How the 2019 Oregon Basketball Team Finally Became the 2019 Oregon Basketball Team

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MARCH 15: Ehab Amin #4 of the Oregon Ducks brings the ball up the court against the Arizona State Sun Devils during a semifinal game of the Pac-12 basketball tournament at T-Mobile Arena on March 15, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Ducks defeated the Sun Devils 79-75 in overtime. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MARCH 15: Ehab Amin #4 of the Oregon Ducks brings the ball up the court against the Arizona State Sun Devils during a semifinal game of the Pac-12 basketball tournament at T-Mobile Arena on March 15, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Ducks defeated the Sun Devils 79-75 in overtime. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) /

Sorry College Basketball, Oregon isn’t going to be the Cinderella team you want them to be.

The sports world usually looks forward to a March love affair with a “Cinderella” team that shakes things up in the tourney.

Weekend one is already in the books, yet fans around the sport aren’t too happy with how chalky the tournament has turned out to be.

Fifteen of the remaining teams range between seeds 1-5, and America feels cheated out of a proper Cinderella story.

The lack of chaos has fans and pundits alike thinking this year’s tournament has been “boring.”

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You’d think that having the best teams play against each other on the biggest stage is somehow bad for the sport.

Oregon is not considered to be among the best of College Basketball this year, and that’s exactly why their presence in the Sweet Sixteen is the biggest surprise thus far.

The 12th seeded Ducks are the only double-digit seed left as we head into the Sweet Sixteen.

If any other 12 seed was still in the madness with a name like, “George Mason”, or “Loyola Chicago”, or “Arizona” (or any other number of schools that you wouldn’t anticipate to make a deep tourney run), then maybe America could rally behind them.

But try as you might, Oregon just isn’t going to conform to your outdated cultural Cinderella norms.

Cinderella teams are historically unexpectedly good, but I’d argue that this Ducks team is more exciting than a typical Cinderella precisely because of the unique ways their expectations have fluctuated throughout the year.

The Hype

Oregon was the odds-on favorite to win the Pac-12 regular season title going into the year.

They were ranked preseason number 14 in the AP Poll.

Bol Bol was the most anticipated recruit in the history of Oregon Athletics, and Altman added an additional five-star with Louis King, and two more four-stars (Will Richardson and Francis Okoro) to round out a nationally renowned class.

But the promising Ducks faced tough injuries and adversity all year that prevented them from ever really clicking as a unit.

Louis King sat out early-on, still recovering from a torn meniscus. Bol Bol is still out for the year (and presumably the rest of his brief Oregon career) with a broken foot. Kenny Wooten broke his jaw midseason, and was a shell of his former self even when he made his mask-clad return.

I’m not going to pretend that Oregon was seeded improperly by the tournament committee.

The Ducks regular season was so abysmal overall, at one point boasting a 6-8 record in the conference, that they would have rightfully been left out of the tournament completely (and even the NIT) if they hadn’t won the Pac-12 Tournament, and the automatic bid that came with it.

Given that fact, this team has rattled off six straight win-or-go-home victories, adding to a ten game streak that they’ve been on when factoring in the regular season-ending sweeps of the Arizona and Washington schools.

This is the kind of momentum that makes them the hottest team in basketball.

This is the kind of momentum that helps make them Virginia’s second-worst nightmare.

Nobody would’ve batted an eye if you pencilled the Ducks into the Sweet Sixteen back in December.

They’d probably even wonder why you didn’t have them going further.

But folks sure would’ve thought you were a stupid idiot if you still had them in the Sweet Sixteen after watching them play in Westwood on February 23rd.

“I don’t think I’m gonna go to LA anymore.”

Enter Pauley Pavillion. Enter my nosebleed seats.

The Ducks lead UCLA by 29 at one point during the first half, which was refreshing after having blown a 9-point lead with under a minute left to play in Eugene earlier in the year.

This was payback.

But then, of course, I got to watch from upon high as Oregon once again snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

The Bruins’ Jaylen Hands went off for 27 points, while a disorganized Oregon defense gave up 62 total in the second half alone.

A 29-point lead became a 7-point loss, and I just sat there, in the house that Lew Alcindor built, trying to figure out what the hell just happened.

The common narrative since that crushing loss has been that, “someone must’ve given one hell of a speech after that lost weekend in Los Angeles.”

Whatever was said (and whoever said it) has clearly worked because February 23rd also happens to be the last time the Ducks lost a game of basketball.

Kenny Wooten’s Gonna Score!

Since LA, Kenny Wooten has started flying all over the court again.

Francis Okoro has become a reliable force down low as a rebounder, and as a defender, which has allowed Wooten to go after his trademark monster blocks with the piece of mind that a guy like Okoro will be there to back him up.

To say that Wooten has been running rampant during this 10-game winning streak would be a monumental understatement.

With a career-high 7 blocks in the UC Irvine game alone, Kenny’s breathtaking flash, enthusiasm, and unapologetic showboating has earned him a Jordan Bell-sized national spotlight.

Wooten has also become a must-see ally-oop attraction throughout March, including an iconic posterization of Washington’s Noah Dickerson that played a part in spoiling the Huskies’ Senior Night.

Payton Pritchard and the other guards have grown increasingly comfortable with driving the ball, and they are even happier to keep lobbing more than a few up for Kenny to send home.

Speaking of Payton Pritchard.

“Don’t know when it happened, but our boy became a man.”

Pritch must’ve sat down with some kind of WeHo self-help guru during that LA trip.

Since the Smog Sweep, he cut dairy, gluten, and chicken from his diet; started sleeping 8-9 hours every night, and has been playing “Settlers of Catan” in the locker room before every game.

One-part mental exercise; one-part superstition, his nouveau TB12/alt-keto system has his mind, body, and soul in peak “playoff mode,” and the entire team knows that Playoff Pritch is the one steering this ship.

PP3’s improved focus, unquestioned leadership, and statement dunking ability, are what rightfully earned him MVP honors at the Pac-12 Tourney in Vegas.

Perhaps the key takeaway here is that everyone looking to take their career to the next level should plan on switching to almond milk and finally busting out that “Settlers” expansion pack?

They tried to make me go to Ehab

Ehab Amin’s electric energy, and the impact it has had on the Ducks, cannot be emphasized enough.

Ehab is the kind of guy who would run through a wall, and the way in which he ran through said wall would inspire an onlooker so deeply that they would be compelled to run through twenty different walls of their own.

Deflections, steals, and defensive guts has been the name of the senior transfer’s game, and his teammates have answered that tenacity in kind.

Bill Walton’s “Egyptian Pharoah” just has that kind of Egyptian Phire.

It also can’t be overlooked that King, White, and Richardson have been impeccable during this run. Each of them continue to come up clutch exactly when the Ducks have needed them to.

With the new team mentality that the Ducks of March have adopted since their Escape from LA, any one of these players could be the one that comes up big against 1-seed Virginia tonight at 6:57 PM PST.

But one thing is clear:

The Ducks are not your Cinderella.

The Ducks are more like Prince Charming if he took a gap year and muddled around for a bit before finally finding his true calling of playing unrelenting defense and unapologetically communicating with, relying on, and trusting in his teammates.

The Ducks have clearly gotten all their losing out of the way.

They’ve already won 10 games in a row, so what’s one (or four) more?

They’re finally where everyone thought they would be, they just took an alternative path to get there.

So cook up some red meat tonight, crack open a gluten-free hard cider, and enjoy a new kind of madness, because Pritch and the Ducks ain’t done yet.