I've talked to several NBA people I know about the Oregon Ducks and I'm getting the same evaluation from just about all of them:
Coach Dana Altman has done an amazing job with that team.
Oregon heads to the Final Four this week without a big-time superstar. Without a lottery pick in the NBA draft, maybe even without a first-round pick in the draft. You aren't supposed to do that. At least you aren't supposed to do that if you have a legitimate chance to win the whole thing -- which the Ducks most certainly have.
But Oregon plays together, plays extremely hard and defends. Really defends. It's an athletic bunch and Altman has done something that a lot of college coaches can't seem to accomplish -- he's getting the most from the team's athleticism while retaining a degree of discipline. The Ducks are quick, fast and physical -- but they are seldom out of control. They are able to harness all that athleticism without going into a crazy, undisciplined style.
The win over Kansas was stunning. Not only was it more of a road game than any team is supposed to play in an NCAA tournament, it was against a team with more talent than the Ducks. Coming next is a game against North Carolina, which again, has more talent than Oregon. But I'm not sure the Tar Heels are ready for a team that's going to come at them with the energy and force that Oregon has brought. This bunch can be downright intimidating with its style of play.
My only question about the Ducks all season was whether they would shoot the ball well enough to win more than a couple of consecutive tourney games. But Tyler Dorsey has emerged as the reliable shooter this team has needed and Jordan Bell has become the inside defensive force to replace the injured Chris Boucher.
And these guys are fearless and relentless. That they can be that way and Altman can still retain a measure of control is amazing. The college basketball world is full of control freaks who want to stand on the sidelines screaming at their players, calling every play and controlling every facet of their team's game. And they end up stifling their team's creativity. Altman has let go just enough to allow his team to make the most of its natural ability.
And that's the very essence of coaching.
A FEW FINAL FOUR NOTES: They keep saying this thing is being held in Phoenix but it isn't. The Final Four is actually going to be played in a stadium in Glendale, a suburb of Phoenix that is a long way from a lot of places you may choose to stay in the Phoenix area. Be prepared for a long drive from downtown Phoenix, or points south or east. If you're staying in Scottsdale or Mesa or Gilbert or Tempe, it's a long haul. ... And yes, I said the Final Four is to be played in a "stadium" and not an "arena." This thing is going down in University of Phoenix Stadium, the home of the NFL Cardinals and various college football playoff games. It's the one that looks like a giant flying saucer and seats about 67,000 for football. I'm not sure what it will seat for hoops but you can bet there are thousands upon thousands of lousy seats where the scoreboard video screen will be your best view. That also means there should be plenty of tickets available, either through the NCAA, the schools or the secondary market. I'd be careful about paying a high price to a scalper early this week because the market could be flooded with tickets later on. And, as always at a Final Four, Sunday is a good day to buy a ticket on the secondary market for the championship game. The fans of the teams that lose Saturday are always looking to unload their tickets and go home.