Wolf Pack looking for program’s fifth NCAA Tournament victory
For the coaches, the game planning is over. For the players, no more watching film. For the fans, time for the Tums.
No. 12 Nevada (28-6) and No. 5 Iowa State (23-10) tip in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Thursday night in Milwaukee at approximately 6:57 p.m. PT – the final tip of the tournament’s first day. The game will air on TruTV.
It is the Wolf Pack’s first appearance in the dance since 2007. It is the Cyclone’s program-record sixth-straight trip.
Nevada heads into the matchup playing its best ball in years. The Mountain West regular-season and tournament champs are riding a nine-game winning streak, their longest since the 2011-12 season when they rattled off 16 straight. The wins haven’t been particularly close, either. Nevada’s won by an average of 15 points per game.
Iowa State is just as hot. The Cyclones won their third Big 12 Tournament title in four years and have emerged victors in nine of their last 10. Six players have NCAA Tournament experience and three starters are making their fourth straight appearance.
Nevada is certainly hoping for some of the 12-seed wizardry that has grown into one of the tournament’s most indescribable trends. At least one 12 seed has advanced in 28 of the last 32 tournaments. Over the last five years, 12 seeds are an even 10-10 against 5 seeds in the first round.
Another 12-5 upset Thursday night in Milwaukee would give the Wolf Pack 29 for the season, matching the most in program history (2007).
Keys to the game
Chase the butterflies
This is the freakin’ NCAA Tournament, after all. Every single player grew up watching from home and dreamt of the opportunity to participate. Now they do. Nevada managed to handle its emotions in the Mountain West Tournament and is dancin’ as result. That same couldn’t be said of regular-season finale against Colorado State with the MW regular-season title on the line. Nevada fell into a 10-point first-half deficit due largely to blaringly obvious jitters (poor shot selection, bad misses, uncharacteristic turnovers). Iowa State is far more explosive on the offensive end than Colorado State. Nevada cannot afford to rely on a second-half comeback, although, it has played well in the second half of the current nine-game winning streak.
Much has been made of Nevada’s 20-0 record this season when leading at the half. Iowa State rebuttals with 19-0 record when holding a halftime advantage.
Dominate rebounding battle
Winning on the glass appears to carry extra significance for this Nevada team. When it’s swallowing up rebounds, Jordan Caroline and Cam Oliver are exerting their will. The Wolf Pack will need both to have big games to win just the program’s fifth NCAA Tournament game ever. Rebounding is the only area Nevada has a clear-cut advantage. If this Cyclone team has an Achilles heel, it’s rebounding. Iowa State grabs 3.6 rebounds fewer than their opponents (No. 295 of 357 in the nation). Nevada has a rebounding margin of +3.6 (No. 63 in the nation).
Caroline and Oliver need to limit the Cyclones to one possession and created second- and third-chance opportunities on the offensive end.
Break even from deep
Iowa State is one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country. The Cyclones average north of 80 ppg largely because they shoot over 40 percent from distance (No. 13 in the country). They led the Big 12 with 10 three-point makes a game. Nevada counters with one of the best perimeter defenses in college basketball. Sophomore point guard Lindsey Drew’s length gets a lot of the credit. Nevada’s three-point defense ranks No. 14 in the nation (30.7 percent). This Wolf Pack team can also answer on the offensive end hitting 38.5 percent of its shots from deep (No. 38 in the county).
Breaking even from the three-point line would neutralize the Cyclones’ biggest strength.
Keep Morris out of the paint
Iowa State senior point guard Monte Morris is All-America caliber. His 5.7 assists per turnover rate leads the nation. He will set the NCAA record for assist/turnovers ratio whenever Iowa State’s season ends. Coach Steve Prohm said he thinks Morris is the best point guard in the game. He’s also the team’s leading scorer, averaging 16.3 ppg. Drew and Marcus Marshall must keep Morris out of the paint and prevent him from having the option of attacking Oliver/Caroline down low or kicking out to the seemingly myriad three-point threats on Iowa State’s roster.
Limiting Iowa State from beyond the arc starts with defending Morris off the dribble.
Ride the seniors
Winning in the NCAA Tournament often comes down to guard play. They are the ones with the ball in big moments, which this tournament produces in mass quantities. Nevada’s two seniors, Marshall and D.J. Fenner, are both guards. Marshall is arguably the quietest player on the team, but make no mistake, this is the type of game he lives for. The senior transfer has the potential to take over and may have to at times to pull off the upset. And after a quiet MW Tournament, it’s hard to imagine Fenner, the only player on the roster who was part of the nine-win 2014-15 team, not having an impact.
There is no question Nevada can win this game. Of all the squads the Wolf Pack could have drawn, it was fortunate to get pitted against one that lacks size and struggles on the glass. That’s a weakness this Nevada team can exploit. The largest difference between these two teams, really, is the margin of error. Nevada gets nearly 90 percent of its offensive production from its starting five and will likely go just six deep as it did against Colorado State in the MW title game. Iowa State heavily relies on its starting five as well, but Prohm has the luxury of three players he can go to off the bench. Iowa State also boasts six players with NCAA Tournament experience. Three are making their fourth-straight trip. Every player on Nevada’s roster is pulling out the sharpie and crossing ‘play in March Madness’ off the bucket list. It’s hard to go against experience in a game of such magnitude.
Iowa State 83, Nevada 80