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2013 NCAA Tournament: Five Reasons Why Oregon Can Make a Run to the Sweet 16

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Five Reasons The Oregon Ducks Can Make a Run to the Sweet 16

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Oregon Ducks won 26 games and the Pac-12 Tournament with their second win over UCLA last Saturday night, but they may well have been headed for the NIT if not for earning an automatic bid.

The Ducks topped 20 wins and earned a postseason appearance in each of Dana Altman’s first two seasons as coach, but they entered the 2012-2013 season with a lot of roster turnover and low expectations. Most preseason predictions had them in the bottom half of the Pac-12, so the fact they were a contender to reach the NCAA Tournament prior to winning the conference tournament was one of the bigger surprises in the country.

Oregon is the 12th seed in the Midwest Region, and will take on No. 5 seed Oklahoma State on Thursday in San Jose. The Cowboys had a solid season themselves, going 24-8 with a 13-5 record in the Big 12, and they also rely on a lot of young players with four freshmen and six sophomores on the roster.

If the Ducks can upset the Cowboys on Thursday, they would face either No. 4 seed Saint Louis or No. 13 seed New Mexico State with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line. So the path to the tournament’s second weekend does not look particularly imposing for Oregon if they get past Oklahoma State. Saint Louis is a sentimental favorite this year after the death of coach Rick Majerus in December, but I think they are simply seeded too high and are ripe to be upset.

The Ducks are my personal favorite potential Cinderella this year, and here are five reasons I think they can make a run to the Sweet 16.

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5. Experience In The Frontcourt

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Oregon’s backcourt is filled with younger players, but their senior-laden frontcourt is noteworthy.

Carlos Emory helped the Ducks take down UCLA in the Pac-12 Tournament Championship Game with a team-leading 20 points, and the scoring punch he can provide (11.0 points per game) could play a big role in the Ducks’ tournament fortunes.

Arsalan Kazemi had a double-double against UCLA last weekend (12 points and 12 rebounds) and is the Ducks’ leading rebounder (9.5 per game). His overall contribution on both ends of the floor will be important to any chance Oregon has to make a surprising NCAA Tournament run.

Center Tony Woods has had some good moments this season, highlighted by an 18-point effort against UCLA in January and a season-high 19 points against Washington in the Pac-12 Tournament.

E.J. Singler is another key senior in Oregon’s frontcourt, but I’ll get to him in greater depth later.

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4. Forward E.J. Singler

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Singler's last name is familiar to college basketball fans, as older brother Kyle was a mainstay at Duke and is now in the NBA. The younger Singler is the Ducks’ leading scorer (11.6 points per game), second-leading rebounder (4.9 per game) and he is also a prolific three-point shooter (35.3 percent).

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3. Guard Damyean Dotson

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Dotson averaged 14.7 points per game during the Ducks’ Pac-12 Tournament run, and he is the team’s third-leading scorer overall (10.8 points per game). His matchup with Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart on Thursday afternoon will be one to watch, and could easily be an indicator for who wins the game.

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2. Roster Depth

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The Ducks have seven players that average at least 21 minutes per game, and six players average at least 8.5 points per game. That kind of depth helps mitigate the risk of a drop-off if starters get into foul trouble or can’t get going offensively, which can be an important factor in the NCAA Tournament.

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1. Coach Dana Altman

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Prior to taking the job at Oregon, Altman had a terrific 16-season run at Creighton that including seven NCAA Tournament appearances, five trips to the NIT and 11-straight 20-win seasons. The Ducks were not expected to be above .500 this season, let alone win over 20 games and win the conference tournament, and Altman has to get a lot of credit for that.