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How the new-look Oregon Ducks stack up against Virginia

Oregon’s lineup change made them better, but just how much better?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Oregon vs Wisconsin Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Quick on the heels of a 17-point loss to USC, Oregon Ducks head coach Dana Altman decided he was changing things up. The next time out—against UCLA on February 23—Altman inserted freshman center Francis Okoro back into the starting lineup. Oregon lost at Pauley Pavilion by seven points. It would be the last time they lost for more than a month.

The Ducks’ 10-1 record with Okoro back as a starter—including a PAC-12 Tournament title to steal an NCAA Tournament bid, and two March Madness wins on top—has earned Oregon recognition as one of the tournament’s hottest teams. And now they sit squarely in the path of the Virginia Cavaliers.

So just how good is this Oregon team, and how much better has their “jumbo” lineup made them?

In their 26 games from the start of the season to February 22nd, Oregon was thoroughly mediocre: 67th on KenPom, 70th on Bart Torvik. The defense respectably ranked in the mid-30s but their offense hovered around 150th. The Ducks’ nearest neighbors in the offensive rankings were Cal State Northridge, Ball State, and eventual 16-seed Fairleigh Dickinson.

At the same point in the season, UVA boasted the nation’s #4 offense and #3 defense.

But from the UCLA game onward, Oregon has been a top-10 team. Their matchup zone defense skyrocketed to elite status—ranked 6th nationally, per Torvik—and the offense improved more than 100 spots to 32nd. The Ducks’ defensive effective field goal percentage during the past month is better than any team remaining in the Sweet Sixteen.

Virginia’s performance slipped some during the same time period. The offense remained in the top five, but two of the season’s three worst defensive performances—the home finale against Louisville and the ACC Tournament loss to Florida State—dragged the Hoos’ defensive efficiency down into the high 20s.

By now, this may be inviting panic among the Wahoo faithful. There is one helpful caveat to Oregon’s success, however: to borrow a refrain from the SEC, they ain’t played nobody.

Oregon opponents: season-long KenPom ranks

Opponent Games KenPom Rank KenPom Offense KenPom Defense
Opponent Games KenPom Rank KenPom Offense KenPom Defense
Arizona State 2 60 73 64
Washington 2 48 111 18
Washington State 2 207 140 284
Arizona 1 94 156 63
UCLA 1 102 88 135
Utah 1 108 23 256
UC Irvine 1 75 118 65
Wisconsin 1 15 61 4

One of these things is not like the others. Oregon has played more teams outside the top 100 than they have teams within the top 50; heck, there are as many games against squads outside the top 200 as there are against teams in the top 20.

In addition, Virginia’s offense is light years ahead of anyone Oregon faced during their hot streak, and the only comparable defense is Wisconsin’s. Despite Oregon getting hot from deep against the Badgers (46.7% from three), the Ducks only registered 1.14 points per possession; Wisconsin was undone by its utter lack of offense.

The Oregon matchup zone is susceptible to leaving three-point shooters open, too, and Altman’s squad has not faced a three-point shooting team like UVA. For the season, Virginia ranks 6th in three-point percentage at better than 40 percent. The closest of Oregon’s recent opponents is Utah—51st, at 37 percent. The only team to beat Oregon’s jumbo lineup is UCLA, which shot better than 60 percent from three in that February win.

Assessing how Oregon’s recent opponents have been playing recently—that is, during the time that Oregon played them—puts the contrast in even more stark relief.

Oregon opponents: Torvik rank for February 22nd to present

Opponent Games Torvik Rank Torvik Offense Torvik Defense
Opponent Games Torvik Rank Torvik Offense Torvik Defense
Arizona State 2 79 147 74
Washington 2 77 172 56
Washington State 2 328 305 300
Arizona 1 126 224 83
UCLA 1 133 29 291
Utah 1 61 12 188
UC Irvine 1 39 37 84
Wisconsin 1 32 164 7

UC Irvine and Utah both played better recently than their season-long rankings: up 36 and 47 spots, respectively. But everyone else has been worse, and in some cases MUCH worse. Wisconsin and Arizona State were both 15-20 ranks worse than their season-long; UCLA and Arizona fell more than 30 ranks; and Washington State—who Oregon played twice—was one of the 25 worst teams in Division I during that stretch.

KenPom and Torvik adjust for opponent strength, so Oregon’s top-10 ranking over the past month takes this Swiss cheese schedule into account to some degree. But whether you look at Oregon’s opponents from the season-long view or a more recent snapshot, none of them compare to Virginia.