Oregon will be without big man Chris Boucher tonight, lost for the season due to an ACL injury, but the Ducks have three future pros on the roster and have lost only five games this year for a reason. They’re fast, they can shoot and they shared the Pac-12 title by splitting with UCLA and hammering Arizona at home.
They're also about done talking about Michigan and its feel good story.
“It's a great story; it's a great thing for their program," guard Dillon Brooks told reporters in the locker room Wednesday. "We all hear about it.
"Those guys are talented guys. They are playing for each other, and we have to go out there and crush that, and not give them easy baskets.”
They’ve done a solid job of that this year, finishing first in defense in allowing .97 points per possession allowed and second in eFG percentage defense. The Ducks were top 25 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency and first in percentage of two-point shots blocked … that, however, was with Boucher, who went down in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals.
They’re also top 10 in transition defense, which makes sense since they were only ninth in their conference in defensive rebounding.
In other words, this is not just a great offensive basketball team that pays no attention to defense … but it is even better on offense than defense. The Ducks are averaging 25.5 transition points, second among all tournament teams to date. They notched 1.18 points per possession, second in the conference, were the top shooting team with a 58.5 eFG percentage with 54.7 percent two-point shooting and 42.4 percent from long range In league play.
That’s elite, and similar to Michigan the Ducks will spread the floor with shooters. Slowing Brooks will be the key ... they like to isolate him, and he's tough to guard. The former Michigan target is athletic and tough to contain off the dribble, so it will be intriguing to see how the Wolverines try to slow him.
Brooks averages 16 points per game and is a nightmare off the dribble, one of the best in the country at getting points on his own. If Oregon plays him to guard a four, however, the Wolverines should have an advantage offensively.
Brooks doesn’t necessarily see it that way.
"I feel like they have to guard us,” he said. “They probably have never really had to guard a guy like Jordan Bell, a guy like me, or a guy like Kavell Bigby-Williams. It’s not focusing more on them, but focusing on us.
"We still have to focus on their big men who can shoot the three. Their two starting bigs are really big and they can shoot it, and they can really dribble. We have to break their rhythm and slide our feet and make nothing easy.”
He’s got a point, too, about his team’s elite personnel. Bell (6-9, 225 pounds) is a future pro, outstanding on both the offensive and defensive glass and the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. He plays close to the rim and isn’t a shooter, but he’s a great finisher and passer.
Brooks didn't even mention elite guard Tyler Dorsey, but he’s also adept getting into the paint. He’s great with both hands and can finish. He’s also good defensively in whatever look the Ducks throw at an opponent, and that varies between zone, press, man … they’ll do whatever they can to try to confuse U-M’s guards.
This is a very confident team, too, and one that appears to feel disrespected at being the underdog. Michigan is favored by one point.
"It's like a team like Wichita State when they came out and went to the final four [a few years ago]," Brooks said of the country's interest in U-M’s story following a plane accident a few weeks ago. "I like when nobody is with us … nobody has any doubt in us that we aren't going to make it that far, we don't have the pieces," Brooks said. "It just raises our competitiveness.”
Like the first two Michigan Tournament games, this one could go either way. Expect a dogfight with a break or a key bucket or two making the difference.