Mar. 23, 2016
Can Duke pull off an Upset over Oregon?
Following an impressive shooting display against the Yale Bulldogs, Coach K's Blue Devils face a much tougher task in their Sweet 16 match up against the Oregon Ducks. However, if this tournament has shown us anything, it's to expect the unexpected. So, without further ado, let's take a look at the key factors that could help Duke pull off the upset.
Shooting: If you took away nothing else from Duke's game against Yale, you should have noticed that Duke can shoot as well as any team in the field. In the first half of the game Grayson Allen and Co. had their way with the Bulldog defense, sinking shots from all over the court. They piled on 48 of their 71 points in the opening half. However, the same team that couldn't miss in the first half could only manage to make 6 total field goals in the second. Part of that can be attributed to the better defensive play of Yale, but it also exposes the boom and bust nature of the Duke offense. In order to stay competitive with Oregon, the Blue Devils will need to be able to maintain their high level of shooting throughout the game.
Neutralize Oregon Forwards: The Ducks boast a trifecta of high-caliber front court players in Chris Boucher, Elgin Cook, and Dillon Brooks. They combined for 45 of Oregon's 69 points against St. Joseph on Sunday and could be a massive roadblock in Duke's path to the Elite Eight. Battling against that trio in the post will be Marshall Plumlee and Brandon Ingram. On defense, they should not be asked to do much more than minimize the damage and secure defensive rebounds. At the other end of the floor is where Ingram could really shine. His ability to stretch the floor should open up driving lanes for aggressive slashers like Allen to thrive. If Ingram can settle into a groove early, it will help the rest of the Duke offense operate more smoothly.
Find scoring outside of Allen and Ingram: In the first round, Plumlee exploded for 23 points, only to come crashing back down to earth in the next round, scoring only 2. However, in stepped freshman Luke Kennard to score 13 points on 44% shooting to help carry Duke to victory over Yale. The question then becomes, is it reasonable to expect either of them to step up again? Considering that Plumlee will be in a war with Oregon's forwards, I doubt that it will be him. Kennard, however, certainly has the potential. Although he cooled off considerably in the second half against Yale, so did the rest of Duke's offense. His 5 of 8 shooting in the first half including 50% from downtown is exactly the kind of production Duke will need from a player not named Allen or Ingram.
And so, to answer the question in the title of this post, yes, I do believe Duke can upset Oregon. The defending national champions can take over the game with their shooting ability, effectively neutralizing the size disadvantage. Then again, Duke could go ice cold shooting the ball, in which case Oregon will runaway with this game. But, who knows what will happen? It isn't called March Madness for nothing.