MBB PREVIEW: Ducks look to stop two-game skid as they take on Michigan without key players

By Liam Baker

EUGENE, Ore. — After a strong start to the season which saw the Ducks (4-2) win their first four games by 10+ points, they lost both games in the Emerald Coast Classic and now take on the Michigan Wolverines (4-3) at Matthew Knight Arena. The two-game losing streak can partially be attributed to the Ducks being without two of their best players. Centers Nate Bittle and N’Faly Dante have missed the last three games. Dante has only played in the season opener and both players underwent successful surgeries this past week. Dante will be re-evaluated in a month and Bittle in two. Freshman Mookie Cook is also still out with an ankle injury. One bright spot for the Ducks over the past two games is that freshman Jackson Sheldstad made his collegiate debut. He scored eight points off the bench against Santa Clara and 10 against Alabama. For the Wolverines, they are looking to break a skid of their own. After starting 3-0 they have lost three of their past four. This is a huge game for both programs and a win could prove important when comparing resumes come March.

Michigan Wolverines
Saturday’s game against the Ducks will be their fourth straight on the road after going 1-2 in the Battle 4 Atlantis. They are led by the duo of sophomore guard Dug McDaniel and graduate transfer forward Olivier Nkamboua. McDaniel has scored in double figures every game this season and averages 18.4 points per game and Nkamboua has scored 15+ in six of seven games while also pulling down over seven rebounds per game. Unlike the Ducks, who have had four different starting lineups over the first six games, the Wolverines have rolled out the same starting five each game this season. The other starters include guard Nimari Burnett and forwards Terrance Williams II and Tarris Reed Jr. Also, the Wolverines only have two men playing substantial minutes off the bench so expect all starters to log heavy minutes. Expect the Wolverines to put up a lot of points on Saturday. They have scored over eighty points in five of their seven contests and shoot the ball at 49.8% from the field — which is 26th in the country. Despite shooting well from the field, they are one of the worst free-throw-shooting teams in the country. They only shoot about 18 free throws per game but when they do get to the line they convert only 65.1% of attempts, which ranks them 300th out of 351 teams in Division 1.

Oregon Ducks
With Dante and Bittle out for some time, the Oregon backcourt must step up offensively. Senior guard trio Jermaine Couisnard, Keeshawn Barthelemy and Jesse Zarzuela have started every game they have played and have begun to find their shot. They combined for 41 points on 17-28 shooting the last time out and will need to continue to put up similar numbers if the Ducks are to have success on Saturday and the rest of the season. A player that will be key for the Ducks on Saturday is freshman forward Kwame Evans Jr. The freshman was thrust into a starting role when Dante went down with an injury but has struggled to shoot the ball and stay out of foul trouble. He will have his hands full with a taller and more experienced frontcourt of Michigan. The Ducks are already thin at the forward position and need a strong game out of Evans Jr. as well as senior center Mahamadou Diawara, who has played well in limited action. Like the Wolverines, the Ducks lack the ability to consistently make free throws. Their 60.5% mark brings them in at 334th in the country. One area where the Ducks thrive is ball handling. They are 16th in the country in turnovers per game at 9.3 and 37th in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.52, highlighted by a 13 assists to two turnovers performance against Montana earlier this year.

I expect a close, hard-fought game between two teams that are listed in the “First Four Teams Out” on the last ESPN Bracketology albeit early in the season. Oregon has played well at home this season and that should continue. Strong guard play and a breakout game by freshman Jackson Sheldstad will give the Ducks a narrow victory.

Ducks 75, Wolverines 72

PAC-12 Championship Preview: Oregon Set For Rematch Against Washington in Vegas

By Jonah Bruneau

Eugene, ORE – The commonly deemed “game of the year” to this point will get its part two Friday night in the city that never sleeps. The No. 5 Oregon Ducks (11-1) return to Las Vegas to compete for a PAC-12 title for the first time since 2021, when Utah ran them out of Allegiant Stadium. For No. 3 Washington (12-0), they make their first appearance in the conference championship game since 2018 when they hoisted the trophy at the end of the night after taking down Utah. Never before have the Ducks met the Huskies in the conference title game. 

Chaos is almost destined to take place over the entire weekend, starting with Washington versus Oregon. The overall consensus seems to be “win and you’re in” for either team in regard to the College Football Playoff. However, the other four Power 5 title games can reshape much of what the final Playoff picture will look like.

