Boucher has a refined jumper than is ever so smooth. The threat of his shot causes the defense to play up on him and Boucher has shown the ability to drive past any opposing 5. In a display of what he can potentially do night in and night out, Boucher torched Arizona State for 26 points on 12 shots. He made 4 of 8 threes. That said, Boucher hasn't learned the finer points of the post game, so Colorado will benefit if they can keep around the block.
As good as he is at offense, Boucher is a substantially better defender. With 3.3 blocks per game, including 7 against ASU, he may be the best shot blocker in the nation. In addition to having impeccable timing, that speed and agility that makes him problematic to guard are the same traits that he uses to swat all the shots. If there is any one flaw in Boucher's defense is that against savvier post players, he can find himself in foul trouble rather quickly. USC's Nikola Jovanovic and Utah's Jakob Poeltl were able to power through Boucher and get to the foul line repeatedly. And perhaps the biggest reason Colorado was able to beat Oregon last time out was because Josh Scott went to work and Boucher fouled out in 15 minutes of play. Scott having a great game is probably Colorado's best chance at pulling off the upset, but he'll need help on both sides of the court.
Including Boucher, Oregon will start five perimeter threats. Dwayne "Snoop Dogg" Benjamin, their first big off the bench, is a sixth shooter to be weary of. The Ducks aren't overly reliant on the three point shot as some other dangerous teams are (I'm looking at you, Tad). Instead, Dana Altman has used the threat of the shot to lethalize their offensive attack. The subsequent spacing and drive lanes created by employing a five-out lineup can be virtually unguardable if said team has the drive-and-kick game to capitalize. With Dillon Brooks, Elgin Cook, Casey Benson and former Colorado recruit Tyler Dorsey (I discussed him in the previous preview), Oregon has the shrewd ball handlers to dissect the opposition.
Colorado is unlikely to heavily use their four-out lineup (with Collier, Fortune, King and Fletcher) and will face a sizable speed deficit as a result. As heady a defender as Scott is, the Buffs will be hard-pressed to keep him from having to chase a wing on the perimeter. Gordon may be best suited to guard Boucher, but CU will need to stick Scott on him to maximize their team defense.
On defense, Oregon uses their speed advantage in a press defense. They force many, many turnovers and the home court advantage will only add to that. Ball security has been an issue for Colorado since that fateful night in Seattle (miss u Spence) and if it continues tonight, the Buffs may get run out of the building. As such, the guards (read: Fortune) will need to make smart passes and maintain possession; a live-ball turnover will be four-point swing almost every time against this team. Scott's offensive importance was already highlighted, but the burden would be lightened if Colorado were to shoot well from deep, something they've struggled with on the road.
At the end of the day, I don't think the Buffs will be able to grab that major resume builder. Oregon's offense provides one too many matchup problems for CU to be successful on both ends.
Oregon 88, Colorado 80