At 15-10 overall and 6-7 in the Pac-10, the Oregon Ducks have some serious work to do if they want to make the NCAA Basketball Tournament.
While the Selection Committee evaluates teams and not conferences, the importance of the conference standings cannot be overstated.
Why? Because it is awfully hard for the Committee to justify taking a seventh place team over a fifth place team from the same conference when the emphasis is on a team’s entire body of work.
With that in mind the Pac-10 race takes on a great deal of importance as five teams, all within a half game of each other, battle for fourth through eighth place. And that's not to mention the higher you place the better your seed will be for the conference tournament.
Although seeding is not as significant as the final standings it is not like there are going to be any easy games in the conference tournament besides Oregon State.
Beaver-bashing aside, the Ducks have five games left and in only one game will they be a significant favorite. You guessed it, that game happens to be at Oregon State.
The other games include the Southern California road trip this weekend and visits from the Arizona schools to close conference play.
After dropping a game they absolutely had to win against Washington State last Saturday, the Ducks face almost a must-win Thursday at USC. It is highly unlikely that the Ducks will beat UCLA on Saturday, so Thursday’s game takes on extra importance.
A week from Saturday the Ducks will almost certainly send the Beavers to 0-16 and then the Ducks will have a crucial home stand against the Arizona schools.
Earlier this year the Ducks had the lead in the final minutes against ASU, but lost the game late. They rebounded, however, to defeat Arizona two days later. That win came with a major caveat though, because Arizona was without the services of super frosh Jerryd Bayless.
Realistically, the Ducks need to go 3-2 down the stretch to have any chance, whereas a 4-1 finish would likely get them in the Big Dance.
They have a decent shot to beat SC's injury riddled squad—the Trojans played only six players on Sunday against UCLA and made only two substitutions in the entire game.
Basically, it is easiest to assume a loss to the Bruins and a victory against the Beavers. That would leave the Ducks with what amounts to three toss-up games.
If they win all three they should get in no matter what they do in the Pac-10 tournament.
If they win two of them, Oregon would likely need a win or two in the conference tournament.
If they lose two of three then, the Ducks would need an extended run in the Pac-10 tourney.
If the Ducks lose all three, it is probably time to start printing the NIT tickets.
In summary, there are so many ifs it is hard to definitively say anything at this point. The only certainty is that the Ducks need to start playing better basketball if they are going to make the NCAA Tournament, and it must start Thursday night at the Galen Center.