Keep on doubting the Ducks

An examination of the Oregon men’s improbable run to the NCAA Tournament

After watching the University of Oregon men’s basketball team defeat Washington last Saturday night in a game that sent the Ducks to the NCAA Tournament, I sat down to try and put my excitement into words. We had done it, we had won four games in four nights and defeated an allegedly good (but probably bad) Washington team. It was pure bliss.

Upon reviewing what I wrote that evening, I found that this is how I started: Hahahahahahahahaha oh my.

It, uh, wasn’t my best opening sentence but maybe it is the best way to capture the true emotions of the moment. How else do you properly convey just how absurd it is that this Oregon team is now going to the big dance?

In the show "Modern Family" the character Phil Dunphy gives one of my all-time favorite lines when he says, “Key to a good birthday? Low expectations.” While Mr. Dunphy – who is played by Oregon fan Ty Burrell – is just talking about birthdays, it sure seems like he is also talking about sports. Expectations are the lens that all seasons, whether successful or not, are viewed through. So if you expect your team to do well and they do, your expectations are met and everyone is happy. But that is often not the case and most certainly not the case with this particular Oregon team.

The expectations at the start of the season for the Ducks were sky high. They were ranked 14th in the country and it was assumed that Bol Bol was going to lead the team to the promised land. But from the time of that preseason ranking in November all the way to the second blown lead against UCLA in February, the season was on a downward spiral.

Bol was hurt, the team was 6-8 in the Pac-12, no lead was safe and, ultimately, the team just wasn’t very fun to watch. It became a chore to watch them as they continued to find new ways to lose. Everything was bad and the season was in free fall. The expectations for the team going forward were at an all-time low.

At that point, the Ducks had four games left in the regular season and it was easy to convince any Oregon fan that they could lose out. Anything was on the table. And just when you count out a Dana Altman-coached team, they find a way to win. Convincing sweeps of both the Arizona and Washington schools heading into the Pac-12 tournament created more confusion about this team. Were they no longer……bad?

Heading into the tournament, I had a conversation with low-key Oregon sports historian slash my best friend as we determined that the Ducks were equally likely to lose in the first round as they were to win the entire tournament. This was the enigma of this Oregon team: any game could bring any result.

In the Pac-12 Tournament everything came together in the best way possible. Ehab Amin became central to the team, Louis King wouldn’t let an injury stop him, Kenny Wooten tried his hardest, I guess, and Payton Pritchard refused to lose. And, most unexpectedly, recorded a dunk. And now this team is going to the NCAA tournament. “Hahahahahahahahaha oh my” still seems as if it is the best way to sum up what this season has become. 

Now, as we fill out brackets, the conversation shifts to what will the Ducks be able to do at the big dance? As a 12 seed can they pull the classic 12-5 upset? Sure they won the Pac-12 but the Pac-12 is embarrassingly bad, so what does that really mean? Yet again there is uncertainty around the team that is now facing a top-25 team in the Wisconsin Badgers.

From high expectations to low expectations to a great unknown heading into the tournament.

All I know is I'm done doubting these Ducks.


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