It's time for the Elite Eight. The Kansas Jayhawks are trying to advance to the Final Four for the first time since 2012, after being eliminated in this round last year by the eventual national champion Villanova Wildcats. This time the opponent is the Oregon Ducks, and to help familiarize ourselves with their team, I reached out to Matt Takimoto over at Addicted to Quack.
RCT: Obviously, the big storyline for Oregon coming into the tournament has been the injury to Chris Boucher and how that could potentially affect the rotation for the Ducks. How HAS that loss affected what Dana Altman has wanted to do with this team?
AQT: Boucher’s loss has really been felt on the offensive end more than anything. Boucher’s three-point shooting ability spreads the floor and creates space for Oregon’s bevy of slashers to attack. Kavell Bigby-Williams has provided some real quality minutes in replacing Boucher, but Bigby-Williams is a traditional bruising big, and no real offensive threat outside the key. Dillon Brooks has felt Boucher’s absence more than anyone else; his productivity has really taken a step back without Boucher out there because his driving lanes are clogged up. Additionally, Altman was playing Bell and Boucher together for stretches, giving Oregon a powerful interior defense. A Boucher-less Oregon is staying small more often with more three-guard lineups and Brooks or Dylan Ennis at the 4.
RCT: Dillon Brooks is the national face of this program, but who else from the team can we expect to hear a lot about on Saturday?
ATQ: Tyler Dorsey has truly arrived in this tournament, averaging almost 24 points per game so far, including a 9/10 shooting performance against Rhode Island that included the game-winning three-pointer with 38.4 seconds left. Jordan Bell has also elevated his game in the tournament as the marquee big man for the Ducks. In particular, he’s been cleaning up on the offensive glass with 17 offensive boards in the three tournament games, and his ability to stay out of foul trouble has extended his minutes and negated the loss of Boucher to some degree. Oregon’s two-headed point guard team of freshman Payton Prichard and junior Casey Benson will also be important; if their shots are falling, Oregon’s extremely difficult to stop.
RCT: The last time these two teams met in the tournament was another Midwest Regional final back in 2002, when Kansas prevailed 104-86 to advance to the Final Four. In fact, Oregon has been to the Elite Eight 3 other times since 2000 but failed to make it to the next round. What is the likely plan of attack that this Oregon team is hoping will finally allow them to break through?
ATQ: Put together a full 40 minutes of offense. When Oregon has done that this year - like they did in their Feb. 4th rout of Arizona, shooting over 65% for the game in an 85-58 win - they can beat anyone in the country. But this team will go through stretches where, for some reason, the offense just stagnates; the ball stops moving, people stop cutting. It nearly cost the Ducks in the second round against Rhode Island, when a second-half scoring drought of nearly 4 minutes forced a frantic comeback to survive. As a heavy underdog in what will basically be a road game, I expect Oregon to come out loose, fast, and playing with nothing to lose. That attitude is when Oregon tends to play its best basketball.
RCT: What is your favorite tournament memory?
ATQ: I played in band while in college at Oregon, so my favorite memory is getting to travel with the team on their Elite Eight run in 2007. Aaron Brooks was arguably the best player in the country that year, freshman Tajuan Porter went 8-12 from three in the Sweet Sixteen win over UNLV (I found a four-leaf clover in the grass underneath the Gateway Arch earlier that day, and will always take credit for his shooting performance), and an undersized Ducks team took the Joakim Noah-Al Horford Florida juggernaut to the limit. Such a fun team, just ran into the wrong Elite Eight opponent.
Running second to that is winning my dad’s office pool as a 12 year old by correctly picking UConn to beat Duke in the final. The next year, they curiously added an age limit to participate.
RCT: Which matchup is going to be key to this game? With Kansas having so many offensive weapons, which one is going to be the most important to stop?
ATQ: I mean, the simple answer is Frank Mason III, right? He’s the cog that makes Kansas elite. But he’s a senior leader in his fourth NCAA tournament; Frank Mason isn’t gonna be stopped in this game. I think if Oregon can force Devonte’ Graham into a tough shooting night (2-10 vs. TCU in the Big XII tournament, for instance), or find a way to fluster Josh Jackson in his first Elite Eight game, Oregon’s got hope. The Ducks’ athleticism and defensive versatility give them the ability to switch off screens and play solid help defense. The Ducks just need to pick the right spots to be aggressive, and not give Kansas an inch. I’m taking a look at Kansas’ loss to Iowa State as a blueprint here: Mason scores 32 points, but Graham and Jackson combine to shoot 9-26, and the Cyclones shoot the lights out. And that still took overtime.
RCT: Prediction Time! How do you see the game going? Does Oregon find a way to stop the offensive juggernaut that has been the Kansas Jayhawks so far in this tournament, or does Kansas steamroll their way into the final weekend in their home away from home?
ATQ: Oregon can certainly beat Kansas, and I think they’ll definitely give the Jayhawks all they can handle. My worry is that with Boucher out, the less-dynamic Oregon offense won’t be able to score the 85+ points it’s taken to beat Kansas this year. I’m predicting an ultra-exciting 84-76 Kansas victory where both teams make Sportscenter’s top 10 with something spectacular, let’s say a Josh Jackson dunk in transition and a Jordan Bell putback on top of somebody’s head.
RCT: BONUS - Help us settle a very contentious debate over here at RCT. Is a hot dog a sandwich?
ATQ: Let’s think about the core components of what we think of as a “sandwich”: bread, some sort of main event in the middle, sometimes some accompanying veggies and condiments and such, and you can eat it with your hands as the Earl of Sandwich originally intended.
Yes, I am a sandwich originalist. Deal with it.
