At least one double-digit seed will reach the Sweet 16 out of the South Region when the no. 13 UC Irvine Anteaters face the no. 12 Oregon Ducks. The game will be played Sunday night in San Jose with the Ducks favored by five points.
The Anteaters were the lowest seed in the tournament to advance out of the first round after taking down Kansas State. UC-Irvine overcame a 10-point first-half deficit to tie the game by halftime. The Anteaters then made a late run against Kansas State to get their first-ever NCAA Tournament win 70-64 against the Big 12 regular season champs.
Meanwhile, Oregon continued the hot streak that started late in the season and continued into the Pac-12 Tournament by beating Wisconsin in the first round. The Ducks have now won nine games in a row with their last loss coming over a month ago. They were outstanding at both ends of the court, particularly in the second half when they outscored Wisconsin 47-29 to win by a comfortable 18-point margin.
That’s a Big Duck!
Despite losing 7’2’’ freshman Bol Bol early in the season, the Ducks have an impressive amount of size on their team. Louis King, Paul White, and Kenny Wooten all stand at 6’9’’, giving Oregon impressive size and length that pays dividends at both ends of the court. Wooten is a strong interior defender, blocking over two shots per game on the season. Meanwhile, King and White are big enough to help out on the boards while also having the athleticism to defend smaller, quicker players.
On the offensive end, Payton Pritchard has stepped up late in the season. On the season, he’s averaging just under 13 points per game, but he’s scored at least 18 points in each of his last four games. Pritchard is also averaging seven assists per game over that span, helping to set up King, who’s scoring close to 18 points per game over his last four games, and White, who has scored 14 points in three straight contests, well above their season averages.
Anyone on the Floor
Much like Oregon, the Anteaters are a balanced offensive team with several viable threats on the floor. Guards Max Hazzard, Evan Leonard, and Robert Cartwright stepped up against Kansas State. However, UC-Irvine has eight players who average at least six points per game, and almost all of them are capable of having big games. Hazzard and Leonard and the team’s best players, but it’s far from a two-man show.
Freshman forward Collin Welp had a quiet eight points against Kansas State, but he also scored 23 points in the Big East title game. Role players like Cartwright or Eyassu Worku could also step up and have big games if the Ducks make the mistake of thinking only Hazzard and Leonard can hurt them.
Too Much Quack
The Ducks are technically a 12 seed, but they haven’t looked like it over the past month. Oregon is a legitimate Sweet 16 team, and being a 12 seed gives them the chip on the shoulder they need to stay focused against another double-digit seed. The Anteaters will keep this interesting for at least a half, but the Ducks are the better team. Bet on Oregon to cover the 5-point spread on their way to the Sweet 16.