The Oregon Ducks have hit the road. Their first stop is Colorado for a Thursday game, and then they’ll head to Utah on Sunday. They’ll come home next week to host the Arizona schools, and then they’ll head down to Los Angeles to play USC and UCLA.
It’s an important stretch for Oregon. The Ducks are 13-3 and undefeated in the Pac-12, but their next six games will be a gauntlet, and the results of these games will impact where Oregon ends up in the postseason. Ducks’ head coach Dana Altman pointed out the significance of this upcoming stretch in a press conference on Wednesday.
“I told them we are just five games into a 20-game schedule, and they don’t give any awards for winning the first 10 minutes of a game,” Altman said. “We have to play well. For the next six games, we have four road games. Our guys know that we have our work cut out for us, and these games are all important. We’ve got 15 conference games and each one of them is very, very important. These two, because they’re quad one, do take on some added significance, but if you lose a quad two or a quad three game, it’s just as significant. So 15 games left, all very important.”
As Altman pointed out, the next two games against Colorado and Utah will be key matchups since both the Buffaloes and the Utes are quality teams. Currently, Colorado is ranked as one of the first four teams that will be left out of the NCAA tournament in ESPN’s Bracketology, and Utah is ranked above the Ducks as an 8-seed.
After this road trip, Oregon will have 13 regular season games left. And while the Ducks have been playing well to start the season, a spot in March Madness is far from guaranteed.
“We better have a couple more levels to go,” Altman said. “It’s mid-January, hopefully in February, mid-February, we’re a lot better. Hopefully in March, we’re a lot better getting these guys back. They’ll give us a boost. We’ve got to continue to get a lot better. We’re nowhere near where we need to be to be successful in March. So we’ve got a lot of work ahead.”
A few more levels to go? Sure. But the Oregon Ducks are in a much better spot than they were in January last year. Through 16 games last in the 2022-23 season, the Ducks were just 9-7 overall and 1-2 in the Pac-12. Hopefully, they can sustain or ramp up the pace they’re on in the second half of the season. If they do, they’ll find themselves playing meaningful basketball in March.
That means no more NIT.