Some hot dogs are unequivocally sandwiches. The Chicago dog, for instance, has got all those core components in spades. It’s not just tactical flesh fuel, it’s a whole production. Chili dog? Sandwich, as long as it’s built to be handheld like a Cincinnati coney. A ballgame dog, with just a bun, sausage, and some ketchup/mustard? It’s lazy, but it’s technically a sandwich, and arguably more of a sandwich than a grilled cheese sandwich, which is just two pieces of toast stuck together by some cheese.
But once you deconstruct the bread/centerpiece/accompaniments formula, it ceases to be a sandwich. The Fourth of July competition on Coney Island? They aren’t eating sandwiches, they’re stuffing sandwich ingredients into their mouths. Toddlers eating cut up hot dog pieces aren’t eating sandwiches either.
So in short, in order to be a sandwich, a hot dog must be more than simply tubular meat. It’s about the arrangement of all the necessary components.
Does it say something about me that I wrote more passionately about hot dogs than Oregon basketball? Probably.
A big thanks to Matt for helping us out today. Don't forget to check out the questions I answered for him over at ATQ.
UPDATE : It has come to my attention that the other side of this exchange never made it up on ATQ. Rather than waste the effort, I've decided to add it here. How questions followed by my answers in bold.
Kansas is rolling through this tournament with relative ease. What’s been the difference in the tournament play that’s taken this team from “great” to “seemingly unbeatable”?
I don’t think there really has been a secret other than the offense is hitting their shots. The defense has been about what we are used to seeing - disruptive in spurts, but slow to rotate back to their man after helping or fighting under screens. This leads to a lot of open shots for the opponent and frustrated fans when the opponent gets on a roll. But the main thing that we have seen time after time this year is that no lead is safe against the Jayhawks. They can get really hot at any moment, and their ball movement is phenomenal. The part of Landen Lucas’ game that is a bit underrated is his passing ability, and even though it was stifled against Purdue it was still respected enough to cause double teams and wide open lanes elsewhere.
Kansas has looked unbeatable simply because they have been shooting insanely well in their first three games. When you score 90+ points in a tournament game, the odds are that you are probably going to win comfortably if you have any kind of defense at all. And the fact that Kansas can clamp down with some pressure, even just in a few spurts, means that many opponents are going to find it hard to get to 90, even on a good shooting night.
What can Oregon fans expect to see from Kansas on defense? Oregon’s strength on offense is their bevy of versatile and athletic shotmakers like Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey, and Dylan Ennis; is this Kansas defense well-suited to shut down the Ducks attack?
This defense is really good at helping, so if Oregon tries to rely too much on one or two different scorers it will be difficult to consistently find them. However, they have a tendency to overhelp, and so if Oregon is rotating the ball well they can probably get a lot of open shots initially. Purdue benefitted from this early and built up a bit of a lead in the first half when they were making their shots.
But Bill Self is well known for his ability to adjust to the flow of the game, and Kansas was able to quickly find ways to disrupt the passing ability and force quick turnovers. The key to beating this defense is to be able to attack it in multiple ways over the course of the game, as Frank Mason, Devonte’ Graham and Josh Jackson are all very adept at reading tendencies and anticipating what your offense is going to do.
Does Kansas have an X-Factor that really elevates the team?
It’s hard to pick one, both because a small rotation means that pretty much everyone is a main contributor and because it keeps changing from game to game. However, based off the last couple tournament games, I’d have to give this distinction to Dwight Coleby. He has been absolutely critical off the bench, spelling Landen Lucas in important stretches and filling the role that we thought would have been filled by Carlton Bragg this year. If he continues to play well and keep the opponent honest down low, his contribution will be felt well past what can be seen in the boxscore.
Does Kansas have a weak point? Should Oregon pull off the upset, what would that game look like?
The easy answer is the defense, as Kansas hasn't been nearly as strong there as they typically have been for a Bill Self team. The lazy answer is the frontcourt depth, as Landen Lucas has been the only consistent player down low this year. But with Dwight Coleby finally looking healthy, and Carlton Bragg finding a way to contribute without scoring, those weaknesses haven't really shown up for long stretches in the tournament.
Who is your personal favorite player on this Jayhawks team, and why?
It’s hard to pick anyone other than Frank Mason. He was strongly criticized his first year here as a guy that probably wasn’t going to be anything too special, and he was immortalized in his very own rap song in his sophomore year before he had really proved anything. But these last two years he has transformed himself into likely the best player in the nation, and the only thing that will keep him from playing in the NBA is his size. It’s hard not to be impressed by that.
Who is your personal favorite player in Kansas basketball history, and why?
There have been so many good ones, it's hard to pick just one. I'm going to have to go with Matt Kleinmann. He was part of the 2008 title team, he was a fantastic dancer, and he completely mopped up as the player coach of my church rec league team back in 2009.
Give us one thought on Kansas football, just so you have to talk about something in this Q&A that Kansas isn’t good at.
Hey, no ragging on our team right now. We have hired some fantastic coaches and currently have a top-15 recruiting class (13th nationally and 1st in the Big 12 as of publish time). Plus, we beat Texas.
Finally, give us a game and score prediction.
I honestly hate making predictions this time of year, because I usually have a hard time seeing a Kansas loss and then my heart gets ripped when they end up losing. But I don't think I've ever seen a Kansas team with an offense like this, at least not since the 2008 team that won the national title.
I'm going to have to go with a Kansas win, but I just don't see it coming by double digits unless the Jayhawks pull away late with some surprisingly improved free throw shooting. Frank Mason will continue to show why he is going to be the National Player of the Year, and Kansas wins 87-79.