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Better to lose to Oregon? No way

Posted by Jeff Nusser on March 12, 2008

With the Pac-10 tournament on the horizon, the inevitable question comes up: Would it be the worst thing in the world if this team flamed out in the opener against Oregon, especially coming off a double OT game?

The reasoning behind the question goes something like this.

Our players are tired already after one heck of a grind of a Pac-10 season. At the very least, some of our key guys are banged up — if not outright hurt — and one has to wonder if giving our all to try and win three games in three days really is the best thing for our chances of making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. After all, what is there really to be gained?

I say plenty.

This is about so much more than trying to get from a No. 6 seed — which is where Joe Lunardi has them right now — to a little bit higher seed. (Although, getting a higher seed is a worthy goal, as I’ll explain below.) It’s about trying to make sure you’re playing your best basketball heading into the NCAA Tournament.

The funny thing about this argument is that people argued the opposite ad nauseum for years. When the Pac-10 had no conference tournament and seemingly early upset after early upset in the dance, the fans clamored for what everyone else had. They argued that simply finishing the regular season on the weekend of Selection Sunday didn’t provide their teams with the necessary fire and intensity needed to compete against these other teams who were coming out of the crucible of their own conference tournaments.

Now that we have a tournament, we wonder if asking our guys to play three games in three days might hamper our team.

The reality is this: There is very little evidence that losing early in the Pac-10 Tournament benefits anyone, and there is very little evidence playing three games in the three days leading up to the tournament harms anyone. In fact, recent evidence seems to suggest that it’s actually the opposite with regards to the latter.

For the purpose of this analysis, let’s start by taking a look at teams that lost in the first round of the Pac-10 Tournament that eventually made it to the NCAA Tournament, and we’ll look only at the latest incarnation of the event, which started up again in 2002.

2002

  • Stanford: Advances to second round as a No. 8 seed, loses second round game to No. 1 seed Kansas. NCAA Tournament record: 1-1.

2003

  • Arizona: Advances to Elite Eight as No. 1 seed, losing to No. 2 seed Kansas. Record: 3-1.
  • Stanford: Advances to second round as No. 4 seed, losing to No. 5 seed UConn. Record: 1-1.
  • Arizona State: Advances to second round as No. 10 seed, losing to No. 2 seed Kansas. Record: 1-1.

2004

  • None.

2005

  • UCLA: Loses in first round as No. 11 seed. Record: 0-1.

2006

  • Washington: Advances to Sweet Sixteen as No. 5 seed, losing to No. 1 seed UConn. Record: 2-1.

2007

  • UCLA: Advances to Final Four as No. 2 seed, losing to No. 1 seed Florida. Record: 4-1.
  • Arizona: Loses in first round as No. 8 seed. Record: 0-1.
  • Stanford: Loses in first round as No. 11 seed. Record: 0-1.

So, we have nine teams in the past six years who lost in the first round of the Pac-10 Tournament. Their combined record is 12-9, but I think the key thing to note is that none of them seemed to get much of a “boost” from early losses — each seemed to play more or less to their seed level.

Now, let’s look at how the teams who made it to the conference championship fared after those three games in three days.

2002

  • Arizona: Advances to Sweet Sixteen as No. 3 seed, loses to No. 2 seed Oklahoma. Record: 2-1.
  • USC: Loses in first round as No. 4 seed. Record: 0-1.

2003

  • Oregon: Loses in first round as No. 8 seed. Record: 0-1.
  • USC: Not in the tournament.

2004

  • Stanford: Advances to second round as No. 1 seed, upset by No. 8 seed Alabama. Record: 1-1.
  • Washington: Loses in first round as No. 8 seed. Record: 0-1.

2005

  • Washington: Advances to Sweet Sixteen as No. 1 seed, loses to No. 4 seed Louisville. Record: 2-1.
  • Arizona: Advances to Elite Eight as No. 3 seed, loses to No. 1 seed Illinois. Record: 3-1.

2006

  • UCLA: Advances to national championship game as No. 2 seed, loses to No. 1 seed Florida. Record: 5-1.
  • Cal: Loses in first round as No. 7 seed. Record: 0-1.

2007

  • Oregon: Advances to Elite Eight as No. 3 seed, loses to No. 1 seed Florida. Record: 3-1.
  • USC: Advances to Sweet Sixteen as No. 5 seed, loses to No. 1 seed UNC. Record: 2-1.

There’s 12 teams for you. Combined record: 18-12. Outside of two obvious flameouts (USC in 2002, Stanford in 2004) there doesn’t appear to be any tiredness factor. In fact, if you look at the past three years, Arizona, UCLA, Oregon and USC each seemed to use it to build momentum. But overall, most teams simply performed to their expectation levels.

Now, of course you hope that there are no 2-OT games in your future in the conference tournament, or any big injuries. But really, there just doesn’t seem to be any evidence to support that an early exit would be beneficial to anyone — or that sitting prime players in the name of rest would be a successful strategy.

The most tried and true method for going deep in the NCAA Tournament is to get favorable matchups and play well; as I’ve said before, there’s a big difference in opponent between a No. 3 seed and a No. 5 or 6 seed, not to mention the “protected” status of the top four seeds that will keep them at a venue closer to home. The best way to do that is play deep into the Pac-10 Tournament, securing the momentum and and the easier opponent that comes with the higher seed.

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6 Responses to “Better to lose to Oregon? No way”

  1. nwsportsblog said

    We full-heartedly agree. You never lose a game on purpose. You can’t put a value on a Top 4 seed. We’d rather them risk winning and getting tired now, then resting and not being up for the big tourney.

  2. Dee said

    Here’s your motivation to lose: Helping Oregon’s cause. Huh? Any takers? Time to return the favor for the games Oregon gift-wrapped the Cougs earlier.

  3. Nuss said

    A pair of nine-point losses doesn’t exactly scream “gift-wrapped.” But then again, the Ducks have never actually lost a game, have they? 😉

  4. Dee said

    If you had done more than check the box scores, you would know that each came down to the last minute and only got to 9 because of desperation fouls, but you didn’t watch the games, did you? Gift-wrapped may be an exaggeration, but both games were competitive–certainly more than the score indicated.

  5. Nuss said

    Whoa, no need to be defensive there, Mr. Duck fan. I did indeed watch both games, and the point I was trying to make is exactly what you said — gift-wrapped was an exaggeration. But those games did not get to nine because of “desperation fouls.” Those games got to nine because Oregon completely caved under the Cougar defensive pressure and couldn’t make a shot when it counted down the stretch.

    The first game was a one-point game with a minute to go until Hairston missed a jumper, Taylor missed a layup and Porter missed a three. The second game wasn’t as close; you were within three with two minutes to go, but couldn’t make another shot until Catron made a layup with 34 seconds to go, at which point it had swelled to a nine-point lead and the game was over.

    So, you’re right to say they were competitive. But that’s not gift-wrapping. That’s taking someone’s ball and sending them home to cry to their mom.

  6. Real Duck Fan said

    A win is a win…a loss is a loss…no crying here. Different team as of late, maybe we can make it a game tonight!

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