One day after completing a stunning turnaround to close the season, Oregon (23-12) was announced as the No. 12 seed in the South Region — setting up a showdown with No. 5 Wisconsin (23-10) in San Jose, Calif. Tipoff is set for 1:30 p.m. on Friday.
“Playing in Cali, hopefully all our fans will be down there… should be a great atmosphere.” Oregon’s Payton Pritchard said. “Playing on Friday does give us an extra day of rest and another day to prepare for Wisconsin. But we’re just looking forward to going down there and competing and getting a ‘W.’”
The Ducks will enter the NCAA Tournament as one of the hottest team in the country, with an eight-winning streak. That streak concluded with four wins in four days at the Pac-12 tournament when they became the first conference team to defeat the No. 1, 2 and 3 seeds in the same tournament.
But the extra day of rest is huge for Oregon because the Ducks, who Pritchard claimed fatigued never set in during the conference tournament, get an extra day to prepare for Wisconsin. Four games in four days is taxing regardless of how good of shape one might be in so any extra time the Ducks have, they’ll take it.
Another bonus is the destination of San Jose, a short flight south while the Badgers must come from the Midwest to play the game.
The winner between Oregon-Wisconsin will face the winner of No. 4 Kansas State (25-8) and No. 13 UC-Irvine (30-5), another trendy upset pick considering the makeup of both teams and the travel. But before the Ducks look ahead to a potential round-of-32 matchup, they’re going with the same approach that allowed to be in this very position to begin with.
“I am happy with the guys, tremendously so. That was a great four-day effort and the camaraderie, the way those guys played together, it was fun to see,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman. “The seniors stepped up and hit a couple of big shots. Really happy for the guys because they really taken some steps here lately.”
Pritchard, the often-maligned point guard throughout the season due to his struggles, has been sensational during the winning streak, earning Pac-12 MOP honors that were hammered with his one-handed slam against Washington at the end of the championship game. With his leadership and the way he’s playing, Oregon is as dangerous a double-digit seed there is in the tournament.
The Ducks get the job done defensively, holding teams to 54.3 points per game and 34.6-percent shooting from the floor — a good thing because outside of Wisconsin star Ethan Happ (17.5ppg, 10.1rpg and 4.6apg), the Badgers really struggle on the offensive side of the ball.
“Pleased with what we’ve accomplished, but by no means are we satisfied… I think our guys, they know that they had a good week and they’ve had a couple of good weeks here but I don’t think they’re satisfied,” Altman said. “We’ve underachieved this year; the only way to make that up is to have a great run here. I don’t think there’s anybody satisfied with what we’ve accomplished.”