In 1995, the Oregon Ducks men’s basketball team ended a 34-year streak when they made the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1961. Since then, they’ve been to the tourney five more times, and been a win away from the Final Four twice. While it’s not quite as epic a run as, say, Oregon football during the same stretch, it’s safe to say that the last 17 years have been infinitely better than the 34 that preceded them.
Except when it comes to road trips to the Bay Area. Haas Pavilion in Berkeley and Maples Pavilion on The Farm in Palo Alto have been Oregon’s version of the Bates Motel and the Overlook Hotel, respectively. I mean, nobody busted through a door with an axe screaming “Here’s Johnny!” but when it comes to Oregon basketball, there is nothing scarier than a weekend in Northern California.
The numbers are staggering. In this century they’ve led at the half in the Bay Area just four times in 24 games, including Thursday night at Cal. From 2001 to 2008 they lost 15 consecutive games. Since 1995, the Ducks have been swept on the road in this series 12 times, including both 2002 and 2007 when they went on to make the Elite Eight. Good—heck, great—Oregon teams have returned to Eugene with nothing to show from a lost weekend in Silicon Valley.
Which is why last night’s win at Stanford felt so damn good. Oregon’s 68-64 victory over the Cardinal increased their record at Maples to 2-and-16 since 1995. Even better, the Ducks now have a winning streak on Stanford’s home court. That’s right, Dana Altman is undefeated on The Farm, and he’s batting .500 overall against the gruesome twosome that is Cal and Stanford. In the 10 seasons prior to Altman’s arrival in Eugene, Oregon was 1-and-19. Altman’s 2-and-2 record looks downright John Wooden-esque.
The next hurdle for him, of course, is to take the Ducks back to the big dance. Their last appearance was in 2008, and a tourney trip in just his second year on the job would be a terrific achievement. They are currently 19-8 overall, 10-5 in conference play and tied for fourth with Arizona, just a half-game behind Colorado for third. Staying in the top four is vital. In the Pac-12 tournament, the top four seeds get opening round byes. It’s hard enough to win three games in three nights, but winning four in as many nights is a herculean task. And with games at Oregon State next Sunday, then home dates against Colorado and Utah, Oregon controls their own destiny for a first round bye.
Still, two of those games are against teams that they have lost to already (OSU and Colorado), so let’s not get too excited. But if the Ducks can finish the regular season with three more wins, they’d roll into the Pac-12 tourney as a three or four seed, with a 22-8 record and wins in seven of 10 games (three losses by a combined nine points). I’m no bracketologist, but you have to figure that one win in the tournament plants them squarely on the bubble, and two gets them into the madness.
It hasn’t always been pretty, but this team always fights and they’ve proven they can hang with anyone in the conference. With less than three weeks until Selection Sunday, the pressure starts to increase exponentially. Over the course of the next 20 days, you’ll hear a lot of talk about bubble teams, RPI, SOS, quality wins, and quality losses. But, as with most things in life, simpler is better. For the Ducks, it’s easy. Win, and they’re in.
That’s not a bad place to be in late February.