Previewing Iowa vs. Oregon: 4 fascinating matchups in NCAA Tournament second-round matchup

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

INDIANAPOLIS — After returning to their hotel following Saturday night’s 86-74 NCAA Tournament win against Grand Canyon, Iowa players quickly began poring over film of second-round opponent Oregon.

And when the Hawkeyes turned on their iPads, they don’t see a No. 7 seed. The Ducks are a potent team with veteran leadership and a highly efficient offense. Sound familiar?

And, oh by the way, they are the regular-season champions of the Pacific-12 Conference — which entered Sunday unbeaten in the NCAA Tournament, with a 5-0 mark plus Oregon’s “no-contest” advancement.

No wonder CBS made the Ducks (20-6) vs. Hawkeyes (22-8) a marquee, CBS-televised matchup at 11:10 am. CT Monday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. This one should be entertaining with rich story lines.

“It's just everything we signed up for,” Iowa fifth-year senior guard Jordan Bohannon said Sunday morning. “We wanted to have a chance to make a deep run in this tournament, and (Monday) is another opportunity for us to do that.”

With that in mind, let’s examine four fascinating matchups to watch.

Oregon forward Eugene Omoruyi (2) celebrates a basket with teammate Chris Duarte (right) and Will Richardson (0) during a March 1 win vs. Arizona.

Iowa’s experience vs. Oregon’s experience

All year, the Hawkeyes have banked on a veteran group that’s been through the basketball wars together. Bohannon, Joe Wieskamp and Luka Garza have accounted for 5,174 career points at Iowa. But on the opposite side, Oregon is one of only two schools in the nation to boast four 1,000-point scorers on its roster — and that list doesn’t include its best player, Chris Duarte.

The Ducks start four seniors and one junior. According to KenPom.com, only two Power Five programs have more roster experience — Wisconsin and Colorado. And now they’re as healthy as they’ve been (not to mention rested after not playing for 10 days).

Senior Eugene Omoruyi (6-foot-6, 235 pounds), a Rutgers transfer, is the only Oregon player to start all 26 games, and he’s scored double-digit points in 24 of them. Eric Williams Jr. (6-6, 214) missed nearly a month of action with issues related to COVID-19 and a knee, but is heating up.  LJ Figueroa (6-6, 200) can light it up from 3-point land, and the Ducks are 20-4 when he plays. Will Richardson (6-5, 180) missed the year’s first 12 games with a thumb injury, but runs the point and averages 11.1 points and 3.4 assists.

We’ll get to Duarte shortly.

“They’ve been impressive to say the least,” Garza said.

Iowa’s Joe Wieskamp vs. Oregon’s Chris Duarte

Wieskamp and Duarte (6-6, 190) were two of the five finalists for the Jerry West Award, given to the nation’s top shooting guard. Iowa coach Fran McCaffery on Monday called Duarte a probable “lottery pick” in the NBA Draft. The former national junior college player of the year, a native of the Dominican Republic, averages 16.7 points, 1.9 steals and 2.4 3-pointers a game. His effective field goal percentage is 63%, an astonishing number for a guard.

“He's unreal. He's really, really good,” Garza said. “He gets to a spot and he takes and makes some really tough shots. For his percentage to be so high is really, really impressive.”

Wieskamp, though, is not far behind. He owns a 60.9% effective field-goal percentage and wants to prove that he’s one of the best guards in the country, and this Monday matchup gives him the national stage to prove it.

Luka Garza was planning to study Oregon film vs. USC, which has top big man Evan Mobley. Interestingly, USC could be the next opponent for the Iowa-Oregon winner.

Iowa’s Luka Garza vs. Oregon’s lack of height

Garza (6-11, 265) has five inches on the Ducks’ tallest starter, which makes this one of the most fun games within the game. The Hawkeyes are making no secret that they plan to go to their all-American in the middle. Garza himself seems interested to see how Oregon plays him.

“When you have a guy like Omoruyi, he’s so versatile,” said Garza, who averages 23.7 points a game and needs 30 to reach 2,300 for his career. “They can put him on the outside and go five-out. They can play to their advantages, and we’re going to play to ours. It’s going to be an exciting game.”

The Ducks mix things up defensively but largely rely on a matchup zone. They’ve won 11 of their last 13 games. Of their two losses, one came against USC — which has 7-footer Evan Mobley, one of the Pac-12’s lone big-man threats. In that game the Ducks devoted so much attention to Mobley (11 points) that USC’s guards burned them.

March 20, 2021; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes head coach Fran McCaffery watches Grand Canyon Antelopes guard Chance McMillian (2) control the ball in the first half during the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament on Saturday, March 20, 2021, at Indiana Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis, Ind. Mandatory Credit: Matt Stone/IndyStar via USA TODAY Sports

Iowa’s Fran McCaffery vs. Oregon’s Dana Altman

McCaffery won the most recent head-to-head battle, with the Hawkeyes upsetting Oregon in the 2K Empire Classic in November of 2018 at Madison Square Garden. But Altman has been a master of the postseason. Oregon made the Sweet 16 as a No. 12 seed two seasons ago. He took the Ducks to the Elite Eight in 2016, the Final Four in 2017.

“They've also been really successful for an extended period of time,” McCaffery said. “I'm talking about like a decade or more. They're consistently a really good team. They've got very good players.”

McCaffery is in his 10th NCAA Tournament as a Division I head coach. He’s trying to reach his first Sweet 16. It’ll be interesting to see how McCaffery chooses to defend Oregon’s guards.

Iowa’s man-to-man defense has been better of late, but it struggled against the athleticism of Illinois. Does McCaffery lean more on quicker Joe Toussaint off the bench? Does he deploy more of freshman Keegan Murray, who had four blocked shots against Grand Canyon? Or does he lean on his veterans to make big plays on both ends?

The in-game coaching adjustments will likely decide this one. It should be fun.