EUGENE, Ore.-It seemed if Oregon (26-8, 12-6) was locked into a 5 vs. 12 first round NCAA tournament match-up they’d be the No. 5 seed. But stunningly, the Ducks, who just capped off the Pac-12 season with a conference tournament championship, were seeded twelfth in the Midwest Region, tabbed to play Oklahoma State (24-8, 13-5) in San Jose.
While it was no doubt shocking (and perhaps disappointing) to be seeded so low, the Ducks have chosen not to take it as a slight, instead just pleased with the opportunity to be a part of the tournament for the first time since 2008.
“We’re just happy to be in the tournament,” said senior E.J. Singler. “We don’t care where we’re seeded. We’re just so excited that we get to play and have the opportunity to showcase our skills and our team in the tournament.”
The Cowboys finished third in the Big-12 this year, behind Kansas and Kansas State and feature one of the country’s most excited players: freshman Marcus Smart. Smart was named the AP Big-12 player and freshman of the year earlier this week, as he led the team in scoring (15.4 per game) and assists (4.2 per game).
Nonetheless, Singler believes the Ducks can beat the Cowboys if they exhibit the same energy they did in Las Vegas en route to the tournament championship.
“We feel like we can beat anyone in the country. We have confidence on ourselves. We’re just going to go in each and every game and play our best. When we do that good things happen for us. That’s what we can hang our hat on: how hard we play and giving it our all,” he said.
The tournament appearance is the first for Altman at Oregon, but the ninth of his career. He previously reached the Big Dance at once at Kansas State and seven times at Creighton. He holds a 2-8-career record in tournament games.
Both his wins came as the lower seeded team, first when his 10-seeded Bluejays defeated Louisville in 1999 and in 2002, when his No. 12 Creighton squad defeated Florida in the first round. Altman also lost twice as a higher seed, as six-seed at Kansas State in 1993 and again as six in 2003.
“I’ve been on both ends of the upsets,” Altman said. “The numbers are just numbers. I told the guys before the selection, we’re going to play a good team. Don’t worry about what you are, just worry about getting ready to play a good team.”
Like his coach, Singler does not get caught up on the number attached to the team come tournament time.
“I never really thought those were upsets. Every team in the tournament is a good team. Anyone can beat anyone during this kind of tournament. You see it every time,” he said.
While Altman has extensive tournament experience, only center Tony Woods has played in the NCAA tournament before. He did so as a freshman at Wake Forest, when the Demon Deacons made it to the second round of the tournament. Woods had 11 points and 8 rebounds off the bench in the team’s win.
“I’m looking forward to this year and the opportunity to go further with this team and try to convey some of what the experience is to my teammates,” he said. “Just the stage and how different it is and the atmosphere. It’s just electric.”
One of the few positives from the selection committee’s pairings, is that the Ducks will have the opportunity to stay close to home, playing in San Jose, Calif.
“We’re really lucky to stay on the West Coast. That’s really big for us. Maybe we’ll get a lot more fans out,” Woods said.
And hey, since the numbers don’t matter much, Altman wouldn’t classify an Oregon as an uspet.
“I don’t think it’ll be an upset if we win, to be real honest. I’m sure Oklahoma State is a good team. But I think we’re a good team,” he said.
Four other Pac-12 teams made the tournament’s field of 68. Arizona and UCLA as six-seeds, Colorado as 10 seed and California was also selected on the 12 line.