Think about 7-seed Nevada Wolf Pack for a moment. What usually comes to mind?
For the casual basketball fan, Nevada is known for its boatload of senior transfers, its twins Caleb and Cody Martin, or head coach Eric Musselman’s latest stop in his nomadic coaching career. To others, the Wolf Pack is three, future second-round draft picks surrounded by an amalgam of proven college scorers and a McDonald’s All American that rarely leaves the bench — all amounting to a 29-4 season that hasn’t lived up to the preseason hype.
Yet we at Mid-Major Madness promise to not get caught up in all of the basic, water-cooler-level information about Nevada. So I decided to save you some time by compiling the team’s color commentary tropes on the official Nevada Wolf Pack Announcer Bingo Card. All of the canned lines are there, from Jordan Caroline’s famous father, to the differences between the Martwins, to all the Eric Musselman-related anecdotes color commentators love to share.
So now that those canned lines are out of the way, what is left to say about Nevada?
Sure, Nevada has a bunch of transfers, but from a roster-construction standpoint, its commitment to landing transfers is unlike anything anything college basketball has ever seen. Plenty of programs have relied on the transfer pool before, but none have used it in such a brazen, yet calculated manner as Musselman has during his tenure in Reno. This year’s team is the end product of his four-year plan to get as competitive as quickly as possible.
Even though the Wolf Pack have been ranked in the AP Poll throughout the season and are on the doorstep of the most single-season wins in program history, all the hype has been a double-edged sword. They’ve shown flashes of being an offensive juggernaut, yet close conference losses in a slumping league, a non-conference schedule that has looked progressively worse than it did last summer and unrealistically high expectations have given the Wolf Pack a complicated reputation — much like another non Power-5 program out west.
It hasn’t helped that Nevada’s losses are always ugly. When they have lost, they rely too heavily on iso-ball and check out on defense. Lasting moments from these games usually involve Jordan Caroline missing at the rim too often, Jazz Johnson standing open in the corner and Tre’Shawn Thurman fighting against three defenders for position as one of the Martwins’ contested, mid-range jumpers clanks off the back iron.
Usually moments like this happen whenever they play San Diego State, but even though the Aztecs missed the postseason, the Wolf Pack will have to solve more difficult defenses from teams in the West Region. The magic number is 38 percent: Whenever Nevada shoots 38 percent or better from the field, they’re a perfect 27-0. When they don’t, they’re 2-4. Naturally, all of their losses fall under this category; the two wins were the 16-point, opening-night win over BYU, and a Johnson-less win over South Dakota State.
When Nevada does shoot over 38 percent from the field, they’re significantly more enjoyable to watch. Since Nevada has so much offensive firepower, having one or two players successfully take over a game is inevitable.
Six different Wolf Pack players have led Nevada in scoring this season, and all six have different traits that give Nevada a multifaceted offensive attack. Go-to scorers Jordan Caroline or Caleb Martin are the Wolf Pack’s best in isolation sets and getting to the free-throw line. Cody Martin is Nevada’s most-improved perimeter shooter from last season (29.4 to 35.6%). Trey Porter almost makes a conscious effort to touch the bottom of the rim with his knees every time he dunks. Sharpshooter Jazz Johnson’s ability to stretch the floor in the half court and in transition makes Nevada’s offense special, while the aforementioned 6’8 Thurman is Nevada’s mismatch nightmare who, more often than not, makes the unglamorous plays that help the Wolf Pack get back into games.
But in those games where Nevada fires on all cylinders, the Wolf Pack are one of the most brilliant spectacles in the sport. In a sense, highlights like the comeback win over Arizona State, the 110-87 shellacking of UMass, the New Mexico revenge game or every big win following a loss make all those one-legged Martwins fadeaways and bumbled Caroline layups worth it. Few teams in the nation have the talent to keep pace with the Pack when they decide to turn it on.
Picking up the pace will be paramount for Nevada. Like San Diego State, Florida plays at an equally glacial place and boasts the best defense (in terms of overall efficiency) that the Wolf Pack have faced all season. Truth be told, the Wolf Pack probably couldn’t have picked a more difficult regional draw; there will be no time like the present for Nevada to rack up those Quadrant-1 wins they’ve lacked all season. But they have the talent to do just that.
Pardon the use of yet another cliche, but Nevada has one of the lowest floors and highest ceilings of any team in the field. No team is as volatile as the Wolf Pack. Losing in the first round to a streaky Florida team would be understandable — KenPom projects a 67-66 Wolf Pack win, while Vegas has them as two-point favorites — yet so would making a run to the Final Four.
Regardless of what happens, don’t ever count them out in a close game, because Nevada is 4-1 in games decided by two possessions or less. This team makes leads disappear quickly — just ask Grand Canyon, Arizona State or Boise State. Count out Wolf Pack once it either walks off the court with towels on their heads, or steps off the ladder after cutting down the nets.