Somewhere, PAC-12 ambassador Bill Walton is smiling that two PAC-12 teams are in the Sweet 16 battling for a chance to clinch a berth in the Elite Eight. On the other hand, it’s been reported that he’s less than thrilled two faces each other. Anyways, let’s get into the game, but I had to address the elephant in the room.
The Ducks last made the Elite Eight back only four seasons ago, thanks to Tyler Dorsey’s sweet-stroke guiding them to a victory over Michigan.
It’s been quite some time since we last saw Southern California in this position, last getting to the Elite Eight back in 2001 and before that back in 1954. Despite the brand name with USC, they haven’t been a Basketball powerhouse by any means but are in a spot to achieve greatness.
Oregon made the Sweet 16 by only winning one game, as they got a win by default over VCU due to COVID-issues dis-allowing the game from happening. Oregon’s more than deserving to be here; however, after dismantling Luka Garza’s Iowa Hawkeyes by an astounding final score of 95-80. Oregon got everything they wanted on offense, shooting 58% for the game while drilling eleven shots from deep.
One circumstance that is often disregarded surrounding this Ducks team is they haven’t lost many games when healthy. Will Richardson missed 12 games with a broken thumb, Chris Duarte missed two and a half with COVID protocols and an injury. L.J. Figueroa missed two due to COVID protocols. The other was because Figueroa wasn’t ruled eligible by the NCAA yet. And finally, Eric Williams Jr missed four games via injury issues. That’s four starters that have missed multiple games this season. When healthy, Oregon’s fallen only twice, one to Oregon State and the other against these pesky Trojans in February.
USC’s steadily dominated much of the season. The R32 victory over Kansas putting that on full display, handing the Jayhawks a historic 34-point shellacking. Nothing short of a tremendous performance from Andy Enfield’s Trojans, led by freshman phenom Evan Mobley. In their lone regular-season meeting, USC stifled Oregon by a score of 72-58 and never trailed in the game. USC’s defensive intensity, mixed with good shot selection, led to a convincing win. Can we see a repeat here?
Senior guard Chris Duarte earned third-team All-American honors following a phenomenal season, posting 17 PPG while boasting elite efficiency numbers, 53% overall, and 42% from deep. If you’re looking for a two-way guard that can get a bucket on any possession, watch Duarte do his work.
It took some time for Will Richardson to get re-acclimated to game speed after his injury, but he found his groove at a reasonable time. Richardson’s dropped 15+ points in four of the past five contests, changing the outlook of Oregon’s season drastically. In the blowout win over Iowa, Richardson dropped 19-7-6.
The Ducks continue to prove why they’re a top shooting team in the country (38.2%) on the season, ranking 14th in the nation. A big reason Oregon shoots it so well is L.J. Figueroa’s recent hot-streak, now shooting 39% from deep after some early-season struggles. Look for the talented wing to play a vast role here.
The question for Oregon will be, how do you defend a guy like Evan Mobley? A 7-footer with guard skills. 6’6 Eugene Omoruyi plays the five, but he’s mainly there for offensive purposes. We could see some Franck Kepnang in this one.
Evan Mobley’s going to feast in this one, and there are no questions about it. His brother, Isaiah Mobley, dropped 17 in the massacre of Kansas while nailing four triples from deep. If Isaiah continues playing to that level, USC becomes a vastly different team.
A big key here is Grad-transfer guard Tahj Eaddy. Not many of USC’s guards score consistently except for Eaddy. He’s averaging 13 PPG on the season while shooting 38% from deep.
If the Trojans want to reign victorious, winning on defense is how they’ll move on. They won’t be able to stay with Oregon if they let the Ducks score to their capabilites.
PREDICTION: Oregon 79, USC 74