The true X-factor this weekend is looking to be No. 8 Alabama. With an 11-1 record heading into their matchup with No. 1 Georgia, the Crimson Tide have had more of a down year compared to what their recent resume shows in the last decade and a half. Even so, an upset win against Georgia could potentially catapult them into a top-four spot. Now No. 7 Texas, who also has one loss, can backdoor their way into a playoff spot if they can knock off No. 18 Oklahoma State in the Big-12 title contest. Their hopes are looking to heavily rely on what No. 4 Florida State does against No. 14 Louisville as a ‘Bama win against Georgia would likely be more of an impressive victory to the playoff committee. Long-story short, the Ducks get a win and let the rest of the field play itself out in an ideal situation for Oregon fans.

Goodbye PAC-12: This year’s conference title game of course will officially be the last of its kind. The name “PAC-12” is the fifth iteration of the original conference. Its first season was back in 1916, then known as the “Pacific Coast Conference”. Who was the first conference champion? The Huskies of Washington (full circle possibility, is it destiny?). Before the 1959 season, the name was changed to the “Athletic Association of Western Universities” which only lasted until 1967. The conference then became the “Pacific-8 Conference” (PAC-8) when Oregon and Oregon State joined the group. The PAC-10 came to fruition in 1978 when Arizona and Arizona State entered the family. The name would remain all the way until the conclusion of the 2010 campaign, when Utah and Colorado hopped in to make the conference what it is today with the PAC-12. Of the PAC-12 era, Oregon holds the most titles with four. That stat will remain no matter the outcome on Friday. 

Game Preview: The regular season barn-burner between these two teams left viewers itching for more. Since that game, the hope was for the Ducks and the Huskies to come head to head again in the conference title game which has now become a reality. Washington, who was No. 7 at the time, survived a last second potential game-tying field goal from Oregon senior kicker Camden Lewis that would have kicked the game into overtime. Instead, the then No. 8 Ducks fell short in Seattle 36-33. Both teams have gone undefeated in their respective schedules since, however in different fashions.

Team Preview

Oregon: The Ducks have absolutely dominated in all of their remaining games following the loss to Washington. In fact, the closest margin of victory in those six games was a nine point win against USC. Their two most impressive wins in that stretch came against then No. 13 Utah where the Ducks went into Salt Lake City and rolled over the Utes 35-6, and just a week ago against a No. 16 Oregon State where the Beavers were outscored 31-7. The Ducks have comfortably covered the spread in four of those six games as well. Quarterback Bo Nix has put himself into a favorite for the Heisman Trophy ahead of Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who has struggled at times in the second half stretch-run of the season. Penix, who threw an interception against Oregon, has thrown five more in the games played since.

Washington: While Oregon has breezed through their second half of the year, Washington has been pushed around week after week. Just one week after the Oregon matchup, the Huskies only tallied 15 points and won by just one score at home against a 1-5 Arizona State team that has averaged the least amount of total offensive yards in the PAC-12. Defensively, Washington went through a two-week stretch where they gave up 33 to a Stanford squad that has the second-least points scored this season in the conference, and then 42 against an USC team that ended up losing five of their final six regular season games. With all of that said however, Washington still enters Friday night with an undefeated record, a stat that only Florida State, Michigan, Georgia, and Liberty can say.

Game Prediction: There have been rumors about Penix Jr. dealing with some sort of ailing injury, yet nothing has been addressed by the team. If Penix is not particularly 100%, the Ducks will need to focus on getting pressure on him and trying to improve upon that from the regular season matchup, where senior Brandon Dorlus had the lone Oregon sack. Oregon defensive back Jahlil Florence, who intercepted Penix Jr. back in October, was seen on crutches last week against Oregon State. Coach Dan Lanning has made it known that Florence’s availability for Friday is up in the air. Besides Florence, the Oregon defense looks to be at full health. The defensive unit allowed 415 yards of offense to the Huskies back in week six, less than the 468 yards per game number that Washington has averaged on the season. If the Ducks can come out aggressive on defense and display a similar performance to the first game, the Huskies can be held in check. Combine that with the magician himself in Bo Nix and the record-breaking weapons he has such as Troy Franklin, there is your reason as to why the Ducks are 9.5 point favorites.

Score Prediction: 38-28 Oregon Wins the PAC-12