When Oregon survived in overtime to beat Utah in its Pac-12 opener, the Ducks moved to 13-0 on the season. At that point, not many would have predicted that Dana Altman's squad would be taking a trip to Washington State five games later without another win and looking to stay out of the conference cellar.
That's what is at stake when WSU hosts Oregon on Sunday (4 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Network). Each team has taken down Utah for its only win of the year. The loser will leave with at least a share of last place in the league.
Oregon's defense takes the blame for its recent struggles. The Ducks have allowed 1.14 points per possession against Pac-12 opponents, second worst in the conference.
Pac-12 teams have hit 41 percent of 3s and 53 percent of 2s against Oregon. And when opponents do miss, the Ducks have struggled to grab the rebound--just one school has a lower defensive rebounding percentage in league play. That's after Oregon finished second in defensive rebounding percentage last season. Without Arsalan Kazemi, UO's rebounding has suffered.
The Ducks were able to mask their defensive deficiencies with outstanding offense through the non-conference schedule. Oregon has still scored well in league play, putting up 1.07 points per possession, but it dropped below that number in a a game just once before conference play began. With how poorly its defense has played, Oregon will have to do much better on offense to win.
There is good news for Oregon--WSU's offense is likely to make even the poorest of defenses look good. The Cougars have scored a putrid 0.82 points per possession in conference play--even mustering just 0.93 against a bad Oregon State defense. Additionally, the Cougars have struggled to defend teams that have a major athletic advantage, which Oregon will have on Sunday.
So, even though these teams both have just a single Pac-12 win, there is far more separation overall. KenPom predicts a 74-68 Duck win on 67 possessions, but it seems unlikely that the Cougs could exploit Oregon's defensive weakness for more than a point per possession. It will once again take an abnormally good shooting performance for WSU to have a shot to beat Oregon.