The closest thing to a long shot left in the NCAA Tournament is in the “Sweet 16” for the third time in four years, made the Final Four a couple years ago, and is led by a coach with almost 650 wins who has guided three programs to the dance.
Next up for No. 12 seed Oregon: Virginia.
The second week of the tournament gets going tonight, when the Ducks conclude a quartet of regional semi-final games against the No. 1 seed Cavaliers in the South Region.
No. 2 seed Tennessee faces third-seeded Purdue in the other matchup in Louisville, Ky. while Gonzaga-Florida State and Texas Tech-Michigan decide the finalists in the West Region in Anaheim, Calif.
The only team among them seeded outside the top four? Dana Altman's squad from Eugene, Ore.
“I told them right away, when the pairs came out, numbers don't mean anything,” Altman said.
“Cal-Irvine didn't think of themselves as a 13 after winning 31 games," he noted. ”We didn't think of ourselves as a 12 going against Wisconsin.
“We didn't look at ourself as a big underdog.”
For good reason, the way the Ducks have played in March the past few years. But the Ducks (25-12) also were a mess in January, trying to adjust to playing without star big man Bol Bol, who was lost for the season due to injury.
It wasn't until Altman tinkered with his lineups and started four 6'9" forwards that the season turned, and only the past six weeks have the Ducks looked like Final Four contenders again.
The Ducks rolled to a Pac-12 Tournament title, breezed past the Badgers in the opening round of the tournament, then routed the Anteaters—the team that upset fourth-seeded Kansas State.
“I've only seen Oregon once in the Pac-12 Championship. They beat Washington pretty good and I know they're hot,” the Cavaliers' Ty Jerome said.
“I know they're tall across the board," he noted. ”They have a really good point guard and a lot of guys that can make shots.
“I know they're playing really good defence as of late, too,” Jerone added.
“It will be a good challenge for us.”
The Cavaliers confronted their biggest fear in the opening round when, after losing to No. 16 seed UMBC last season, they struggled for a while against Gardner-Webb.
But after finding their stride, coach Tony Bennett's crew looked much better in a second-round win over Oklahoma last weekend.
Now the Cavaliers (31-3) are eager to make the late-March run they expected last year.
“Everybody is playing well to advance to this point," Bennett said. ”I think us, having to overcome a shaky start against a very good Gardner-Webb team and facing that and showing some resiliency, I hope the way we had to play to advance and then against Oklahoma will carry over.
“You're going to need that again to continue to advance.”
No. 1 seed Duke plays fourth-seeded Virginia Tech tomorrow night in Washington, D.C., where second-seeded Michigan State and No. 3 seed LSU also meet in the East Region.
Top-seeded North Carolina faces No. 5 seed Auburn in Kansas City, Mo. while second-seeded Kentucky faces No. 3 seed Houston in the other Midwest Region semi-final.