Who Are You: Nevada

The Wolf Pack rolls into Maples Wednesday night!

Kevin Danna brings his insights and observations of the Nevada Wolf Pack as they head into Wednesday evening's NIT quarterfinal home contest versus your Stanford Cardinal!

Whooo-oooh (wolf cry)! Dunh-dunh---dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun. Duh-duh-duh-duh-duh.

The Wolf Pack is back  causing mass destruction. Guess who's here? The bad boys of Reno. Don't turn your back on the WAC's Wolf Pack…duh-duh-duh---duh-duh. Don't turn your back on the WAC's Wolf Pack…or you might wind up in a body bag!

While there will be no Kevin Nash or Scott Hall, there will be a hungry Nevada team busting through the Maples Pavilion loading dock, hoping to instill a new world order on the NIT field. It's the Trent Johnson Bowl- Stanford vs. Nevada, with a trip to the Garden on the line!

Without further ado, here's a look at the Pack:

Nevada  - The Program

No stranger to success, the Wolf Pack have been considered one of the top programs in the Western Athletic Conference for the better part of a decade. A lot of that is due to the work Trent Johnson put in, turning around a 20-loss team and making them a Sweet 16 squad a few years later, giving the school its first-ever NCAA tournament victories. Mark Fox picked up right where Johnson left off, taking the Wolf Pack to the next three NCAA tournaments before a couple of CBI showings. Like Johnson, Fox would leave for greener pastures in the SEC, handing the reins over to longtime Johnson and Fox assistant David Carter (both Fox and Carter were Johnson assistants, keeping their last couple of hires in house). Carter returned the school to actual postseason competition with an NIT appearance in his first season before having to guide a very young team featuring six freshmen to a 13-19 record last year.

Nevada - 2011-12 (28-6, 13-1 WAC)

The Wolf Pack took their lumps last year, but it paid dividends in 2011-12. After a 3-3 start that included losses to UNLV, BYU and a tough Missouri State team out of the MVC, the Wolf Pack ran off 16 straight Ws. Included in that win streak were a couple of victories against Pac-12 teams. Sure, Arizona State was a joke of a team, but Washington wasn't.  The Wolf Pack knocked off their animal kingdom brethren by three in overtime behind 31 points from WAC Player of the Year Deonte Burton. They finished the WAC regular season standing at the mountaintop with a 13-1 record. All they had to do was get to the WAC Tournament Finals, lose to New Mexico State (who was projected to receive an at-large bid to the NIT) and they would be in serious consideration for an at-large bid with an RPI in the low-50s.

And then they lost to sub-.500 Louisiana Tech, as Olu Ashaolu's undergraduate school took down the Wolf Pack 78-73 in the WAC semis, thereby forgoing a chance to make the NCAA Tournament. Selection Sunday revealed that they were one of the first teams out and had to settle for a 5-seed in the Arizona bracket. Others point to their Bracket Buster loss to Iona, 90-84, as the reason why they didn't make the field of 68. Supposedly, Nevada took a red-eye on Friday night to New York so as to not miss class for their Saturday afternoon game at Iona. I appreciate the effort to hit the books, but unless half of your team was on the verge of being ruled academically ineligible (which wasn't the case, as far as I know), that's a little extreme. Kids probably shouldn't read this next sentence, but it isn't all that important to go to class in college. Look, I enjoyed going to class, absolutely loved it, but in hindsight, I could have just gotten the lecture notes from a friend and would have been alright more often than not, unless it was a super-small class (which actually turned out to be the case a lot in my Spanish concentration, so maybe I should take that back).

As a result, they opened up NIT play with a very tough road game at Oral Roberts, another team on the cusp of an at-large bid. In a game that was tight most of the way, Nevada pulled away down the stretch for a 68-59 victory, setting up a surprise home game in the Sweet 16 thanks to Bucknell beating Arizona.

Nevada - The Bucknell Game

Olek Czyz scored 24 points and Malik Story chimed in with 18 to propel the Pack to a 75-67 win over the Bison.

God knows what happened in the first 14 minutes of this game, thanks to a triple-overtime men's lacrosse game between Denver and Notre Dame (I think) airing on ESPNU beforehand.

