Better know an NIT opponent: Oregon


Très punchable, but are they beatable?

Game info: 4 p.m., ESPNU (also it should be on ESPN3.com if your cable company supports that)

Basic stats:

Record: 23-9, 13-5 in the Pac-12

KenPom rating: #53 in the country

KenPom Offensive Efficiency: 113.1 points/100 possessions (#23 in country)

KenPom Defensive Efficiency: 99.6 (#141)

Good wins: @Arizona (#57 in KenPom), UCLA (#47), Washington (#55), @Stanford (#51)

Bad losses: Oregon St. (#86) [This is the only thing close to a bad loss they had -- there were no Campbell or Nebraska-type home losses on Oregon's schedule]

Roster: (click to embiggen)

Oregonstats_medium

WHEN IOWA HAS THE BALL:

It is sort of telling that many of the teams in the NIT (Iowa, Northwestern, Dayton, Oregon) are all very good on offense and very poor on defense. The Ducks' defense rates 139th in the country according to KenPom, as well as giving up 33.6% three-point shooting (137th in the country) and 48.0% two-point shooting (179th). Oregon also forces very few turnovers (#216 in the country), blocks very few shots (#162 in the country) and creates very few steals (#201).

The reason for this lack of defense, as far as I can tell, is that the Ducks just aren't built for it. They have one really strong defensive player on the interior in 6'11" center Tony Woods, but he only plays 18 minutes a game. Most of the Oregon players are offensively skilled and good at making three-point shots, but not really great with the lateral foot speed and the defense. As a result, it seems (based on just watching parts of two games) as though Dana Altman's team responds by throwing out a lot of zone, as well as some token three-quarter court press. Their zone does not trap as much as Northwestern's 1-3-1, so if you just had nightmare visions of a repeat of that game, rest a little easier. Not entirely easy, though: Oregon will force Iowa to work the ball and make smart decisions. That hasn't always been Iowa's strong suit, but if they can be patient and keep passing, open three-point shots should be available. This should be a game with plenty of opportunities for Josh Oglesby and Iowa's other non-Gatens three-point shooters. The Ducks will no doubt have their anatine defensive senses attuned to Gatens' presence, which should open things up for everyone else. Of course, if Oreogn hasn't heard of the legend of Matty Fresh and gives him looks from deep, he could make them pay himself.

One mistake I made in previewing the Dayton game was in assuming that Dayton's poor defense would translate into a three-point barrage for the Hawks. Iowa had six threes in that game, which is fine, but where they really dominated Dayton was in the paint. Given Oregon's general lack of size and interior defense, this could also be a game where Zach McCabe, Melsahn Basabe and Aaron White find opportunities to score inside. If Oregon sticks with a zone, players like McCabe and Basabe will find their post moves very crowded, however, and will have to make smart passes to the perimeter.

When the shot goes up, Oregon is only a middling team on the defensive boards, ranking 101st in the country in opponent's offensive rebounding. This could be another game where Aaron White feasts on the offensive boards.

WHEN OREGON HAS THE BALL:

This is Oregon's natural milieu. They feature several very skilled offensive players, primarily Devoe Joseph, E.J. Singler and Garrett Sim. Singler and Sim both shoot very well from the three-point line and, at least in the game footage I watched, tended to gravitate there reflexively. As a whole, however, the Ducks do not shoot a ton of threes and rank just #119th in the country in the percentage of their shots that are three-pointers. Joseph seems like the most dynamic off-the-dribble creator on the team. He has a quick first step, can finish at the rim, and makes it even harder on the defense by shooting 43% from three. It will be interesting to see which player Fran McCaffery puts on him. Matt Gatens might give it a shot, but Marble's length and speed might give him a better chance at stopping Joseph's drives while still contesting his outside shot. Gatens will probably be matched up with Singler, who is a very good shooter at 6'6" but does not quite have the speed of Joseph.

