On Friday evening, the 10-seeded Texas Longhorns will square off with the 7-seeded Nevada Wolf Pack as part of their second NCAA tournament appearance under Shaka Smart.
The first time around, Texas suffered an early exit courtesy of a Northern Iowa buzzer-beater, and in hopes of notching the first tournament win of the Smart era, the ‘Horns will have to do so against an experienced and versatile Wolf Pack squad.
To help provide further perspective on the Longhorns upcoming opponent, The_Coach, the Site Manager at Building The Dam and a basketball contributor for Mountain West Connection, joined Burnt Orange Nation to discuss all things Nevada.
BON: For starters, how would you describe what kind of team Nevada is at this point in the season for Texas fans that may not have seen much of the Wolf Pack?
MWC: To put it plainly, Nevada is a top-heavy team who loves to shoot the three ball. They’re a collection of high-level transfers, that includes Caleb and Cody Martin (North Carolina State), Jordan Caroline (Southern Illinois), Kendall Stephens (Purdue) and Hallice Cooke (Iowa State), but there’s not too much depth beyond there. The Wolf Pack play a more modern, position-less style of basketball, so it’ll be very interesting to see how they match up with Texas’ size on the interior. To me, that’s the key to this game. Nevada’s versatile playmakers against the Longhorns’ length inside.
BON: San Diego State beat Nevada twice since the start of March. What has SDSU been able to do to find that success and how do you think Texas can replicate that, if at all?
MWC: San Diego State’s athleticism was definitely one of the big keys to both of those wins for the Aztecs. Nevada can be an extremely suspect defensive team at times (they allowed San Diego State to score 55 points in the first half of their Mountain West tournament semifinal defeat) and their jump shot-first mentality can plague the team at times. Texas can likely replicate keeping the Wolf Pack out of the high-percentage offensive areas but they’ll need one of their better nights to score with Nevada in the open court.
BON: Eric Musselman has basically instituted a six-man rotation since Lindsey Drew’s injury. Do you think this could pose problems for the Wolf Pack in the NCAA tournament?
MWC: Well, you definitely can’t blame Musselman for that one, as he’s desperately tried to find some other pieces on the roster to contribute on a nightly basis. However, their short-handed group is what they’ve become used to and that’s what they’re rolling into the big dance with. I can definitely see this becoming an issue for the Wolf Pack long term, but they’ve also become somewhat used to it at this point.
BON: As far as Nevada’s rotation is concerned, who are the guys that could cause problems for Texas? Who will the Longhorns have to focus on in order to come out on top?
MWC: Swingman Caleb Martin is definitely where it all starts with defensively for Texas. The Mountain West Player of the Year is a likely first round pick in the upcoming NBA Draft and his twin brother Cody isn’t too far behind, in terms of being able to impact the game in a hurry. They’re both your prototypical wing players, who can stroke perimeter shots if left open and slash to the basket with ease and you can count 6’7 playmaker Jordan Caroline into that group as well. The change up for this group is Kendall Stephens, one of the country’s most underrated shooters.
BON: On the flip side of that, which Longhorns do you think Nevada will need to put its focus into to advance in the tourney?
MWC: Mo Bamba, Mo Bamba, and Mo Bamba. While I know that Bamba isn’t necessarily the most prolific offensive talent, I’m not sure that Nevada has really faced off with a big man with the length and athletic ability of a talent like Bamba at all this season. It’ll definitely help the Wolf Pack that guard Eric Davis won’t be in the mix, but the backcourt duo of Matt Coleman and Kerwin Roach will most definitely be a nightmare for Musselman and his staff.
BON: With Texas having more size with guys like Mohamed Bamba, Dylan Osetkowski and Jericho Sims, and Nevada having a more versatile lineup that can shoot, which team has the matchup advantage on paper?
MWC: On paper, I’d actually like to give that edge to Nevada. In the NCAA tournament, games are usually loaded with scoring runs and emotional highs and lows, which could help a team that plays better offense than defense like the Wolf Pack do. But personally, I’m not sure how much this Nevada group has left in the tank, heading into what will be a brutal matchup with the Longhorns.
BON: For Texas to pick up its first tourney win since 2014, what will the Longhorns have to do against Nevada, or prevent the Wolf Pack from doing?
MWC: The easy answer is to keep the Wolf Pack out of transition and don’t allow them to get going from behind the arc. Any game that ends up flowing into the halfcourt will surely help Texas control Nevada’s offense and keeps them from making it an end-to-end shootout. While conventional wisdom would say the Longhorns’ best bet would be to tire out a short-handed group, that’s not always the case.
BON: How do you see this one playing out? Which team advances, and why?
MWC: In my bracket, I chose Texas and I’m sticking with my pick. Texas 78, Nevada 73.