One down, five to go.
The Iowa Hawkeyes managed to take care of business in their opening game of the 2021 NCAA Tournament, dispatching of the Grand Canyon Antelopes 86-74 in a game that was never really in doubt at any point during the second half. While the Hawkeyes did not expect to know their opponent in the round of 32 until they awoke the next morning, fans watching the game at home knew the answer to that question well before game’s end.
The NCAA MBB Committee has declared the VCU-Oregon game a no-contest because of COVID-19 protocols.— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 20, 2021
As a result, Oregon will advance. pic.twitter.com/75PFpk8TbC
Due go a slew of positive COVID-19 tests, VCU was forced to withdraw from last night’s #10/#7 matchup, allowing the Oregon Ducks to advance due to forfeit. This anticlimactic outcome is obviously the worst case scenario for the VCU team and its fans, who will now be denied a chance to compete for a national championship and the program’s first NCAA Tournament win since 2016. Meanwhile, it’s unclear what if any impact this victory by forfeit will have on the Ducks. Will Oregon benefit from having extra time to rest and prepare for Iowa, or will they be comparatively rusty and out of sorts having been forced to forgo their opening round game?
While Oregon’s state of mind entering its game against Iowa remains very much in question, the team’s talent is hardly up for debate given its impressive resume. Oregon enters the tournament with a 20-6 record in addition to having won 11 of its last 13 games. The Ducks became a far more dangerous team when junior guard Will Richardson returned from his injury, and unfortunately for the Hawkeyes, it is this new and improved Oregon squad that they must defeat in order to advance to their first Sweet Sixteen since 1999.
Iowa is no stranger to playing the Ducks, however. Iowa faced off against Oregon in the semi-final game of the 2018 2K Classic, a game in which the Hawkeyes upset the #13-ranked Ducks by a score of 77-69.
While the Hawkeyes were able to best Oregon on the strength of an excellent defensive performance and a combined 28 points from Jordan Bohannon and Luka Garza, this victory may not give much of a hint for how the Hawks will fare against this season’s Oregon squad, as Will Richardson is the only player on the current roster to have logged any playing time against Iowa in 2018. Furthermore, while the 2018 Oregon team was centered around 7’2” unicorn Bol Bol, the current iteration of the Ducks is firmly committed to playing small ball, as none of Oregon’s starters stand above 6’6”.
Playing against Oregon will be a major stylistic departure from Iowa’s last game against Grand Canyon. While the two teams both play at relatively slow tempos offensively (Oregon is 242nd in KenPom’s adjusted tempo metric compared to Grand Canyon’s ranking of 318th), Oregon makes its bones on offense (13th in adjusted offensive efficiency) as opposed to defense (66th). Where Grand Canyon attempted to stifle Luka Garza with a wave of centers at or near 7’0” in height, Oregon will swarm him with smaller, but more athletic wing players who will seek to use their speed to create mismatches on the offensive end. While the Antelopes were able to flex their rebounding prowess against the Hawkeyes on Saturday (Grand Canyon outrebounded Iowa 37-33 and pulled down 18 offensive rebounds to Iowa’s nine), Oregon excels at creating havoc by forcing its opponents into turnovers, averaging an impressive 7.5 steals per game thanks to All Pac-12 defensive team standout Chris Duarte and his rangy, athletic teammates.
The Hawkeyes managed to mitigate Grand Canyon’s impressive size with a strong three-point shooting performance, a dominant second half from Luka Garza, and a 13-point, seven rebound, three assist, four block performance off the bench from Keegan Murray that will give opposing Big Ten coaches nightmares as they contemplate the prospect of possibly playing against him for the next three years. Will they be able to similarly fell a quicker, more athletic Oregon team that poses such a distinctly different challenge? Tune in tomorrow to find out!
Oregon Ducks Statistical Profile:
Points Per Game: 74.4
Points Allowed Per Game: 67.4
Rebounds Per Game: 33
Assists Per Game: 13.4
Blocks Per Game: 3.6
Steals Per Game: 7.5
Scoring Leader: Chris Duarte/Eugene Omoruyi (16.7 ppg)
Rebound Leader: LJ Figeroa/Eric Williams (6.1 rpg)
Assist Leader: Will Richardson (3.6 apg)