It was late one weekend night when I heard the mating call of a drunken Oregon student:

“Go Ducks!”

I then overheard (from at least a block away) him ask his friend, “Bro, did you see that game last night?”

This would have been commonplace in football season, but this was basketball season. What they said next shocked me even more than hearing an Oregon student other than my close friends in the Pit Crew actually acknowledge the basketball team.

“NCAA Tournament, here we come!”

I should explain that for my first two seasons as an Oregon basketball fan, it was generally understood that looking at Joe Lunardi’s bracketology every week should just be avoided, so I hadn’t given much thought to the idea of the Ducks being in the tournament this season. @@http://espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/bracketology@@

It took our inebriated friend’s enthusiasm after the Ducks trounced Washington to make me realize it, but something is different about this basketball team.

More importantly, there’s something different about the fans. The Emerald’s article yesterday chronicled the Pit Crew’s fearless leader Alex Horwitch’s efforts to make basketball a “thing” again, and it’s almost there.

Almost.

The Ducks have two games left in their 2011 regular season, and they’re both at home. They also both need to be wins.

If the Ducks can win out, they’ll finish the regular season no worse than fourth place in the conference. Consider the fact that the seniors in the Pit Crew have lived through an 8-23 season. Not bad for a turnaround. @@http://www.goducks.com/ViewArticle.dbml?&DB_OEM_ID=500&[email protected]@

I’ve always been at the front of the Pit, and I’ve always gotten to games far earlier than is healthy. I’ve noticed this season that more and more people are going to games, and people are getting there earlier and earlier.

In fact, four times this season the student section has sold out. This is a great accomplishment, and it sets in motion a series of events that will continue to make the Pit Crew relevant again. But it’s not there quiet yet.

Oregon’s last two games of the season are this weekend, and the Pit Crew needs to be in full force. The Pit Crew needs to be loud. It needs to be wild. It needs to remind this town exactly how crazy it can be.

Two wins will see the Ducks finish the season in that crucial fourth spot in the Pac-12, meaning they will earn a bye into the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament.

More importantly, a fourth place finish in the Pac-12 and a strong showing in the conference tourney will put the Ducks solidly on the NCAA tournament bubble.

As it stands now, Lunardi has the Ducks just missing the Big Dance, but that could easily change.

It’s a lot easier to stand behind a winning team. No doubt a large part of the reason Duck basketball hasn’t been as popular as Duck football over the last four years is because the football team has gone to three straight BCS bowl games and the basketball team has, um, a CBI title.

That’s not meant to belittle Dana Altman’s achievement, it’s just to say that the standards are set lower for basketball than they are for football.

If the Ducks can capitalize on a strong last weekend, they set themselves up with a great opportunity to play in a postseason tournament that more than 16 people have heard of.

While the Pit Crew seems to be reawakening, this weekend presents one of the most important games in the last few years of Duck basketball.  If the students can bring the same energy that they did to the Washington game and many other games this season, it could well fuel the Ducks to a win and an NCAA berth.

The more successful Oregon basketball is, the more rabid fans become, and if the team’s rapid rise over the last two years is any indication, mating season is about to get four months longer.


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