It seems fitting that the final tip-off in the Sweet 16 is a celebration of the Pac-12 with a matchup between Oregon and USC. The conference supplied 25% of the Sweet 16 teams, but can only supply a maximum of three Elite Eight teams because one of these teams will see its season end in the late game on Sunday March 28.
USC is favored by two points with a total of 138 at BetOnline Sportsbook, but this line is showing signs of going down to 1.5 after early money from a respected group in the betting community popped it up to 2.5 on Tuesday. It sure seems like opinions are pretty split on this game, at least from sharp bettors. Public money will likely come in on Oregon, a team that has gotten more hype as the tournament has gone along than USC, even though the Trojans are the better team with the better body of work.
Or are they? The Ducks can lay claim to being a pretty good team when healthy. Oregon simply wasn’t very healthy early on in the season. COVID and injuries played a big role in the relatively slow start, particularly the 4-3 start in Pac-12 play. The non-conference schedule was neutered because of COVID protocols and Oregon’s only noteworthy data point was a neutral-site loss to Missouri.
Since the first weekend of February, the Ducks have only lost twice. One of those losses was against USC. The other was against Oregon State in the Pac-12 Tournament. Oregon may have caught a break in the first round with a tough matchup against VCU in a game that was pretty closely lined, but the Rams had a COVID issue and Oregon got a bye to the second round. There were no signs of rust from the 10-day layoff with a dominant win over Iowa.
The win over Iowa has thrown this handicap for a loop. Against Arizona State in the Pac-12 Tournament, Oregon played to 74 possessions and scored 91 points. In the Iowa game, Oregon played to 75 possessions and scored 95 points. This Ducks team seems to like upping the tempo a little bit, even though most of this season’s data points are slow and low on the possession front.
Would Oregon consider moving at a heightened pace here? The first game between the Ducks and Trojans was played to just 62 possessions and USC prevailed by a 72-58 score. That was a healthy Ducks team, too. Does Dana Altman have it in him to throw a curveball here and really throw Andy Enfield for a loop? Is that Oregon’s best chance?
For a matchup of conference foes that play annually, the degree of certainty within this handicap is surprisingly low.
Maybe it would behoove Oregon to run the floor and force the Mobley Brothers into some tedious minutes. USC is led by Evan and Isaiah, who stand 7’ and 6’10” and do a lot of the dirty work on the glass and in the post. Isaiah actually missed that first game against USC and the Trojans still won by 14, so that seems like a bad sign for the Ducks.
The Trojans head into this game leading the nation in 2P% defense. Oregon is 12th in the nation in 3P%, but 165th in 3P Rate, so we’ll see if Altman’s Ducks take more long-range jumpers. In the first game, Oregon was 16-of-40 on twos and 7-of-17 on threes. The Trojans are a top-10 defense on the season with the big men down low blocking and altering shots. They’re also a top-15 offensive rebounding team. The rim will be the deciding factor in this one.
One major problem area for USC is that this is a team that only made 64.3% of its free throw attempts. Isaiah Mobley was terrible and so were most of the bench players. It will fall on the shoulders of Tahj Eaddy, a 77.5% free throw shooter if this game is close late. Maybe that will be part of Altman’s strategy. Go ahead and put Isaiah on the line and make him beat us that way.
Andy Enfield is an excellent NCAA Tournament coach dating back to his time with Florida Gulf Coast. He’ll adjust. This will be a game of adjustments after seeing how both teams come out to start play. Both teams are coming off of blowout wins and top-end performances, so regression is to be expected, but the team that sets itself up for more success based on the game plan will win.
Pick & Analysis
Truth be told, I have no idea which side that is. The line movement back and forth on this game seems like a microcosm of the matchup when you study the numbers and study everything in play. I guess that makes the total the easier part of this handicap? However, like I said, Altman could decide to speed the game up a little bit and that could make things quite interesting.
I still have to default to the under here. I’m guessing this is a slow, sluggish pace of two teams not looking to make mistakes. These two coaches know each other well and have had several days to decipher the opposition. Familiarity can breed unders, but so can the stakes of playing in the Sweet 16.