Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman talks about his team making the NCAA Tournament, where it will face Texas on Friday in Nashville.
TBS unveiled a new NCAA Tournament selection show format this year, first revealing the 68 teams in the field before taking a commercial break and divulging the bracket.
The network said it would unveil the programs in alphabetical order and it did so with the teams that had clinched an automatic berth in the Big Dance after winning their conference tournaments. But, then came the at-large teams picked by the selection committee that Nevada was nearly 100 percent certain it would be in. But, there wasn’t any assurances until the team saw its name pop up on the screen.
So, when the show skipped from Missouri to North Carolina State, some of the Wolf Pack players and boosters who gathered in the Basin Street Club Level at Mackay Stadium felt their stomach drop.
“I was worried,” forward Jordan Caroline said.
North Carolina State was announced as “NC State” by the broadcasters, but technically North Carolina State comes after Nevada in alphabetical order. Was the Wolf Pack really left out of the field? Nope.
A couple of seconds after North Carolina State was revealed, up popped the name “Nevada.” The players launched out of their seats in joy. About 10 minutes later, the Wolf Pack figured out its fate. Nevada drew a seventh seed – marking just the third time in school history it earned an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament – and will play No. 10 Texas in a first-round game Friday at 1:20 p.m. in Nashville.
“I was a little nervous,” Cody Martin said of the alphabetical mishap, “but I’m just very grateful we got selected.”
Coach Eric Musselman, whose has led Nevada to back-to-back NCAA tournaments, wasn’t quite as worried.
“Some of the smarter guys on the team than me had that figured out, but I didn’t,” he joked.
Nevada (27-7), the outright winners of the Mountain West, didn’t just make the field. It got a solid seed. The seventh seed is tied for the best the Wolf Pack has received in its eight NCAA Tournament appearances. Only the 2006 team, which earned a fifth seed, did better. Just five mid-major teams received an at-large berth this season as the field agains skewed toward the power conferences, but Nevada’s résumé was strong enough to get the third-best seed among the mid-majors at-large teams.
The Wolf Pack played six teams that made this year’s NCAA Tournament field, including Texas Tech and TCU – both from the Big 12 like Texas – as well as San Diego State, Rhode Island, Davidson and Radford. Nevada went 4-4 against those teams.
“It’s a little bit different than last year,” Musselman said. “When you win the automatic berth, you know you’re in and just sitting there. Obviously, there are a lot of quality teams that aren’t in this tournament, teams that have had unbelievable years, power conference teams. It’s really hard for a mid-major to get an at-large bid. I couldn’t be prouder of our team. The selection committee gave us a lot of respect as a seven seed. We’re excited. We thought we were in, but you never know until your name is called.”
The Wolf Pack immediately began preparing for Texas, heading off to film study and a late-night practice before the entire field was even unveiled (the South bracket, which Nevada is a part of, was the first released). Texas (19-14) didn’t have a stellar season – it was just 8-10 in the Big 12 – but the Longhorns have two things that make them dangerous: excellent size and one of the nation’s top defenses.
Texas boasts 6-foot-11 center Mohamed Bamba, the Big 12’s leading rebounder and shot blocker and a projected top-five pick in this year’s draft. The Longhorns’ leading scorer is 6-9 Dylan Osetkowski. Nevada counters with an elite offense, but no players taller than 6-7. It will be a contrast in styles.
“It’s just another opportunity to play another great player,” said Caroline, who will defend Bamba. “Mo Bamba is really talented, he has great range. I just have to watch film and see where I can get my advantages at.”
Nevada players, coaches celebrate after learning where they will play in the NCAA Tournament.
Nevada is the first MW team to earn an at-large berth since 2015 when both Boise State and SDSU accomplished the feat. The Wolf Pack’s aggressive scheduling and nation-leading 12 road victories were rewarded with a solid seed despite a semifinal ouster Friday in the MW Tournament (SDSU beat Nevada, 90-73, en route to the MW title and got a No. 11 seed versus No. 6 Houston in Wichita, Kan.).
“Both the Aztecs and us want to represent our league in the right way,” Musselman said.
The Wolf Pack is looking for its first NCAA Tournament win since 2007 when it beat No. 10 Creighton in overtime as a seventh seed. Nevada is 4-7 all-time in the event, although one of those wins came against Texas. In 2005, the ninth-seeded Nevada beat No. 8 Texas, 61-57, in Indianapolis before losing to No. 1 Illinois in the next round. Last year, the Wolf Pack, a 12th seed, lost to No. 5 Iowa State, 84-73, in the first round in Milwaukee.
This year’s team brings has far more tournament experience. Returners Caroline and Josh Hall both played in last year’s Big Dance and transfers Caleb and Cody Martin (North Carolina State), Hallice Cooke (Iowa State) and Kendall Stephens (Purdue) each played for NCAA Tournament teams at their previous schools. The winner of the Nevada-Texas game advances to play the winner of No. 2 Cincinnati versus No. 15 Georgia State.
Caleb Martin was asked what advice he’d give to people filling out their South Region bracket.
“Bet on us,” he said. “You have to have that type of confidence going into these types of things, and I’m sure every other team is saying the same thing. We’re in a good position and in a good bracket. If we just go there and do what we know we can do and play the style that we know we can, we’ll be in good shape.”
Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @MurrayRGJ.
WOLF PACK BASKETBALL
Who: Nevada (27-7) vs. Texas (19-14)
When: Friday, 1:20 p.m. (Pacific time)
Where: Bridgestone Arena (20,000 capacity) in Nashville
TV/Radio: TBS/94.5 FM
Betting line: Pick’em