In any case, Nevada closed the half on fire, ending on a 12-5 spurt thanks to Malik Story shooting his own Spike Lee-directed Malik Doin' Work. Before Story, Olek Czyz scored 16 points in the first half, and the two of them combined for 32 of the team's 42 first half points (Bucknell was at 29).

Bucknell started out the second half hot, carving up the Wolf Pack's man defense with backdoor cuts for basket finishes, dribble penetration and open jumpers. Nevada showed a press off a made free throw, but the Bison busted it with a corner three to cut the lead to seven. In fact, Bucknell was at its best against the press (off Nevada made freebies), getting a lot of quality looks against it.

However, the gap wouldn't get narrower than six or seven for a good portion of the second half, staying right around ten until late. The Bison stampede would begin after the final mandatory, beginning with a Bryson Johnson skip pass to Bryan Cohen in the corner for three to cut it to six. Nevada had its chances to ice the game down the stretch at the line, but split a couple of pairs. Muscala absolutely bullied his way through Dario Hunt to get a layup and cut it to five. The lead would be cut down to three thanks to a Bryson Johnson catch-and-shoot trey on the right baseline with less than two minutes to play.

Unfortunately for the Bison, three would be as close as it got. Nevada, usually a poor free throw shooting team, got a clutch 2-2 from Czyz to push the lead up to five. Muscala would again cut it to three with a couple of free throws, but Nevada closed the game with five unanswered points thanks to 5-6 free-throwing in the final 36 seconds.

Interesting stats from this game:

·         Bryson Johnson, the most prolific three-point shooter in Bucknell history, was just 1-7 from downtown against the Wolf Pack.

·         Bucknell settled for a lot of threes against the Nevada man- 25 of its 55 attempts were from deep (they hit eight of ‘em).

·         Nevada shot 50 percent from the floor, compared to Bucknell's 40 percent.

·         The Wolf Pack, 290th in the country in free throw shooting coming into the game, were 75 percent from the charity stripe. Burton iced the game with four straight in the final 13 seconds.

·         Very solid defensive rebounding- only 12 of the game's 63 rebounds were of the offensive variety.

Nevada - The Starting Five

It's no secret who will take the floor for the tip at Maples for WAC Coach of the Year David Carter; the third-year head coach has used the same lineup for each of the team's 34 games this season (talk about continuity). Taking a look up and down this roster, they have pretty good size overall. Besides Deonte Burton, everyone who plays significant minutes is 6'4'' or taller, and there are six guys who play who are 6'7'' or taller. Pretty comparable to Stanford, like some posters have mentioned on the forum.

·         Deonte Burton (#24, 6'1, 185-pound Sophomore guard) - The preseason WAC Player of the Year lived up to the hype and won the actual WAC Player of the Year award at the conclusion of the regular season. He leads the team with 14.8 points per game and 4.3 assists per contest. His assist-to-turnover ratio is 2.2/1- in other words, it's pretty freaking good. He's a very solid penetrate-and-pitcher to find open shooters and can also hit the pull up, stopping on a dime. Speaking of ten cents, he threw one of ‘em up to Hunt on a super-sick alley-oop in the half court late in the second half.

·         Malik Story (#34, 6'5, 217-pound Junior guard; Indiana transfer) - Second on the team in scoring (14.1) and assists (2.8). He is Nevada's main threat from deep, leading the team with 91 three-pointers made and a .419 three-point percentage. But don't let that three-point efficiency fool ya- he will use his three to set up the drive and can get to mid-range and finish effectively with the runner, fade away, whatever. He moves well in transition, cutting down the middle of the lane and finger-rolling on the go against Bucknell. He absolutely owned the end of the first half against Bucknell, scoring eight straight points.

·         Olek Czyz (#31, 6'7, 240-pound Senior Forward; Duke transfer) - For those wondering, it's pronounced "CHIZZ". In any case, he's a skilled big averaging just south of 14 points per game and is second on the team with 6.4 boards a contest. He leads the team in shooting 54 percent from the field and is 30 percent from deep, so he can stretch a D out. He started his career at Duke, even starting a couple of games in the 2009-10 season before deciding to head out west. He had a nasty, nasty spin move on the right block past Bucknell's Bryan Cohen (who, to his defense, is listed as a 6'6 guard but defended on the block a lot on Sunday) to free himself up for a dunk of a layup late in the first half against Bucknell. He possesses a very solid back-to-the-basket game and can pass well out of the post when he wants to (not often).

