By Patrick Vint on March 21, 2021 at 11:51 pm
© Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports


TIME 11:10 am CT
WHERE Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis
RADIO Learfield Affiliates
STREAM March Madness on Demand
LINE Iowa -5.5
KENPOM Iowa -7
22-8 RECORD 20-6
14-6 CONF. 14-4
124.0 (2nd) OFF. EFF. 115.3 (14th)
95.7 (60th) DEF. EFF. 96.0 (65th)
69.6 POSS. 66.9
54.9 (25th) eFG% 54.4 (30th)

Iowa basketball has 40 minutes between it and its first trip to the Sweet Sixteen in 22 years.  Those 40 minutes: the Oregon Ducks, in a late morning tip on Monday.  Telecast is on CBS (Brian Anderson, Jim Jackson and Allie LaForce on the call).  Call in sick.

That's an incredibly even Tale of the Tape above, probably the closest to a toss-up that Iowa has seen all year.  Oregon does everything just about as well as the Hawkeyes: Their offense is just a touch less efficient (the difference amounts to about a tenth of a point less per possession).  Their defense is also just a little less efficient, their tempo just a step slower, their shooting not quite where Iowa's has been.  If you simply looked at the advanced metrics, Iowa would have a very, very slight advantage.  Oregon shoots threes about as well as Iowa (37.9%, against 38.9% from the Hawks) and almost as often (33.8% of points scored on threes, versus 35.0% for Iowa).  Oregon's schedule also looks a lot like Iowa's: After a late January/early February lull where they lost three out of four, the Ducks reeled off ten wins in their last eleven games, then bowed out in the second game of their conference tourney to the eventual tournament champion.

But while the teams look extremely similar, how they got there is anything but the same.  Oregon is, of course, coached by Dana Altman.  The former Creighton head coach has been with the Ducks for as long as McCaffery has coached the Hawkeyes, with enough success to warrant his ongoing employment.  But where Altman had generally been a system coach at Creighton, he has shown surprising versatility in Eugene.  He adopted the five-out, positionless approach to basketball way back in 2012 (the last time Iowa and Oregon met in the postseason, an 11-point Ducks win) and has managed to post a top-25 efficiency offense in six of the last eight seasons.

How does that look this year?  For one, it's uniform: Oregon starts five guys who are all 6'6" tall.  The Ducks' rotation goes seven-deep, and everyone is between 6'2" and 6'8".  They have a freshman center, Franck Kepnang, who stands 6'11", but he has played a grand total of 21 minutes in the last seven Oregon games.  They are a bunch of wings, doing wing things.

Let's start in the interior.  Eugene Omoyuri (6'6", 235) is the ostensible center.  You might remember Omoyuri: He's a Rutgers transfer who sat last season, and scored 12 points in two games against the Hawkeyes in 2019 (including 10 in the Joe Wieskamp Corner 3 Game).  He now leads Oregon in scoring (16.7 ppg) and throws in 5.2 rebounds per game, as well, and is shooting at a 53% effective rate (including 38% from three on four attempts per game).  Omoyuri really only plays as the center, due to his size.  When he's out, the Ducks usually go to sophomore Chandler Lawson (6'8", 205), but he doesn't have the girth of Omoyuri.  Lawson averages just 4.6 points and 3.0 rebounds per game in more than 18 minutes.

Next, the point guard: Will Richardson (6'6", 180) missed the first half of the season with a thumb injury.  The Ducks are 11-3 since his return, which says something for his importance.  Richardson leads the team in assists (3.6 apg) and adds 11.1 points per contest.  He also shoots well from three (39% 3pt.) and can get to the basket when needed.  He's supported by senior Amauri Hardy (6'2", 190), and frequently moves to the off-guard when Hardy is in the game.  Hardy isn't much of a perimeter shooter or scorer, but he can distribute and make the trains go.

The rest of Oregon is just one rotation of three positions.  Those minutes are split between Richardson, Chris Duarte (6'6", 190), L.J. Figueroa (6'6", 200) Eric Williams (6'6", 215), and Lawson.  Duarte, Figueroa and Williams are all averaging double figures and completely capable of tearing an opposing defense apart.  Duarte, a senior and former JUCO transfer, is probably the most dangerous of that group (16.6 ppg, 43% from three, 63% eFG).  Figueroa was one of the best players in the Big East last year at St. John's; he and Williams lead the Ducks in rebounding (6.1 rpg), and he's third in scoring (12.3 ppg).  Williams, a Duquesne transfer, isn't as proficient from three but can fill it up nonetheless (10.4 ppg).

The obvious thing an Iowa fan thinks when an opponent is a bunch of six-foot-six guys is: Garza's gonna eat.  And he might.  There isn't really a comp for Garza in the Pac-12; the conference's best big man, Evan Mobley at USC, is a rail-thin uber-athlete.  If there is a comparable player, it's probably Azuolas Tubelis at Arizona, who scored 32 in two games against the Ducks, about four points per game above his season average.  But Tubelis is a freshman with limited perimeter skills, certainly not on the level of the National Player of the Year.  Garza could go off Monday morning, and Oregon just doesn't have the personnel to counter him if he does.  It would not be surprising.

But the all-wing thing is a double-edged sword, and there is obvious concern for Iowa's backcourt.  Length and athleticism has been a problem for Iowa defensively all season, and for Jordan Bohannon on both sides of the ball.  If the Hawkeyes go zone defensively to cover for the lack of size, Oregon can absolutely rain hell from the perimeter.  There is also the other issue: If Oregon doesn't have a center, what exactly is Garza supposed to do on defense against some wing-like substance or another?

This could, then, be a game where Iowa's depth is not just a luxury.  A lineup with Bohannon, C.J. Fredrick and Connor McCaffery in the backcourt looks a lot different against Oregon's size than a lineup with McCaffery at the point, Wieskamp at the three and one of Iowa's long, athletic freshmen -- Keegan Murray, obviously, but increasingly Patrick McCaffery -- at the four.  Even if Garza is on the bench, either one of those players is the tallest guy on the court, and can match the athleticism of Oregon's "bigs" in a way that Garza really can't.  If Garza eats and Iowa's zone works well enough, Iowa can probably do its thing and win.  But if it can't, Fran McCaffery can't stay beholden to the girl that brought him to the Big Dance.

Two other things of note after the first three days of the tournament: The Pac-12 is 6-0 in the tournament, including two wins for Oregon State (who knocked Oregon out of the conference tournament in what looked like a bad loss that might not be quite so bad now).  Oregon was not the highest-seeded Pac-12 team, but the Ducks won the Pac-12 regular season title.  That looks like a massive underseed at this point, given how well the conference has acquitted itself so far. 

On the other hand, Oregon didn't play its first game due to positive Covid tests at VCU.  They haven't played in ten days, and while they're a senior-heavy squad, they're mostly transfers who haven't seen the NCAA Tournament before.  Figueroa was on a St. John's squad that lost a play-in game in 2019, and Richardson played on Oregon's Sweet 16 squad that year.  That's the extent of Big Dance experience on this squad.  Furthermore, Oregon already had two ten-day layoffs this season.  They lost the first game back both times, both at home against inferior opposition.  That combination of inexperience, tournament nerves and layoff history doesn't bode well for the Ducks.

Everyone knows the importance of this game.  Iowa hasn't been favored in a second-round game at the NCAA Tournament since 1993.  A loss here, regardless of how it happens, would be a massive disappointment for a team that was expected to break every one of the program's long-term bugaboos.  None of them have been broken yet.  A win Monday and a trip to the second weekend would at least mean it was not all for naught.

I'll see you on the other side.  Go Hawks.

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