Wolf Pack dancing with Texas today
March 16, 2018
Sports fodder for a Friday morning . . .
Most everything points to a Nevada Wolf Pack victory over the Texas Longhorns today in the first round of the NCAA men's basketball tournament. (The South Region game starts 1:30 p.m. and can be seen on TBS television or heard on the Wolf Pack Radio Network — 94.5 FM, 630 AM). The Wolf Pack is the No. 7 seed, Texas is No. 10. The Wolf Pack is 27-7 this year, Texas is 19-14. The Wolf Pack won the Mountain West regular season title at 15-3. Only one team in the Big 12 (Iowa State at 4-14) had a worse record in league play than Texas (8-10). The Pack's RPI is 19, Texas is at 51. The Wolf Pack is one of the better shooting teams in the tournament. Texas is one of the worst. The Wolf Pack roster has five players with NCAA tournament experience. Texas has two. Wolf Pack 82, Texas 75.
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The Wolf Pack-Longhorns matchup will be an Offense (Pack) vs. Defense (Longhorns) battle. Texas averages roughly 72 points a game. The Pack scored more than 72 in all but three of its 34 games this year. Texas is the better defensive team, but that defense is basically in the paint, an area the Pack will try to avoid today. The game will be all about the Wolf Pack making shots. The Pack's ball movement will guarantee that it will get open shots. If the Wolf Pack shoots anywhere near its season averages (47 percent field goals, 75 percent free throws and 40 percent threes) it should have no problem beating the Longhorns.
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The national consensus this week seems to have the Wolf Pack beating Texas and then losing to Cincinnati in the second round. But there is at least one bold predictor outside of Northern Nevada (Chip Patterson of CBS Sports) who has the Wolf Pack beating Texas and Cincinnati and then losing to Miami in the Sweet 16. Patterson picks the Wolf Pack as the best No. 7 seed in the tournament and wrote this week: "Nevada shoots the three-pointer well, doesn't turn the ball over and plays at a fast pace with an almost position-less rotation of mostly 6-7 wing players. It's beautiful basketball and a real threat to Cincinnati . . ." Patterson just might be the smartest college basketball reporter in the country.
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The Wolf Pack also has history on its side against Texas. The Pack has never lost three NCAA tournament games in a row in its school history. The Wolf Pack is currently on a two-game slide right now, having lost last year to Iowa State and in its second game in 2007 against Memphis. Some other Pack-positive numbers: Texas' 14 losses is the most a Wolf Pack opponent has ever had in the NCAA tournament and its .576 winning percentage (19-14) is the lowest for a Pack NCAA opponent (11 games). The Pack has also been in two 7-10 seed matchup games before and won them both, beating No. 7 seed Michigan State as a 10 seed in 2004 and beating No. 10 seed Creighton as a No. 7 seed in 2007.
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There is no question that if the Wolf Pack wins the NCAA tournament, it would likely be the greatest upset in the history of American sport. Think Buster Douglas over Mike Tyson, the Jets over the Colts in Super Bowl 3, the 1969 Mets, John Daly in the 1991 PGA tournament, Trump over Clinton in 2016. So we'll worry about the Pack winning the national title when it happens. But we will point out right now that Cincinnati in the second round on Sunday would be the Pack's biggest hurdle to reaching the Elite 8. If Patterson of CBS Sports is correct, and the Pack beats Texas and Cincinnati, the challenge then would likely be either Miami (Fla.), Tennessee or Loyola (Chicago). If the Pack beats Cincinnati, it can surely beat Miami, Tennessee or Loyola. Can the Pack beat Cincinnati? The Bearcats don't scare anyone offensively and are not as good as their 30-4 record might suggest. Cincinnati's conference (American) isn't all that much better than the Mountain West. Let's just say that a Pack win over the Bearcats wouldn't be one of the biggest upsets in NCAA history. Dare to dream, Pack fans.
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The Mountain West's respect nationally is relying on a Wolf Pack victory over Texas. The only reason there are two Mountain West teams in the NCAA tournament (Nevada, San Diego State) is because the Pack lost to San Diego State in the conference tournament semifinals. The Pack's loss to San Diego State is likely a major reason why USC (Pac-12) and Saint Mary's (West Coast Conference) got snubbed by the NCAA tournament selection committee. The committee, after all, seems to have an unspoken quota on the amount of west coast teams in the tournament. This year USC and Saint Mary's got snubbed. Next year it might be the Pack. You never know. A win or two in the NCAA tournament is the gift that keeps on giving in future years as far as the selection committee is concerned.
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The Wolf Pack's Eric Musselman has only been a coach in the Mountain West for three seasons. Musselman, though, is already No. 3 in the conference as far as head coaching tenure is concerned, behind just Air Force's Dave Pilipovich and Boise's Leon Rice. Colorado State, Fresno State and Utah State are all currently looking for a head coach. Utah State fired Tim Duryea this month because Duryea was just 47-49 overall in three seasons and, more importantly, Aggies attendance dropped to under 7,000 a game this year. Forget wins and losses. Attendance is now, by far, the most important number that determines the longevity of a head coach, especially in a cash-poor conference like the Mountain West that doesn't get huge football dollars.