Oregon boosts tournament resume with critical win over Utah
That's really all that Oregon needed to add to its resume. Through its first 27 games, this was a team that didn't play itself out of the NCAA tournament, but hadn't done much to solidify its candidacy, either. Oh sure, you could place a checkmark next to a lot of the items that a team needs to make the dance next month. Oregon's resume for the tournament had a lot.
What it didn't have? A signature win.
That is, until now.
Beating No. 9 Utah at home on Sunday helps add one more piece to the puzzle. At 20-8 overall and 10-5 in the Pac-12, the Ducks helped themselves immensely taking down a top opponent. Before the Utah game, Oregon was just a team with a lot of wins, but not a lot of impressive ones.
There wasn't substance there. So, the Ducks found themselves unable to move off the bubble. A loss last weekend to middling UCLA dented its hopes even further, but Oregon wasn't out of it ... at least not yet. But it needed a win and a win to catch the committee's attention.
Beating the Utes by 11—69-58—was exactly what was needed.
Utah entered the day as the ninth-ranked team in the RPI and No.7 in the KenPom ratings. Prior to upending a team in the middle of the conference's title race, Oregon hadn't taken down an opponent inside the RPI's top 40. The best win before Sunday on Oregon's resume was against UCLA on Jan. 24 and that's based on RPI ranking only.
It's not as if Oregon hasn't had opportunities to get that win, either.
Two games against Arizona (No. 7 in the RPI) resulted in two drubbings at the hands of the Wildcats by a combined score of 170-118. There was a neutral-court loss to VCU (No. 12 in the RPI) by 14 points. Even against a decent Ole Miss team (No. 32 in the RPI), Oregon lost on its home floor.
Couple that with some tough losses to Washington and Washington State—both teams at the bottom of the Pac-12 standings—and to a Michigan team that has woefully underperformed, and Oregon couldn't take that next step into serious consideration.
This is not to say that the Ducks are a lock. Hardly the case, but they haven't played themselves out of the conversation. And if you haven't done that by Feb. 22, you're in pretty good shape.
It could get better, too.
With three games left in the regular season, all of them on the road, Oregon will finish, at worst, with a 10-8 record in the Pac-12. Win all three and Oregon will have a very convincing case at a third straight NCAA tournament bid, with a 13-5 conference record, at least 23 wins and a victory over a top-10 team. Plus, doing that would give the Ducks an above-.500 road record, which can always serve as a measure of separation amongst other bubble teams.
So now you see why the Utah game was so important to Oregon's tournament hopes. It was the last chance before the conference tournament to net a marquee win.
The work is certainly not over for Oregon. It never is for any team that is on or close to the bubble. March has a way of taking solidified situations and making them precarious very quickly. No matter how many checkmarks you have next to required items on the NCAA tournament resume, a win or a loss can move you a couple of pegs up or down the ladder.
Even more so if you don't have a check next to one of those items.
One win. It's all Oregon needed.
And the Ducks got it.