Nevada Wolf Pack
Team Personality: Veteran balance. Everyone knows about Nick Fazekas, and rightfully so—credit to the national media for directing some attention to a mid-major program out west that is not named Gonzaga. But Nevada may have the best all-around backcourt west of the Rockies, and at the very least is in the discussion with UCLA. Ramon Sessions, Kyle Shiloh, and lead scoring guard Marcellus Kemp are all big, versatile, and good at making smart decisions with the ball. Oh, and they’ve all played two full years together as starters.
Biggest Game: Yet to come. The Wolf Pack are in line for a top-four seed in Spokane for the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. But they’ll likely need to win the WAC Tournament to earn it.
Arch conference enemy New Mexico State happens to host the WAC Tourney this year, and the Aggies have already beaten Mark Fox’s team once at home. There’s no guarantee NMSU will reach the WAC Final, but a showdown with Nevada with an NCAA Tournament bid on the line would certainly give the home crowd plenty of reason to get loud.
Has to Be on the Floor: Nick Fazekas. The senior All-American candidate at C has averaged a double-double each of the last two seasons. The 6’11” 240-pounder even shoots a blistering 49% from three-point range, to go along 58% from the field and 86% from the line. There’s no question who the star of this team is.
Crunchtime Crutch: Too much dribbling. Nevada definitely looked out of synch in its near-loss to Hawai’i earlier this year, one of the few games that has been televised outside the Reno market. A consistent offensive flow, even when trying to limit the number of possessions late in the game, mandates that the ball move quickly around the perimeter rather than be dribbled into the defense.
Last Shot: Just about anyone. Any one of Nevada’s guards can make the big outside shot (all three shoot over 40% from three-point range), and Fazekas is an 86% foul shooter, so pounding it inside makes a ton of sense. For this reason, Nevada will be very tough to scheme defensively at the end of a close NCAA Tournament game.
Straw That Stirs the Drink: A tough call, but Ramon Sessions has been terrific not only at scoring this year, but at distributing to his teammates. Chemistry issues do plague this team at times, and it seems that Sessions is consistently the one to step up and calm them when they arise.
Impact Newcomer: This is a true veteran team—all five starters are juniors or seniors, and none averages fewer than 25 minutes per contest. We’ll give the nod to JeVale McGee, who is called upon to spell Fazekas for about 10 minutes per game, but he’s essentially on the floor just to give Nick a breather.
Potential Pitfall: Interior defense. Unlike, say, Roy Hibbert, Joakim Noah, or Greg Oden, Nick Fazekas does not really deter opponents from entering the painted area. In Nevada’s two WAC losses, the opposing teams’ forwards have had big games. Fazekas can handle his own one-on-one matchup, but that means that 6’7” Denis Ikovlev may need to play larger than he actually is on the other side of the lane against tough matchups for the Wolf Pack.
How to Reach the Sweet 16 : Don’t underestimate your opponent. That’s essentially what Nevada did last year in its matchup against Montana in the first round, losing in a classic 5-12 battle. That team essentially stayed intact this year, and that memory should remain fresh in its minds heading into March.
Nevada has the balance and star power to make a very deep NCAA Tournament run. They are largely untested, to be sure, with only three games against the RPI’s Top 50 all season. But the pieces are in place for a sleeper run to Atlanta because of their great balance in the backcourt and an All-American center inside.