Oregon (21-6, 14-4) destroyed Iowa this week when the two teams met in the second round, winning 95-80. Oregon was able to withstand a flurry of scoring from Iowa's Luka Garza--a Sports Illustrated unanimous first-team All-American.
Up next is USC (24-7, 15-5), a team that outplayed Oregon to the tune of an 72-58 loss the last time the two met in Los Angeles. That game struck a chord with Dana Altman's team, as the Ducks won seven of their next eight games. The Trojans present a tough matchup for Oregon.
Their offense, which averages 75 points per game, runs through Pac-12 player of the year Evan Mobley (16.5 PPG) and guard Tahj Eaddy (13.5 PPG). The loss of N'Faly Dante earlier this season leaves Oregon without a true rim protector to contend with Mobley, who Eugene Omoruyi says has a "real soft touch around the rim."
The seven-footer is perhaps an even tougher matchup on defense, leading the Pac-12 in blocks per game with 93 blocks on the year (3.0 BPG). Oregon was outplayed on the glass last time the teams met, losing out in the rebounding category 39-26. Getting a body on Mobley should be a point of emphasis, as he also leads the conference in rebounds (8.8 RPG).
The defense can't focus all its energy on the star freshman, because it was veteran guard Eady that gave them fits last time, pouring in 24 points on 6-of-11 shooting from 3-point range. USC's offense is as well-rounded as any, with fellow starters Drew Peterson (9.8 PPG) and Isaiah Mobley (9.5 PPG) capable of catching fire at any time.
USC can do its damage from anywhere on the court and are averaging a 7.2 advantage on the boards throughout the season, but haven't been the best at taking care of the ball, averaging a 1.1 assist/turnover ration.
Looking at Oregon, the offense had its most dominant offensive showing of the entire season against No. 2-seeded Iowa. The Ducks shot 55.8% from the field and knocked down 11 of their 25 3-point shots to separate themselves from the Hawkeyes.
Four or Oregon's five starters finished in double figures, with all-American Chris Duarte leading the way with 23 points. Dana Altman has always prioritized loading his teams with athletes and this squad is no different.
Oregon was one of the top defensive teams in the Pac-12 during the regular season and the defense has carried over into the NCAA tournament, snagging seven steals and rejecting six shots against Iowa. Players pushed the ball in transition and converted turnovers into 13 points along the way.
We could see more of Franck Kepnang, the 6-foot-11 250-pound center who logged just six minutes but registered two powerful blocks in the last game. The Ducks will likely have to double team or deploy help defense to contain Evan Mobley, and Kepnang's frame could help limit his effectiveness in the post.
Chris Duarte is still the star he's been all year, but one story that's been fun to watch is the emergence of LJ Figueroa. He's shooting 39% from distance but has asserted himself in the post lately as one of the sneakiest athletes on this team.
The Ducks have the athletes, the veteran leadership, and the coach to get the win, but only time will tell if they can put it all together to secure a win over the Trojans and keep dancing.
Oregon plays USC on March 28 at 6:45 p.m. PST on TBS.
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