Familiar tourney foes in line for Ducks
EUGENE — Oregon’s third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament will feature an opening-round rematch from two years ago.
If the Ducks advance to the next round, they will likely face a rematch from last season.
Oregon (25-9) earned a No. 8 seed and will face ninth-seeded Oklahoma State (18-13) in the second round on Friday at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb. The Ducks defeated the Cowboys 68-55 in the second round of the 2013 tournament.
The winner of the Oregon-Oklahoma State game will likely face top-seeded Wisconsin, which defeated Oregon 85-77 in the third round of last year’s tournament. The Badgers are the top seed in the West Region and open against 16th-seeded Coastal Carolina.
“It is a great opportunity, a four-team bracket where we are familiar with the teams,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “ ... We are very excited about this opportunity.”
The trip to Omaha will be a homecoming for Altman, who coached in that town for 16 seasons at Creighton before arriving at Oregon in 2010. Altman is from Wilber, Neb., which is about 90 miles from Omaha.
“Personally, I have a lot of family there,” Altman said. “I just got 60 texts from people who want tickets already. My phone is blowing up. But this is about the team and it is about these guys.”
The players said they were happy to be heading to a place where they could get fan support from locals who were fans of Altman at Creighton.
“I am just excited for the opportunity to go where coach is from,” junior forward Elgin Cook said. “I’m sure we will have fans supporting us and we will be ready to play.”
Oregon assistant coach Kevin McKenna played at Creighton and was an assistant under Altman at the school. Assistant Tony Stubblefield played at University of Nebraska-Omaha.
Oregon is in the NCAA Tournament for the third year in a row for the first time in school history. The Ducks tied for second in the Pac-12 Conference at 13-5 and reached the championship game of the conference tournament, where they lost to Arizona 80-52 on Saturday. Altman said the No. 8 seed was about what he expected.
“The committee works so hard, I would never question any seeding,” he said. “They have their guidelines and the 8 seed is about a 32 power ranking and our RPI was about 27. It doesn’t matter. It is a four-team tournament and we’ve got Oklahoma State. I thought we’d be a somewhere between a seven and a 10 seed.”
Oklahoma State was a bit of a surprise as a No. 9 seed after finishing tied for sixth in the Big 12 Conference at 8-10. The Cowboys were 17-7 before losing six of their final seven games.
Altman said he wasn’t concerned about his team looking past Oklahoma State to a rematch with the Badgers, which would be on Sunday.
“We will show them clips of Oklahoma State and their athleticism,” Altman said. “They played in one of the most, if not the most competitive leagues this year. We won’t be looking past Oklahoma State, our guys know better than that. We played them a couple years ago and we respect their athleticism, talent, and they are well-coached.”
Oregon senior guard Joseph Young said seeing Wisconsin in the bracket “put a smile on my face”, but added that the Ducks are focused on the Cowboys.
“We had Oklahoma State as the opponent under us, so that is the game we will focus on,” he said. “Coach said to take it day-by-day and it starts in practice. Coach is going to get on us and not let us slack. We will be ready.”
Oregon does not have any players remaining from the 2013 game against the Cowboys, who still have two starters from that day when the 12th-seeded Ducks upset fifth-seeded Oklahoma State.
Six-foot-seven senior Le’Bryan Nash leads Oklahoma State with 17.1 points to go with 5.6 rebounds per game, and 6-8 senior Michael Cobbins averages 6.7 points and a team-high 5.9 rebounds per game.
“I am excited for a new season, the postseason,” Young said. “We are excited to get to practice and get this started. We will continue to work and be ready to play on Friday.”