Oregon enters this game at 9-2, despite dealing with injuries to multiple starters. According to their official site, injuries have been so prevalent for the Ducks this season that they have already seen a total of 21 games missed due to injury. The Ducks have withstood the early adversity, posting quality wins against Baylor, Valparaiso (Horizon League favorite) and UC Irvine (Big West favorite). Their two losses were to UNLV and Boise State, two teams that appear to be among the best in the Mountain West conference this season. And yet, like Alabama, Oregon could use more quality wins on its resume if it is to be selected for the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight season. This game is big for both teams.
Oregon's depth has been tested due to the injuries, but they've responded well by being very balanced on the offensive end, while being one of the better defensive teams of Dana Altman's tenure (currently ranked in the top 30 of Ken Pomeroy's defensive efficiency rankings). Five players currently average double figures for Oregon. They are Dillon Brooks (15.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.0 spg), Tyler Dorsey (14.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 47% from 3), Elgin Cook (14.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.8 spg), Chris Boucher (12.0 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 3.5 bpg) and Dwayne Benjamin (10.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.5 spg). Jordan Bell, who missed all but three games to open the season, is back in the line-up, averaging 8.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.6 bpg and 2.0 spg. Another starter, Dylan Ennis, has yet to play a game due to a foot injury suffered in the preseason. He is not expected to play in this game.
While this Oregon team is a deeper, more talented team than Alabama, both teams have had similar seasons in that they've had to overcome some adversity and gut out victories by playing balanced offensive basketball and defending well. The expectation for Oregon is, as their injured guys return to the court, they will only continue to improve. A win for Alabama in this game will likely join Notre Dame and Wichita State as victories that will hold a lot of water in March, should Bama be in a position for a postseason bid.
Nothing is official yet, but I don't expect Shannon Hale to play in this game. If he doesn't, that makes the task all the more tougher for Alabama. For our guys to win, it's going to take a balanced effort similar to the one they had against Winthrop. Both teams would prefer to play uptempo, but both have been so good defensively this season that it won't surprise me if the game is relatively low scoring. Hopefully the fans turn out for this game and provide a home court atmosphere for our guys. I'm also hoping that Oregon comes out flat. Even though this is a big game for both teams, traveling across the country is never easy, particularly when the destination is Birmingham, Alabama. With all due respect to the Magic City, I can't imagine any of the Oregon players are excited about a trip to Alabama just before Christmas break.
With this being the last game before Christmas I want to take the opportunity to wish my fellow writers at the blog, and our readers near and far, a safe and happy holiday season. Take care of yourselves, and Roll Tide!