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Tyler Dorsey Is Playing ‘NBA Jam’

Since the postseason began, the Oregon guard has been setting nets on fire. His hot shooting isn’t sustainable, but the Ducks need him to keep it going for only two more games.

(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

The Oregon Ducks aren’t Cinderellas, like South Carolina, and they aren’t blue bloods, like North Carolina. They weren’t underdogs, having won a share of the Pac-12 regular-season title, but they weren’t favorites, as more people picked UCLA and Arizona to reach the Final Four in ESPN’s bracket competition.

They aren’t frequent Final Four fodder, boasting the longest gap between appearances possible: The last time they made the NCAA tournament semifinals was when they won it all in 1939, the very first edition of the tournament. Normally, that would be the story of the Final Four. Except Gonzaga and South Carolina are both in their first semifinals. Instead, Oregon is the least remarkable of the four remaining teams.

Yet something entirely remarkable has been happening with Dana Altman’s team. Tyler Dorsey has transformed into SUPERDUCK, casting aside the adorable sailor garb of Oregon’s regular mascot and turning into a horrible Darth Vader–like aquatic bird from another planet.

Against Rhode Island in the Round of 32, he went 9-for-10 from the field, with four 3s, to rally the team back from a double-digit deficit. He drilled one 3 that tied the game with 1:48 left, and also the shot that won it with 40 seconds to go.

Against Michigan in the Sweet 16, he went 5-for-7 from deep and had a beautiful spin move to score what would be the game-winning bucket in the team’s 69–68 win.

Against Kansas in the Elite Eight, he drilled six 3s on 10 attempts, finishing with 27 points to send Oregon to the Final Four.

In the NCAA tournament, Dorsey has looked like one of the best guards in the country. He’s taking a ton of deep jumpers and drilling them all; he’s a rocket to the rim; his off-the-dribble game can spring him open when he decides not to drill a 3 in a defender’s face; and he finishes with ease.

In the regular season, though, Dorsey averaged only 12.4 points per game, hitting 1.9 3-pointers per game on 37.8 percent shooting. Since the start of the Pac-12 tournament, he’s been averaging 23.6 points per game, hitting 3.7 3s per game on 57.8 percent shooting behind the arc. At the most important time of the season, he’s become roughly twice as productive as he was for the previous 31 games. This hot streak can’t possibly continue forever. Luckily, he needs it to last for only two more games.

Dorsey began the NCAA tournament firmly planted as the team’s second-leading scorer behind junior Dillon Brooks, a tough-to-cover forward whose shooting ability and strength can make any possession into a mismatch.

Brooks might be in the NBA next year; Dorsey most likely won’t. Yes, people know Dorsey is talented — he was a four-star recruit who earned praise in performances for the Greek under-19 team. But he wasn’t a five-star, and he was playing for the Greek team only because he got cut from American youth teams, at which point he decided to attain citizenship in his mother’s homeland to continue playing internationally.

Before the postseason, Dorsey had never scored 20 points in back-to-back games. He has now done it in back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back games. His seven Pac-12 and NCAA tournament games represent seven of his top 11 scoring performances of the year and seven of the top 17 performances of his 74-game career. Since the start of the Pac-12 tournament, he has raised his career 3-point percentage from 39.3 to 41.5. He has 17 3s through four NCAA tournament games, which puts him reasonably within range of Glen Rice’s record 27, set in 1989.

This is more than a hot streak. If you watch that Kansas video, you can see that not every shot is pure — one 3 rolls around the rim, pops up, banks off the backboard, and gently plops in; he furiously clanks a straightaway 27-footer off the backboard and in with all the grace of a construction worker jackhammering the street outside your apartment. This is a hot streak with a side of outrageous bounces.

Now, Oregon can win without Megastar Dorsey. The Ducks did it for most of the year. But he saved the team from probable defeat against Rhode Island and he’s provided the team with two game winners in four games. It seemed like Oregon might struggle after losing Chris Boucher, the team’s third-leading scorer and a spectacularly talented rim protector, to an ACL tear during the Pac-12 tournament. Instead, Dorsey has had the NBA Jam flame hands on.

There are two possible paths here. One is that Dorsey will revert to his normal self. From there, Oregon could certainly beat North Carolina and win the NCAA tournament, but each of those outcomes seems unlikely. They’re good, but all evidence points to North Carolina and Gonzaga being much better.

The other outcome is that Dorsey will continue on as an unstoppable colossus who decimates anyone who dares get in his way. It wouldn’t make any sense, but this is the NCAA tournament: Nothing has to.