Just seven days ago, Nevada and Colorado State took the court to decide the Mountain West regular season crown. The Wolf Pack prevailed 85-72, thus earning the top seed in the Mountain West Tournament. Fast forward a week, and here we are again.
With an automatic NCAA Tournament bid on the line, the top-seeded Wolf Pack will take on second-seeded Colorado State for the right to put on their dancing shoes. Nevada reached the finals with two double-digit wins over Utah State and Fresno State, while the Rams needed a second-half rally to beat San Diego State in the semifinals. Here are the details:
When: Saturday, March 11, 6PM ET/3PM PT
Where: Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas, NV
How to Watch: CBS
Lines: Vegas has Nevada (-5), KenPom favors Nevada by 3, 74-71
Why Nevada can win:
Nevada won the Mountain West for a reason. The Wolf Pack can score, and they do it almost as well as any team in the country. KenPom has their offense rated 34th overall by his metrics, and they had the highest rating in the Mountain West by a fair margin during the regular season. The Wolf Pack have weapons, and they can punish teams both inside and out.
In the post, Cameron Oliver is as good as they come. The sophomore is a dynamic big that is a mismatch for any defender. He’s a strong, athletic presence on down low, but can also stretch the floor. Oliver shot nearly 40 percent from behind the arc on almost five attempts per game. On top of that, he’s one of the best shot blockers in the country, and pulls down 8.6 boards per game. He’s a beast, and the Rams will have to keep him in check.
Jordan Caroline and Marcus Marshall are just as important to the Pack’s success as Oliver. Marshall leads the team in scoring at 19.8 points per game, and had a double-double in the matchup with the Rams a week ago. Caroline provides more athleticism in the frontcourt, and he leads the team in rebounding at 9.2 rebounds per game. He’s their third leading scorer, and gets to the free throw line with regularity.
As a team, Nevada shoots the three about as well as any team in the country, and every player on the floor is capable of stepping out and hitting shots. D.J. Fenner and Lindsey Drew each hit over 40 percent of their attempts from distance, and the aforementioned Oliver and Marshall are capable marksmen as well.
With a high-powered offense and a defense that trailed only San Diego State in efficiency during league play, Nevada looks the part of a champion. They’ve won eight straight, and have given us every reason to believe that they’ll make it nine.
Why Colorado State can win:
It isn’t quite as potent as Nevada’s, but the Rams’ offense can be dangerous too. They’ve hit 37.2 percent of their threes in conference play, and have the lowest turnover rate in the league. They do a great job of hitting the offensive glass as well, and have the highest offensive rebounding rate in the conference. Taking care of the ball and getting second or third chances ensures that they get the most out of every possession.
Of course, it always helps to have the conference player of the year on your side. The Rams have that with Gian Clavell, and the senior is one of the best scorers in the country. He’s scored 30 points or more in two of his last three games, one of which was a 33-point performance against Wolf Pack. He’s capable of filling it up on the big stage, and it’s unlikely that the Rams can win without a good game from him.
The other star for the Rams is Emmanuel Omogbo. The forward led the conference in rebounding at 10.2 per game, and adds 14.1 points per game as well. He will be tasked with handling the athletic frontcourt of Nevada, but will need to play better than the last matchup. Omogbo failed to reach both of his averages by only scoring 10 points and grabbing five rebounds. The Rams need him at his best.
For the Rams, it comes down to how well they can defend Nevada’s perimeter attack. Colorado State is among the best in the country at defending the arc, and Nevada is one of the most dangerous from there. Something has to give. In a game as closely matched as this, it could come down to who makes the 50-50 plays. Colorado State has made those plays all year, and will need to do so again.
I came into the tournament thinking Nevada was the team to beat, and nothing has changed that notion. The Wolf Pack have too many weapons, and are peaking at the right time. I think it’ll be close, but in the end Nevada prevails 78-71 and goes dancing for the first time in a decade.