It’s here, Virginia fans. The Sweet 16. The Cavaliers face the only double-digit seed left in the field in 12-seed Oregon, and it’s setting up to be a good one.
The season began for the Oregon Ducks with a lot of promise. They won 23 games a year ago and added freshman sensation Bol Bol. Bol is the son of NBA legend Manute Bol and a projected top-5 pick. He fractured a bone in his foot back in December, had surgery and is missing the entire season. With him, the Ducks were 6-3 including a home loss to Texas Southern (208th on KenPom). With Bol out of the lineup, they are 19-9, including a current 10-game winning streak. It isn’t that Bol was bad — he averaged 21 points and almost 10 rebounds per game — but sometimes it’s better for a team to not have one player dominate the ball so much.
Losing a guy who’s 7’2 obviously hurts your overall size, but even with Bol missing most of the season, the Ducks are 15th nationally in average height. Four starters are 6’9, along with 6’2 PG Payton Pritchard. He not only runs the show, but also leads the team in scoring at 13 points per game. He takes nearly half his shots from downtown, but makes just 33% of them. He’s a better shooter than that, as evidenced by his 51% rate on twos. Oregon is one of the slowest teams in the nation (though obviously not as slow as Virginia), and he ends up taking a lot of threes late in the shot clock. These aren’t always good shots, which hurts his shooting percentage.
Here is is what Pritchard can do going to the rim:
He splits the two defenders who are guarding the pick ‘n roll and goes straight to the rim, which is unprotected. Virginia saw Gardner-Webb do a lot of this early on in the first round matchup and is something to keep an eye on for the Cavalier defense.
The freshman class for Oregon wasn’t just Bol. Louis King was ranked No. 11 by ESPN recruiting, and he’s the team’s second leading scorer. He takes 44% of his shots from downtown, making about 39%. That’s too many threes for a guy with his size, but he has some serious skills for a guy with his length.
I’m not exactly sure what the Wisconsin defender was thinking. He went to help against the drive by big man Kenny Wooten. That’s fine, but you can’t leave King that open. That’s an easy look for him. Figure on King seeing De’Andre Hunter in his sights all game long. King has a height advantage, but Hunter is very long (7-foot wingspan) and has at least 20 pounds on the King. Hunter is also, of course, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
King and Pritchard are the Ducks’ top two scorers, and both are high volume three point shooters. The Ducks are 156th in the nation in three point attempts (as a percentage of total FGA), which maybe isn’t that high, but when a team is 15th nationally in height, you expect more inside play. The problem is, although they have a lot of length, they actually don’t have much bulk. Sophomore big man Kenny Wooten is really the only interior threat. He’s one of the best shot blockers in the nation and can really finish inside. He’s not really going to create a shot in the post, but look for him on some pick n’ rolls and on the offensive glass.
This is an example of the pick ‘n roll with Wooten. That is not an easy finish. It’s also not an easy pass and shows how good a facilitator Pritchard is. Happ is a good defender, but he’s out of position and can’t get up with Wooten.
Here’s an example of what Wooten can do defensively.
That’s an impressive block. His presence inside will impact what Virginia does on the interior. Those types of plays can be big emotional swings. You might notice that Irvine had a lead at this point after being down 12 at halftime. Oregon scored the next eight points over the next four minutes to retake control of the game.
The biggest thing driving the Ducks winning streak is their three point shooting. They have five high volume shooters, and all five of them are shooting better during the streak than their season numbers. Louis King, for example, is making 42% of his threes over the streak, after shooting under 36% prior to that. Most of those games have come against the Pac-12, which was atrocious this year. Among Pac-12 teams, only Washington possesses a good defense. However, the Ducks were 7-for-15 from downtown against Wisconsin. Then they were 13-for-25 against UC-Irvine in the second round. Irvine ranked just 143rd in three point defense. Virginia has actually fallen all the way to second in that category after Gardner-Webb shot 9-for-23 and Oklahoma shot 8-for-22 in the last two games, but many of those shots came in garbage time.
On average, teams shoot about 27% from downtown against Virginia. The last time Oregon shot that poorly was their Pac-12 finale against Washington. They were 4-for-22 and scored 0.86 points per possession. Of course, the Huskies were 3-for-20 in that game and scored 0.73 points per possession. Virginia’s offense is quite a bit better than Washington’s. Virginia’s lowest output this season is 0.91 points per possession (against Wisconsin), so it’s a good bet that if Oregon is down around 0.86, the Hoos are going to win.
Perhaps Oregon is playing above their heads offensively, or at least when it comes to shooting the basketball. But their defense has mostly been outstanding all year. They play a lot of zone. It’s a 2-3 zone, though there are matchup tendencies there as well.
It starts in a pretty standard 2-3 zone, but the wing defender (freshman Francis Okoro) comes out to play D’Mitrik Trice. The center (Georgetown transfer Paul White) is fronting Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ and gets pushed out towards the wing. The center of the paint is actually fairly open, though Pritchard drops down to help.
Okoro is a good interior defender and shot blocker, but he’s at a big disadvantage on the wing there. Trice ends up getting a pretty good look at an 18-footer. Okoro has been starting, but his minutes have been up and down. He’s also not much of an offensive threat, scoring just three points per game.
They do play man at times as well. This possession is man defense against UC Irvine. Two guys end up going with the ball, leaving the Anteater’s big man open for an easy bucket.
Despite having a big size advantage, Oregon gave up 13 offensive rebounds (42%) to Irvine. They also gave up 16 (36%) to Wisconsin. That’s a place where zone defenses often struggle. Because defenders do not have designated man to guard, they often lose track of who they should pick up on the glass. Good offensive rebounders can take advantage of this by sneaking for inside position. We saw what Virginia can do with a concerted effort to hit the offensive glass, as they grabbed 43% of their misses against Gardner-Webb. Mamadi Diakite has eight offensive boards over the past two games. He’s been outstanding, and his size and athleticism are a perfect match for Oregon. Look for him to get the start again, and play a big part in this game.
Outside of the starting five, Oregon doesn’t actually have that much size. Down the stretch, Altman will use 6’5 freshman Will Richardson and/or 6’4 senior Ehab Amin (a transfer from Texas A&M Corpus Christie) . Both of those guys are good perimeter defenders, and are also good ball handlers. That allows Pritchard to do play off the ball some. Amin is fifth in the country in steal rate.
This looks like a zone possession, with Amin in the middle. It seems like he’s basically playing free safety, giving him the opportunity to go make a play. The matchup zone gives that sort of flexibility, but it can also be problematic, if one guy loses his matchup.
Irvine floods one side of the court, causing the zone to flow that way. Louis King loses his man in traffic, and picks up another guy, causing Pritchard to switch. Pritchard’s original guy moves to the far side of the court, and there’s no Oregon defender within 15 feet of him. Ty Jerome ain’t gonna miss with that much space.
Like Oklahoma, Oregon plays a similar style of basketball to Virginia. Yes, they play some zone. And yes, they have a ton of size and athleticism. But it’s still a methodical game with importance put on taking care of the basketball and doing things the right way. Oklahoma learned that it’s tough to beat Virginia playing that style. To be honest, Virginia didn’t even play that well. Kyle Guy, of course, was 0-for-10 from downtown, and the Hoos were just 2-for-5 from the FT line. Neither of those things are likely to happen again.
The Ducks have more length than Oklahoma has, and more shooting. But are they really that much better than the Sooners? If Virginia is able to take care of the basketball as they did against Oklahoma and keep the Ducks off the offensive glass, there’s a pretty good chance they’ll move to the Elite Eight.