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Pac-12 Confidential

Bud Withers offers an inside look at the Pac-12 Conference and the national college scene.

February 28, 2014 at 2:19 PM

Ducks beat UCLA in spite of themselves, but what does it mean?

Over time, I’ve developed a philosophy on watching a game that appears finally to be decided. I stick with it until there’s no chance of a reversal. I don’t want somebody calling me and saying, “Did you see the most unbelievable ending ever in college basketball?”

It was a little like that Thursday night when UCLA played Oregon. The Bruins trailed the Ducks by six points with 24 seconds left in regulation, but I decided to wait it out, and indeed, the finish was one for the books. More on that later.

Oregon eventually won in double overtime, 87-83, and we’re left to sort out what it does for the Ducks’ NCAA tournament aspirations. The Bruins played without Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson, probably their two best players. This wasn’t like going without two guys off the bench; Adams averages 17.2 points a game, seventh in the Pac-12. Anderson averages 14.9 points, is fourth in the league in rebounding (8.6), and by a wide margin, first in assists at 6.9.

So the question: Is this the resume win Oregon had been seeking, or is it a cheap knockoff purchased from some guy selling Rolexes in Times Square?

Jerry Palm, CBSsports.com’s resident bracketologist, seemed to think it’s the former, saying in an interview on the website, “A win’s a win. They (the basketball committee) can’t look at suspensions and say UCLA would have won with those guys. You never know; those guys could have had a bad game. Suspensions are something that have an impact on seeding, they don’t really have an impact on selection. They (the Ducks) still had to do it. While the circumstances may have worked in their favor to get this win, they still had to do it.”

Indeed, what Palm is concluding seems consistent with what committee chair Ron Wellman said on a teleconference back on Feb. 12, when asked about Colorado without Spencer Dinwiddie. Rather than say Colorado would be judged on what it does without Dinwiddie, he indicated such injury absences are usually more about seeding than selection.

But not so fast . . . I e-mailed Doug Fullerton, a current committee member and the commissioner of the Big Sky Conference, on how the game would be judged. Here’s what he wrote back:  “We are very aware of those circumstances and it is important to make sure that this information is presented to the group when we discuss the resumes. There is no standard procedure after that — each individual uses that information the way they want to.”

Update, 4:15 p.m. Friday: I reached out to ESPN’s resident bracketologist, Joe Lunardi, and here’s his view of the win: “My take is that Oregon needs more than just this win to get in, so it will not be a huge factor in their selection (or not…)”

It’s not an easy call. It’s not Oregon’s fault that what looked like a quality opponent (RPI No. 14) suddenly turned into something less. (I don’t think many would argue that without those two, UCLA is a much lesser team.) The cold numbers will show Oregon jumped from No. 41 to 33 in the RPI, and that it got an RPI top-25 win, but still . . . to simply remove the factor of those suspensions and ignore them would be to disadvantage every other bubble team that Oregon may be fighting against.

Here’s how I think the committee will view it: The Ducks will get sort of a tentative credit for the victory, but perhaps not the full credit reflected in the cold numbers.

Oregon is 19-8 and 7-8, and its league resume has been skimpy. Until Thursday night, the Ducks were 0-6 against the first division, all of which is projected to make the NCAA tournament. If the Ducks should find themselves on Selection Sunday without another win against any of those six, it will be easy for the committee to say, “Well, even that UCLA victory was a little tainted . . .” But if Oregon can get some more work done against any of those six — it has to be against those six — then I think the emphasis on the UCLA game will recede and that win will just melt into the other positives on the resume.

Oregon has a key home date with Arizona March 8, and I think a win there gets the Ducks in for sure. Failing that, the Ducks should get a shot at one of the chosen six in the Pac-12 tournament.

But back to the craziness at the end of regulation at UCLA: I won’t burden you with details of what led up to it, but with 1.3 seconds left, Oregon had a one-point lead and Joseph Young, the terrific senior guard and a dynamite foul shooter, at the line. About the time he made the first, ESPN play-by-play man Dave Pasch began broaching the idea of Oregon being better off if Young would miss the second one. You know, two-point lead instead of three, but then the Bruins would virtually be in the position of a rebounder having to catch the ball and fling it 85 feet into the basket. There wouldn’t be time for a pass.

Young, however, connected on the free throw, making it a three-point game (word from the Ducks after the game was, he was supposed to miss it. I saw a reference to the fact that may have altered the way Oregon defended the ensuing possession, but I don’t see that it would make a lot of difference.

(There’s also video out there of a UCLA defender committing a violation, stepping over the baseline to contest, as Oregon inbounded just before this on what became a Duck turnover. That wasn’t called, so Oregon wasn’t entirely culpable in the whole confusing affair.)

After Young’s second successful free throw came the head-scratching part. The Ducks had two players in rebounding position on the foul line. Then, as UCLA inbounded the ball, all five defenders were in backcourt. Why? Makes absolutely no sense to me. I’d put three defenders in forecourt while the free throws were being shot, maybe 30 feet from the basket spread around the three-point line, and, much as a football secondary does, just try to keep everything in front. Seems absurd to try to bother a guy in backcourt who’s going to put up a 60-foot prayer, at the expense of defending the much more real possibility that the Bruins might get a decent 30- or 35-foot look at the bucket.

Which is exactly what they did, as a Duck guard scrambled past mid-court to try to contest David Wear, but  he took the long pass from his brother Travis, buried the trey and it went to overtime. Oregon eventually got it done — for what it’s worth.

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