Cyclones are big boys from Big 12, but parallel Pack in style, coaching, and even emotions
Nevada. Iowa State.
At first glance, it’s easy to believe the two programs have as much in common as Reno and Las Vegas. They both play the same game, just in entirely contrasting styles.
One city gets snow up to four months a year and is famed by a former television show featuring law enforcement in short shorts (even though it was filmed in Southern California). The other throws pool parties in January and is famed by, among many reasons, the constant presence of fame. Both gamble.
One program plays in the Mountain West and doesn’t have a win over a top-50 team this year. The other resides in the Big 12 and owns wins over top-10 programs Baylor, West Virginia and Kansas.
The Cyclones’ overtime win at Allen Fieldhouse in early February snapped the Jayhawks’ 54-game home winning streak.
But, read past the cover and you’ll realize the two squads are anything but hot and cold, yes and no, Sin City and Biggest Little City.
“I think we have a lot more similarities than there are differences,” Iowa State coach Steve Prohm said. “I think both coaches give their offensive players a lot of freedom to spread out, makes plays, make some shots.”
Both teams own top-40 scoring offenses in all of college basketball. Iowa State (80.9 ppg) averages less than one point per game more than Nevada (80.0 ppg).
Scoring is synonymous with shooting, and the two squads can wear out the nylon from range – especially Iowa State. The Cyclones are shooting 40.2 percent (No. 14 in the nation). The Wolf Pack is hitting on 38.5 percent of its shots from three-point land (No. 39 in the nation).
Even with the stellar shooting, perplexingly, both struggle from the free throw line. Nevada hits 70.2 percent of its shots from the stripe, just a sliver better than Iowa State (69.6 percent).
Neither team boasts much relative size. Standing 6-5, Deonte Burton leads the Cyclones grabbing a little over six rebounds a game. Just two inches taller, Jordan Caroline (9.7 rpg) owns that honor for Nevada.
Cam Oliver (6-8) will be one of the bigger players on the floor in Thursday night’s matchup in Milwaukee.
Prohm actually said Oliver could be the most noticeable contrast between the two squads.
“The biggest difference is they have a skilled five who can make threes,” Prohm said. “We don’t have a five who can make threes unless we go really, really small with Burton as a five. I think that’s probably the biggest difference, is Oliver. We don’t have a guy similar to him.”
Defensive statistics don’t tell a story any different. Opponents are scoring 72 ppg against the Cyclones, shooting 42.8 percent from the field. Against the Wolf Pack, the other guys are averaging 70.9 ppg and hitting 42.5 percent.
Nevada and Iowa State are even led by second-year coaches. Musselman is 52-20 in his two seasons at Nevada. Prohm is 46-22 after taking over for Fred Hoiberg, who jumped to the NBA to coach the Chicago Bulls.
Prohm even coached against two of Nevada’s starters during his time at Murray State.
“I ironically do have some familiarity with some of these guys,” he said. “Caroline was at Southern Illinois when I was at Murray, Marcus Marshall was at Missouri State when I was at Murray. I believe we played him when he was a freshman there.”
Now, basketball teams are like roller coasters. No two are identical. Putting up gaudy numbers in a power five conference such as the Big 12 justifiably carries more weight than a team doing so in what was perceived as a weak Mountain West. Six Big 12 team's made the NCAA Tournament field. Nevada is the Mountain West's lone representative.
There are certainly disparities.
Iowa State has six players on its roster with NCAA Tournament experience. All-America point guard Monte Morris, second-team Big 12 performer Naz Mitrou-Long, and Big 12 honorable mention selection Matt Thomas will be playing in their fourth NCAA Tournament and have played in the Sweet 16 twice.
Nevada’s active roster features a total of zero NCAA Tournament experience.
“They (Wolf Pack) are a team, I don’t think the moment is going to be too big for them,” Prohm said. “They’ve won a bunch of games and that translates. You win your conference tournament after winning the regular season, that’s very impressive because there was no let down by them.”
This is the Wolf Pack’s first appearance in the NCAA Tourney since 2007. The Cyclones are in the field for the sixth-straight year, a program record. They have more Sweet 16 appearances in the last three years than Nevada does in program history, making its lone trip in 2004.
There are a lot of reasons why Iowa State is favored on Thursday. The game will be played less than a six-hour drive from ISU’s campus in Ames, Iowa. The Cyclones are the Big 12 Tournament champ for the third time in four years. They are a five-seed playing a 12. Morris is one of the best players in the country. The experience mismatch can’t be overlooked.
And yet, because the statistical similarities aren’t enough, the two teams even enter on comparable emotional ground. Both feel like underdogs.
Nevada has become one of the trendier upset picks. CBS analyst Seth Davis immediately declared he was predicting the Wolf Pack to advance to the Sweet 16 once the Nevada-Iowa State matchup was revealed on Sunday afternoon's Selection Show.
“I think everybody is picking them. And also, not just picking them, but picking them to make a great run,” Prohm said. “Obviously, Nevada is very good. I’ve been on that side whether as an assistant coach, or a coach, as an 11, 12, 13 seed and you’re going in to try to upset somebody. I know how good those teams are. You look around and I think everybody is picking them. We have to go play now.”