Let’s call it like it is. Nevada suffered the dreaded “bad loss” on Saturday at Fresno.
The Bulldogs simply are not a very good basketball team.
Before the win over Nevada, here’s the list of Fresno’s wins: University of Texas-San Antonio (69-66, at home), Lamar (at home), Oregon State (a team Nevada beat by 25, 63-58), Menlo (an NAIA school, by 13), Drake (by two in overtime), Cal Poly, Holy Names, and Pacific (in overtime).
The powerhouse that isn’t Lamar is the only team on that list with a winning record, at 8-5, unless you include also 8-5 Menlo, but the Oaks aren’t even an NCAA program. Texas-San Antonio is 6-8, Oregon State is 4-11, Drake is 3-11, Cal Poly is 5-9, Holy names is 1-11 – at the Div. II level, and Pacific is 6-9.
As soft as Fresno’s non-conference schedule was, it still wore some of its own bad losses.
Some “concerning” defeats were to Prairie View A&M, at home (the Panthers are 3-11 this season) and to Bakersfield.
The Bulldogs entered Saturday’s contest with an RPI of 197. The Wolf Pack entered with an RPI of 33 (it now sits at 44).
So there it is. There is no arguing. It was a bad loss. Nevada’s margin of error is so small regarding its NCAA Tournament aspirations it can’t afford such defeats it did a stellar job avoiding in non-conference play.
The Mountain West has taken a plunge in recent years and become a one-bid conference. That could change this year, but it won’t be more than two teams, and the head-scratching loss certainly smears the Pack’s resume.
Those things happen though. Regardless of talent level and/or coaching, it’s too hard for teams to be at their best night in and night out – especially over the course a five-month season. Playing on the road, on a holiday, in a place like Fresno, against a rival only adds to the difficulty.
Nevada was not going to run the table in conference play. The travel schedule is too tough and there is too much parity in the Mountain West. A 14-4 record would be a brilliant run. It would put Nevada in contention for the regular season title and at 26 wins heading into the Mountain West Tournament.
If anything, the New Year’s Eve result provided a wakeup call. If Nevada didn’t already know, it is undoubtedly now aware it can’t pick and choose the nights it wants to show up. Not in this conference. Not with an undermanned rotation that went seven deep on Saturday.
Everything this team has planned still lies ahead of it. The loss, although deflating, does not extinguish Nevada’s hopes of returning to March Madness for the seventh time in program history, and for the first time since 2007.
We will quickly learn about this team’s resilience after the gut punch in Fresno. Nevada hosts San Diego State (8-5, 0-1) on Wednesday then goes to New Mexico (9-5, 2-0) and Wyoming (11-4, 1-1).
If the Wolf Pack wants to assert itself as the team to beat in the Mountain West, here is its shot. It can use the loss as motivation, or it can use it as an excuse as it preps for the defining stretch of the season.
Chatter about the NCAA Tournament hasn’t stopped since Nevada won the CBI last year. We’ll find out if that conversation is justified over the next three games.
Not all “bad losses” have to be bad.
Nathan can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His weekly column, ‘Shoup Shots,’ was named the best column in the state of Nevada (community division) by the Nevada Press Association. It runs in the hard copy of the Sparks Tribune every Tuesday morning.