The Virginia Cavaliers play for a spot in their second Elite Eight since 2016 tonight as they face the 12th seeded Oregon Ducks. Oregon has been on a tear as of late, rattling off 10 straight wins to earn the Pac-12 tournament crown and a spot in the Sweet 16. While we already took a look at how the new-look Ducks matchup with the Hoos, it’s worth noting pace of play could be a huge factor in this game...just not how it usually is.
We knew going into the tournament that the South Region had a handful of teams that play on the slower side of things when it comes to adjusted tempo. St. Mary’s (KenPom No. 348) lost to Villanova (No. 335) in the opening round, and the Wildcats fell to Purdue (one of the speediest in the region at No. 269) in the Round of 32. Kansas State (No. 339), Cincinnati (No. 338), and Wisconsin (No. 331) have all been eliminated. The Sooners were downright speedy at No. 122, and Virginia’s opening-round opponent Gardner-Webb clocked in at No. 199.
Virginia is dead last in tempo at No. 353, but Oregon is one of the slowest squads remaining as the Ducks clock in at No. 328 in tempo on KenPom. Of the teams still playing (ones not named Virginia, that is), the East Region’s Virginia Tech (No. 332) is the only team slower than Oregon. So far in the tournament, the Ducks played Wisconsin in a 63-possession game and followed it up with a 58-possession game against Baylor.
For reference, the Hoos matched the Ducks with a 63-possession game against Gardner-Webb, but only hit 56 possessions against Oklahoma.
Virginia has played teams of varying speeds, beating North Carolina (No. 6) and Wisconsin this season alone, and the Cavaliers are the best in the country at playing this pace.
“I think that they probably want to play at a similar pace, but for us, it’s always about trying to get the best shot possible,” Ty Jerome told reporters at media day. “So, if that comes quicker on the shot clock, that’s fine, or if that comes late, that’s fine, too. And then it’s always about just trying to make them take a tough shot. That’s our motto, make them take a tough shot and get a good shot. Whatever pace that comes at, we’re fine with.”
The Hoos aren’t going to change what they’re doing, but the difference is the Ducks are one of the few squads that may not mind as much.
“We don’t think we play as slow as people think, but I guess numbers show that we play this slow, so we do play that slow,” Oregon’s Ehab Amin said in the Ducks’ locker room on Wednesday afternoon. “Virginia definitely plays slower than us, and they stay comfortable in that slow pace. It’s going to come up to who imposes their will more and plays their style more. We will try and speed them up a little bit and get them out of their comfort zone.”
To Amin’s point, the Ducks don’t live in the same possession range as the Hoos. Over their 10-game win streak, Oregon has had just two games with fewer than 63 possessions. In Virginia’s last 10 games, only one reached 63 possessions. Where the Ducks like to hound opponents isn’t as much in transition (just one transition bucket in each of the last two games), but in forcing turnovers.
Wisconsin turned the ball over 13 times against the Ducks, leading to 10 points for Oregon. UC Irvine? Oregon notched 25 points off of 15 Anteater giveaways. They like to press, and, as Amin alluded to, that’s something the Ducks will do to get the Cavaliers uncomfortable.
Virginia, however, has seen a lot of this so far this season. Will they be able to limit turnovers and stay cool against the press? Only time will tell. The players, however, have a measured take on the whole tempo topic.
“It may help us, but at this time of the year we’re used to playing fast teams, slower teams,” Braxton Key said. “Preferably, I’d like to play a slower team just because you don’t have to worry about sprinting back on defense and find your man and get your matchups. They’re [Oregon] opportunistic like we are if they get a chance to take a fast break, they will.”
Oregon and Virginia will tip off at approximately 9:59pm, and the game will be televised on TBS.