From rebounding to playmakers, Oregon’s keys to beating North Carolina
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Oregon heads into its first Final Four appearance in almost 80 years as five-point underdogs.
Whether you agree with that spread or not, it’s tough to argue that North Carolina isn’t the deepest and talented team that the Ducks have played all season. Here’s what the Ducks need to do to beat the top-seeded Tar Heels:
Hold their ground in the rebounding battle
North Carolina is the best rebounding team in the nation. Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks anchor a front line that grabs 42 percent of UNC’s missed shots. The Tar Heels also allow opponents to grab just 25 percent of their missed shots, one of the best percentages in the country.
To win on Saturday, Oregon will need to crash the glass with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind. Jordan Bell has been an animal on the boards in the NCAA Tournament so far but will be dealing with a rotating lineup of big men almost single-handedly.
Don’t expect the Ducks to change their starting lineup to include more size to help on the rebounding front. As the saying goes, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. But do expect head coach Dana Altman to ask starters like Dillon Brooks and Dylan Ennis to crash the glass more often. Also, expect Kavell Bigby-Williams to play earlier than usual to give the Ducks a rebounding boost.
If Oregon wants to topple the Tar Heels, it will take a collective effort to slow their offensive rebounding onslaught.
Limit Justin Jackson
Justin Jackson is like the ACC version of Dillon Brooks. Like Brooks, he’s a do-it-all forward who can fill it up on offense and get a bucket when his team needs it. Both averaged more than 15 points a game this season and were the top 3-point shooters on their teams. Bottom line? They’re both talented.
While Oregon will not only need to worry about limiting the Tar Heels’ big men, the other main challenge will be holding Jackson in check. Jackson is averaging almost 20 points a game during March Madness. His 3-point stroke keeps defenses stretched out and gives North Carolina’s bigs more room to work.
Oregon’s defensive focus will primarily be on UNC’s big men but keeping Jackson from taking off will also be crucial. If the Ducks succeed in holding Hicks and Meeks in check, they can live with a good game from Jackson. Against Kansas, Oregon limited the Jayhawks’ supporting cast while Frank Mason single-handedly kept his team in the game. But if UNC’s front line and Jackson both get going, Oregon will be in trouble.
UNC’s dominant big men will give head coach Dana Altman a tough question to answer: Go big or stay small?
The tallest player on the Ducks’ roster is Bigby-Williams, who could be in line for the start Saturday. But only if Altman wants to try and combat UNC’s big lineup with his own two-big lineup. With Boucher out, Bell could have a difficult time guarding two of the most productive forwards in the country on his own.
But again, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.
Oregon should stick with the lineup that earned a Final Four berth — stay small and make North Carolina check Oregon’s guards on the perimeter. Hicks is a serviceable interior defender but will have an impossible time trying to stay with Brooks on the wing. Granted, the Ducks will give up height inside. That could cost them. But if playing small allows Oregon to play its style, it’s an easy decision.
Follow Gus Morris on Twitter @JustGusMorris
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