Oregon makes emphatic case for No. 1 seed with rout of Utah

The Dagger
Oregon makes emphatic case for No. 1 seed with rout of Utah
Oregon makes emphatic case for No. 1 seed with rout of Utah

LAS VEGAS — When his chance arrived to make his case for a No. 1 seed, Oregon coach Dana Altman politely passed.

"Oh, that's for the committee to decide," Altman said. "I said a long time ago I'd never politic to get in or on seeding or anything because they do a tremendous job."

Altman didn't need to campaign for a No. 1 seed at the podium because his team's performance spoke loudly enough on its own. Oregon dismantled Utah 88-57 in Saturday night's Pac-12 championship game, completing a season sweep of both the regular season and tournament titles in the nation's second-ranked RPI league.

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Having built a 17-point halftime lead by forcing 13 first-half Utah turnovers and dominating the offensive glass, Oregon could easily have lifted its foot off the accelerator the way it did in the semifinals against Arizona. The Ducks instead learned from their mistake the previous night, stomping on the gas pedal and sending the pro-Utah crowd streaming for the exits as the lead ballooned to 30 points seven minutes into the second half.

"The last game against Arizona, we let them come back," Oregon freshman Tyler Dorsey said. "We emphasized not letting them jump on us in the first five minutes of the second half, and that's what we did."

Oregon's rout served as an emphatic statement that the Ducks are worthy of a No. 1 seed. The Utah team they shredded had won nine in a row to climb to 12th in the latest AP poll and to put itself into position to nab a No. 3 seed on Selection Sunday.

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One impressive blowout victory does not make a team worthy of a No. 1 seed, but Oregon has a season-long resume that stacks up well against any elite team besides Kansas.

The Ducks are 7-1 against the RPI top 25, 10-3 against the top 50 and 20-4 against the top 100. By contrast, Big East champion Villanova has only three top 25 victories, ACC champion North Carolina has only five top 50 victories and Big Ten tournament finalist Michigan State has only 12 top 100 victories.

The one black mark against Oregon is a pair of sub-100 road losses at UNLV and Boise State. Those detract from the Ducks' case a bit, but the committee should take under consideration that the Rebels were at full strength back in December and that standout freshman Tyler Dorsey was unavailable for both games.

Oregon has won most of the season by spreading the floor, identifying a mismatch and attacking off the dribble, but lately the Ducks have defended nearly as effectively as they've piled up points. Their perimeter players have been able to deflect passes, choke off the passing lanes and gamble for steals because they know they have shot blockers Chris Boucher and Jordan Bell looming in the paint to alter any shots around the rim.

"Our activity has gotten better," Altman said. "Our communication has really gotten better. November, December, January, we gave up a lot of baskets because our guys didn't know what the other guy was going to do. ... I think we've gotten better collectively talking with each other and letting guys know what they're going to do."

Effective as Oregon was defensively against Arizona the previous day, the Ducks were even better against Utah. They forced 20 turnovers, turned many of them into transition opportunities and made it nearly impossible for the Utes to get the ball to All-American center Jakob Poeltl.

"They were just aggressive," Utah point guard Brandon Taylor said. "If we were going to throw the ball in the post, it was open for a split second. If we held the ball too long, they covered them and got back in front of them. They did a good job."

If any team should have a high opinion of Oregon, it's Utah, which has suffered three of its eight losses this season against the Ducks — all by double figures. Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak declined to speculate whether Oregon would get a No. 1 seed over the likes of Villanova or Virginia, but he did offer a parting thought.

Said Krystkowiak, "I wouldn't want to play them."

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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