That probably leaves Bryce Cartwright or Josh Oglesby on Sim, which is the match-up that may cause Iowa the most trouble. Sim is a deadly three-point shooter, one who regularly makes 3+ three-pointers a game and shoots 47% from three. Whoever is on him cannot forget that shooting threes is the main thing he wants to do: more than half of his field goal attempts are from deep. He is such a dangerous player for the Ducks that Iowa may be forced to switch Gatens or Marble onto him and take their chances that Cartwright or Oglesby can stay in front of Joseph.

As far as the interior goes, Olu Ashaolu is a very athletic player and has some impressive highlight reel dunks on his resume, but his post game does not appear to be too refined. His offense will likely come if he has a clear line to the basket, either via a pick and roll or an offensive rebound. The Hawks could do worse than simply let Ashaolu try to work on his own with his back to the basket -- sort of like how some teams have defended Melsahn Basabe. Center Tony Woods also appears to be a lesser-of-two-evils kind of player: he shoots an okay percentage, but Oregon only gives him 4.7 shots a game. The real concern for Iowa will be keeping Ashaolu and Woods from killing them on the offensive glass: they are the only two Oregon players with offensive rebounding percentages above 10%, and Ashaolu in particular has the strength, speed and leaping ability to get rebounds in a variety of ways. Look for Aaron White to mark Ashaolu, while Zach McCabe or Melsahn Basabe take Woods. Bonus tip: if there's ever a choice between allowing Woods to make a layup or fouling him, go for the foul: he makes only 58% of his free throws.

One last thing: for a good offensive team, Oregon appears to be very turnover-prone. They rank #139th in the country in turnover percentage, and have several players with high individual turnover percentages. The worst of the lot looks to be reserve guard Johnathan Loyd, who averages a turnover on 27.8% of his possessions. Reserve forward Tyrone Nared, Ashaolu, Woods and reserve forward Carlos Emory also have problems holding onto the ball.

LOCATION/PACE

We all know how unfortunate the design of the Oregon court is, but beyond that, the Ducks do have a genuine home-court advantage. They are 16-3 at home, with their only losses coming to Virginia, Cal and Oregon State. They also benefit from a friendlier whistle at home: Oregon attempts 21.5 free throws per 100 offensive plays on the road, but 30.6 at home, while their opponents attempt 19.9 free throws per 100 offensive plays in Eugene, but 27.0 in Oregon road games. It's not clear what attendance will be like at this game (it wasn't strong for Oregon's first NIT game), but it will be a road. Iowa will need to be a few points better than they normally would if they want to keep on playing.

Iowa and Oregon are both moderately up-tempo teams, averaging around 69 possessions a game, so this could be another free-flowing, fun game. Oregon does seem to favor zone defense, though, which has caused Iowa great deal of frustration in the past and could slow down the game.

BOTTOM LINE

Oregon is a very skilled team, but, like every squad in the NIT, a team with weaknesses. They are built for offense and shooting and consequently feature several so-so individual defenders. To cover up for that, they play a lot of zone, but not a particularly tough zone, and thus give up too many quality three-point looks. They also turn the ball over more than a good offensive team probably should.

This will be a good test for the Hawkeyes. As is so often the case for Iowa, defending the three-point shot will be the crucial challenge. Iowa's perimeter defenders can't afford to sag off of Sim, Joseph or Singler (that means you, Bryce Cartwright). It will be a road game, so all of Iowa's players can count on 50-50 calls going against them rather than for them: so McCabe will have to watch his bull rushes, Cartwright and Marble need to expect extra hand-checking, and Gatens can expect some jersey grabbing and bumping as he comes off of screens. More contact from the opposition usually means more turnovers, and that has been the bane of Iowa's existence all year. If Iowa can control the three-point line, limit their turnovers, and get a few bonus baskets off of offensive rebounds, they should have a decent shot at winning.

[Stats from www.kenpom.com, www.teamrankings.com, www.statsheet.com, www.sports-reference.com and espn.com]

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