St. Joseph's faces a formidable foe in Oregon

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Isaiah Miles of the Saint Joseph's Hawks celebrates scoring the game-winning basket against Cincinnati on March 18, 2016 in Spokane.

SPOKANE, Wash. - While the St. Joseph's team and head coach Phil Martelli were on the bus home from Brooklyn last Sunday night after winning the Atlantic Ten championship, the Hawks assistants were getting assigned opponents to scout. Dave Duda was given Cincinnati, Mark Bass took Oregon.

Bass and Geoff Arnold were driving home separately when Arnold texted Martelli and the coach told him to forget the team Oregon would be playing in the 1-16 game Friday.

"Why don't you just help Mark," was the text from Martelli.

So Arnold and Bass were scouting Oregon's rout of Holy Cross just before the Hawks epic 78-76 win over Cincinnati at the Spokane Arena on Friday and only looking at the Ducks.

"I took three tapes and watched them, Mark did the write up," Arnold said. "We were playing the odds, a 16 has never beaten a 1."

And this 16 was never in the game, losing, 91-52. The Hawks may lose, but they will not go quietly.

"It's going to be a tough matchup for us," Oregon coach Dana Altman said. "I think we are similar basketball teams."

St. Joe's (28-7) and Oregon (29-6) are two of the hottest teams left in the NCAA tournament. If the Hawks could score 78 against Cincinnati's top-ranked defense and shoot 55.9 percent on twos against the nation's second-best two-point defense, they can score on anybody. The issue Sunday night is going to be: can they score enough to beat the Pacific 10 champion Ducks who have scored 91, 88, 95 and 83 in their last four games topping of a nine-game winning streak.

"They are an unbelievable athletic team," Arnold said. "They've got three of four kids that are Ron Roberts-type athletes." Roberts, an incredible athlete, was a senior on the St. Joe's 2014 A-10 championship team.

If you are into anniversaries, this is the 35th anniversary of St. Joe's legendary 49-48 win over No. 1 DePaul in the 1981 NCAA and the 15th anniversary of the Marvin O'Connor 37-point barrage and near triple-double by freshman Jameer Nelson in the near upset of NCAA No. 1 seed Stanford.

Oregon is No. 7 nationally in offensive efficiency, but its defense, like St. Joe's, is not great. The Hawks, going to their strengths by playing small all season have climbed all the way to 25th in offensive efficiency, but have been leaking defensively at times for the last month, giving up 99 to Davidson and 98 to St. Bonaventure down the stretch of the regular season. But, other than the first half against George Washington, their defense was solid in the A-10 tournament. It was less solid against the Bearcats. Oregon is the best offensive team they will have faced all season.

"Clearly, it's going to have a home-type feeling with the crowd," Arnold said. "Their fans will be here."

The Ducks were 18-0 at home, 6-1 on neutral courts and 5-5 on the road. The Hawks are 16-2 at road/neutral venues so the environment, 464 miles from Eugene, Ore., is not going to faze them.

It could take 80 points to win, a total the Hawks have surpassed 14 times. Oregon averages 79.2 points, St. Joe's 77.6.

"Lot of shooting, lot of running," Hawks star DeAndre' Bembry said.

Indeed.

"Their size is of grave concern," Martelli said. "I think they're faster than we are."

Martelli is conceding nothing, just saying what he sees.

"They are a team you could see in Houston in two weeks," Martelli said.

They also are a team St. Joe's can beat.

"Our kids have had an air of confidence with them," Arnold said. "They've always had the mentality of next team up, OK, who's next."

That would be Oregon, a trip to Anaheim, Calif., for the West Regionals to play Duke on Thursday on the line. If the Hawks win, they won't be coming home and will just fly to California on Monday morning.

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