Update: Oregon will play Arizona State in the second round of the Pac-12 Tournament at noon on Thursday. ASU defeated Stanford 98-88 in overtime in the first round.
LAS VEGAS - Now things get serious for No. 5 Oregon.
UO was predestined to rip up the regular season and enter the postseason with a chance to make some noise and a potential run at winning the program's first national championship since 1939 after returning loads of talent from last season's team that reached the Elite Eight.
The quest to exceed last season's accomplishments begins Thursday in the Pac-12 Tournament at T-Mobile Arena where the Ducks (27-4, 16-2 Pac-12) are the No. 1 seed. Oregon will face the winner of today's first-round game between Stanford (14-16) and Arizona State (14-17, 7-11).
"People who say they're not important, I don't agree with them," Oregon coach Dana Altman said Tuesday in Eugene of conference tournaments. "We're going to go play and we're going to try to win the darn thing."
Some do scoff at the importance of conference tournaments in the grand scheme of things, but for Oregon, doing well here could pay some serious dividends heading into the NCAA Tournament, which begins next week.
"I think whoever wins the (Pac-12) tournament will be one or two in the West," Oregon coach Dana Altman said of seeding. "The other two teams will be shipped to the South or the Midwest."
The three Pac-12 teams in play for high seeds are Oregon, No. 3 UCLA (28-3, 15-3) and No. 7 Arizona (27-4, 16-2). No. 4 Gonzaga could have already locked up a No. 1 seed out west by winning the WCC Tournament championship game Tuesday night with a 74-56 win over No. 19 St. Mary's.
However, the winner of a potential Pac-12 championship game between Oregon and UCLA or Oregon and Arizona could make a strong case to be a No. 1-seed. The winner would almost assuredly be a No. 2 seed in the West, and play tournament games in Sacramento, Calif., and San Jose, Calif.
That could leave the two remaining teams from that group, as Altman said, to get shipped elsewhere, likely to the Midwest to play in Salt Lake City, Utah, and then Kansas City, Mo for the regionals. Or, they could go to the South and end up playing in the regional finals in Memphis, Tenn.
"It's a big advantage," Altman said of playing on the West Coast, "and that's why we want to win the conference tournament."
Less travel for UO is an obvious advantage. Last year the Ducks played the first two rounds in Spokane, Wash., before moving on to Anaheim, Calif. Maybe the biggest advantage, however, is making life easier for more Ducks' fans to get to the games.
"The West is going to be decided on who wins the Pac-12," Oregon forward Dillon Brooks said. "We want to be that so we have home fans and a lot of energy. We know what's at stake and we want to win out."
Fans mean a lot to these Ducks, who have won 42-straight games at Matthew Knight Arena and seem to feed off of the energy there, especially on defense.
That all said, Altman doesn't want his players to feel any extra weight on their shoulders to perform well.
"There's a lot of pressure on the guys," Altman said. "They want to do well. It's a time when the media focuses on college basketball. There's enough pressure on them. We don't need to put any more. Just go out and play."
First things first. Oregon's second-round matchup might not be all that easy. Stanford gave Oregon all it could handle on Feb. 25 before the Ducks escaped with a 75-73 road win. However, the Ducks destroyed the Cardinal, 69-52 at home on Jan.21. Arizona State pushed the Ducks to the limit on Feb. 2 in Eugene before UO pulled out a 71-70 win. That was the only meeting between the two teams.
"Two teams that will be a tough matchup for us," Altman said. "They definitely have our attention just because of the tough games we've had with them previously."
On the other hand, if the Ducks struggle with the likes of Stanford or Arizona State, then details like seeding might become moot points moving forward.