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Oregon is the Final Four surprise we should have seen coming

Oregon is one of the last four teams standing in the NCAA tournament. It’s a shock to most people, but maybe it shouldn’t be.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Midwest Regional-Kansas vs Oregon Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

At some point, we forgot that this is where Oregon was supposed to be all along.

While the flair of Lonzo Ball’s UCLA Bruins and the late season flexing from Allonzo Trier and Arizona captivated us, it was the Ducks who were overwhelmingly picked as the favorites to win the Pac-12 back in October. And while the two upset losses they suffered in November knocked them off the national radar before most people had even started paying attention, it was the Ducks who began the season ranked in the top five and with a No. 1 vote in both major polls.

Even when faced with the daunting task of top-seeded Kansas in front of an overwhelmingly blue and red clad crowd in Kansas City on Saturday night, we probably should have seen this coming.

Oregon was the most controversial of the four No. 1 seeds heading into last season’s NCAA tournament. Despite this, they managed to take down Duke in a 1 vs. 4 Sweet 16 game that many expected them to lose, and then ran into Buddy’s buzz-saw and second-seeded Oklahoma in the Elite Eight. Still, it was an overwhelmingly successful season for the Ducks, who knew they would be returning just about every key player from that team for 2016-17.

Again, we probably should have seen this coming.

After losing to Baylor and Georgetown while star Dillon Brooks was dealing with a foot injury that he suffered during the offseason, Oregon collected itself and went on one of the quietest 17-game winning streaks in recent college basketball history. Maybe it was because they only defeated one high-profile team (UCLA), or maybe it was because fans were more fixated on things happening on the other side of the country. Regardless, it’s apparent now that we all should have been taking the Ducks more seriously.

Right when that acceptance stage was in the process of being completed, Oregon lost Chris Boucher for the season. The team’s second-leading rebounder, third-leading scorer and best defender, Boucher had established himself as the necessary glue guy holding together a Duck team that now seemed set to earn a two or three seed in the Big Dance. When Boucher was taken out of the equation, America once again wrote Oregon off as a legitimate threat in March Madness. Never mind that the team had already adequately coped with a key injury earlier in the season, or that Dana Altman just might be one of the 10-15 best coaches in the entire country.

Yeah, we should have seen this coming. But we didn’t.

Even when Oregon was gutting out wins over red-hot Rhode Island and Michigan, we still refused to believe that the Ducks posed any serious threat to a Kansas team that had been the tournament’s most dominant through three rounds. Not only did they pose a serious threat, but they were the better team for 40 minutes on Saturday night, rolling to a 74-60 win that only seemed to be in jeopardy for a few fleeting moments in the second half. Tyler Dorsey continued his unbelievable rise to March stardom by scoring 20 points or more for the seventh straight time, and Jordan Bell continued to more than make up for the loss of Boucher, flirting with a triple-double by notching 11 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks.

Oregon now heads to its first Final Four since 1939, the same year the Ducks captured the very first NCAA tournament. They’ll look to become the first West Coast team to win a national title since Arizona in 1997, and they’ll also join up with Gonzaga to form the first Final Four ever to feature two teams that play in the Pacific Time Zone.

Regardless of who wins the South Regional final on Sunday, Oregon is almost certain to be an underdog when it faces either North Carolina or Kentucky. If it wins that game and then squares off against Gonzaga for the championship, it likely won’t be the betting favorite in that game either. That doesn’t mean that the Ducks won’t have their fair share of believers in Phoenix next weekend. How could they not after the performance they just put on against Kansas?

As for everyone else? If Oregon ends its season by bumping its win total to 35, they’ll all say they should have seen it coming.