Seven-seeded Oregon faces off against ten-seed BYU on Thursday in what could be one of the most interesting matches in the round of 64 in this year’s NCAA Basketball Tournament. They are playing in the West Regional in Milwaukee, with the winner moving on to play the winner of the earlier game between Wisconsin and American University.
Oregon reached the tournament via an at-large bid, being one of five teams tied at 10-8 for third place in the Pac-12 standings behind UCLA and Arizona. Their overall season record is 23-9. There is no need to ask whether they played any other tournament teams because with six teams from the conference getting places in the NCAA tournament, their conference schedule was loaded with them. Their non-conference lineup included wins over Cal Poly and, coincidentally, BYU. The two teams met on December 21 in a high-scoring overtime game that the Ducks finally won 100-96.
Oregon is an offensive machine, ranking no. 11 in the nation in scoring at 81.8 per game. The scoring barrage is led by Joseph Young, a 6-2 guard from Houston, Texas averaging 18.6 per game and Mike Moser, a senior transfer from UNLV, at 13.5. Moser also leads the team in rebounding with 8.0 per game. On defense the Ducks are skilled at taking the ball away, averaging almost eight steals per game. Their weaknesses show up in rebounding, ranking below 200 in both offensive and defensive boards.
BYU is even more impressive on offense. The Cougars are ranked third in the nation at 84.2 points per game and twenty-third in assists (15.6). In offensive rebounding they have a massive edge, ranking sixth in the nation with 41.2 per game. They are much the same on the defensive boards, pulling down 27.9 per game which is also good for sixth nationally. Individually the Cougars are led by junior guard Tyler Haws who is pouring in 23.4 points per game and shooting over 41 percent from the 3-point line. Kyle Collinsworth, a 6-6 sophomore guard who led the team in both rebounds and assists, was lost for the season with a knee injury in the West Coast Conference tournament finals.
The Cougars received an at-large bid to the tournament, finishing second in the WCC (13-5) to perennial champ Gonzaga in both the conference standings and the post-season tournament. On the season they are 23-11. The early-season schedule for BYU was a gauntlet. Eight of their 13 non-conference games were contested against teams that would eventually receive bids to the NCAA Basketball Tournament. They would go 4-4 in those games, beating Weber State, Stanford, Mount St. Mary’s and Texas, and falling to Iowa State, Wichita State, Massachusetts and Oregon.
The matchup seems to favor BYU here, with the edge in points per game, rebounds and assists. Oregon has a slight advantage in blocked shots. The early-season loss to the Ducks in Eugene probably plays into the hands of the Cougars, as the neutral court and the revenge factor would both work to their advantage. The wild card here, however, is the loss of Collinsworth. Besides leading in rebounding and assists, Collinsworth was their second leading scorer with 14.0 per game. The Ducks will take advantage of his absence. Oregon is favored by 6 and they should get the win, but the Cougars will rally the troops and make it a close, and entertaining, NCAA Basketball Tournament game. Just for fun: Oregon 121 BYU 118.
Commentary by Chuck Podhaisky