·         Dario Hunt (#44, 6'8, 238-pound Senior forward) - Mr. Double-Double had 15 of ‘em in the last 26 games of the season and is Nevada's fourth double-figure scorer on average (10.5) while leading Coach Carter's group with 9.8 rebounds. If Stanford is trailing late in the game, the team would do well to foul this guy down the stretch if he's on the court; Hunt is just a 47 percent free-throw shooter on the season. What he lacks in free throw shooting, he makes up for in blocked shots, averaging close to 2.5 blocks per game and is the school's all-time leading shot-blocker. He didn't fare so well defensively against Mike Muscala of Bucknell (25 points for the Patriot Player), but not too many people do.

·         Jerry Evans, Jr. (#2, 6'8, 207-pound Sophomore guard) - The only starter to not average double figures, but he is still a three-point threat, connecting on 39 percent of his 77 attempts. Offense isn't his calling card (though he did score a career-high 19 in a win over 408 State earlier this season); defense is, as his 27 steals and 18 blocks led to a spot on the WAC All-Defensive Team. He's a lefty and an athletic kid who has pretty good hops.

Nevada - The Bench

There are five guys off the bench who have played in more than 90 percent of the team's games. David Carter will sub often; sound familiar? Here they are:

·         Kevin Panzer (#33, 6'9, 220-pound Sophomore forward) - he led the team in scoring in the season-opening loss to Missouri State, and hasn't done so since. He hit a nice three off a Burton hand-off to put Nevada up 12 about midway through the second half; also had a tough offensive rebound put back for an and-1 finish to score six straight points for Nevada. He's slated to take Hunt's starting job next season after Dario graduates.

·         Jordan Burris (#20, 6'7, 218-pound Sophomore guard) - Averages 2.5 points and 1.3 rebounds. Pretty decent free throw shooter when he gets to the line- 21-28.

·         Devonte Elliott (#4, 6'10, 220-pound Sophomore forward) - He has played in all 34, but he doesn't get all that much burn, averaging just about eight minutes per game. He is good for a bucket or a free throw each game, as well as getting the fifth-most offensive rebounds on the team in limited action. He actually did a pretty good job against Mike Muscala (the 2010-11 Patriot League POTY) when he got in, forcing Muscala to pass out of what figured to be a play run for the 6'11 Bison big man on more than one occasion. Elliott also got credit for a jumper that appeared to be tipped in by Evans (potentially basket interference).

·         Patrick Nyeko (#1, 6'6, 180-pound Junior guard) - He averages the most minutes off the bench (13.1) but is fourth off the bench in scoring and rebounding.

·         Jordan Finn (#15, 6'4, 196-pound Sophomore guard) - Only averages six minutes per game and has not played in three games this year. He doesn't shoot it much, but is very effective when he does- 13-20 from the field and 4-6 from three. Hit a big free throw with 36 seconds to go to make it a two-possession game (then proceeded to miss the second).

Nevada vs. Stanford – The Stat Comparison

Category

Nevada

Stanford

Scoring

70.7 (64.5)

71.3 (63.7)

FG%

.452 (.409)

.443 (.418)

3FG%

.370 (.331)

.375 (.343)

FT%

.653

.660

Rebounds

37.2 (33)

36.7 (32.3)

Defensive Rebounding %

.699 (.684)       

.718 (.651)

Assists

13 (13.7)

12.6 (10.7)

Assists/FG ratio

.537 (.587)

.501 (.480)

Turnovers

13.7 (12.8)

13.8 (14.9)

Steals

5.7 (6.6)

6.4 (6.8)

Blocks

4.8 (2.9)

3.3 (3.7)

Percentage of shots as 3s

.342 (.344)

.323 (.311)

 

"Survive and advance" is the postseason motto. Should the Farm Boys survive finals and a very good Pack of wolves, they will advance to the Garden for the second time this year. Can the Cardinal continue in their NIT role as mid-major killers, or will the 99 percenters get one back on The Establishment?


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