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NCAA tournament preview: Oregon vs. Wisconsin

OMAHA, Neb. – A third-round rematch of a thrilling game exactly one year ago in Milwaukee will close the action at the CenturyLink Center on Sunday night. The Wisconsin Badgers overcame a 14-point deficit last year in this round of the NCAA tournament, outscoring the Oregon Ducks by 20 in the second half to win 85-77.

“One of the best games I’ve ever been a part of,” Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker said.

Like last year, these teams present a striking contrast, and this was on full display Friday in the second round. The eighth-seeded Ducks ran their way to a six-point victory over Oklahoma State, complete with a flurry of impressive dunks and an explosive performance by senior guard Joseph Young.

Meanwhile, West No. 1 seed Wisconsin steamrolled Coastal Carolina 86-72 with methodical efficiency.

The Ducks are unlikely to catch Wisconsin by surprise with their athleticism. The winner of this matchup of distinct styles gets a trip to the Sweet 16 in Los Angeles.

Key to the game: Who controls the pace? Wisconsin is capable of playing a fast game. The Badgers don’t get enough credit for their athleticism, led in the backcourt by Josh Gasser and Bronson Koenig. But coach Bo Ryan’s team would prefer to set the tempo – and to keep the Ducks from racing every which way. Even with the impressive versatility of Nigel Hayes and solid work on the perimeter from post players Frank Kaminsky and Dekker, Wisconsin’s comfort level in transition takes a back seat to Oregon. The Ducks want to get up and down. Oklahoma State was happy to oblige Friday. That both halves opened with thunderous slams by 6-foot-9 Oregon freshman Jordan Bell should have signaled to the Cowboys -- also plenty athletic -- that Oregon would thrive in the open court. The problem on Sunday for the Ducks is this: They won’t have faced a more disciplined, defensive-oriented team than the Badgers since this matchup a year ago. But with Bell, 6-6 forwards Elgin Cook and Dillon Brooks, Young and 6-7 Dwayne Benjamin (who comes off the bench), Oregon will try and try again to set the pace. It worked last year for 20 minutes. The more Wisconsin runs with the Ducks, the better the chance of a big-time upset.

Players to watch: Kaminsky and Young. You can’t pick just one. The complementary pieces on both teams work well, but where would the Badgers and Ducks stand without the respective players of the year in the Big Ten and Pac-12? Probably not matched in this game. Kaminsky, a surefire All-American and top contender for national player of the year, scored a relatively quiet 27 Friday. The 7-foot senior made 10 of 14 shots, including 3 of 4 from long range, and grabbed 12 rebounds. Just another day at the office. Young, meanwhile, dropped the same point total but shined as bright as Oregon’s neon yellow uniforms. In nine minutes of clock time that stretched both halves, he outscored Oklahoma State 21-13 by himself to turn momentum in favor of the Ducks. While the Badgers spread the floor and distribute touches almost evenly, Young dominates the ball during his bursts of energy. Logic says a strong defensive plan could slow him; Wisconsin tried last year and Young still scored a game-high 29 points. He shattered Terrell Brandon’s two-season scoring record at Oregon, and Young isn't done. Kaminsky and Young star in methods as diverse as the Wisconsin and Oregon styles of play. One way is going to prove better on Sunday.