Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports
No. 24 UCLA hoops (15-3, 5-0 Pac-12) is set to take on a fellow top-25 Pac-12 squad in the No. 21 Oregon Ducks (15-2, 4-0 Pac-12) on Saturday at Pauley Pavilion.
Both teams are relatively fresh off of earning top-25 rankings in the Coaches Poll, with Oregon earning a pair of huge victories over Arizona and Arizona State while UCLA earned a road sweep of Utah and Colorado.
How good are these Oregon Ducks, though?
We know one thing: They’re incredibly balanced, compared to seasons past.
“This year, it seems it’s not just [senior forward] E.J. Singler that’s carrying the team like he was last season,” said Justin Phillips of FanSided’s Oregon Ducks site, Autzen Zoo. “The freshman are stepping up nicely and the addition of Kazemi is huge for Oregon this year.”
Indeed, Arsalan Kazemi, another Rice-to-Pac-12 transfer (the other being USC center Omar Oraby) has contributed a highly-efficient eight points per game off of 57 percent shooting while also earning a whopping 9.7 boards per contest.
“He is the biggest difference this year,” said Phillips. “Off the court, he’s showing other guys on the team what he’s learned and on the court, he is a rebounding monster.”
As far as a consistent star, though? For Oregon, that star does not suit up in green and gold.
“It’s the coach,” Phillips says. “He knows what he has with these players and uses them so they are in the best situation to win.”
Not Last Year’s Ducks
Of course, the coach has done a phenomenal job in helping to develop Oregon into a national powerhouse. Dana Altman is in his third year on the job and each season, his Ducks have shown phenomenal progress. Last year, Oregon went 24-10, their best record since the 2006-07 season.
Even with an improved record, though, Oregon likely isn’t satisfied with being an NIT contender and would much rather put last year’s wildly inconsistent season behind them.
And it looks like they’ve just done that.
But why has Oregon been so good this year?
“Experience,” says Justin Phillips, attributing the Ducks’ success to composure.
“They know what they need to do to win. Every night, someone different is the hero.”
Does Phillips think that’s enough to propel Oregon into their first NCAA tournament berth since going to the Elite Eight six years ago?
By The Numbers
Oregon’s strength lies with its defense, despite the per-game stats.
While the Ducks average a decent 62 points allowed per game — which ranks them at No. 79 in the nation — they allow opponents to score just 0.856 points per possession, a stat which puts them among the nation’s elite at No. 14 and atop the Pac-12.
Of course, that means Oregon likes to play at a blistering fast pace, and they’re potent because of it. In fact, the Ducks score a respectable 76.4 points a contest, though they’re less efficient in scoring quickly than UCLA is, averaging 1.05 points per possession to UCLA’s 1.081. Not a marked difference, mind you, but it’s enough to consider, especially when Oregon shoots at a 46 percent rate compared to UCLA’s 48 percent clip.
Oregon does have a distinct advantage in the offensive rebounding department though, earning 12 offensive boards a game to UCLA’s 10, while the Ducks also gobble up 38 percent of all available boards on offense, which dwarfs UCLA’s 30 percent offensive rebounding rate. These numbers will determine which squad gets more second-chance points, which is key in a game among two top-25 teams.