With Nevada being a completely unfamiliar team to the Gators I thought I’d bring on someone who knows the Wolf Pack better than anyone, Eli Boettger of the Mountain West Wire. Boettger is the lead basketball writer at Mountain West Wire. He’s covered Mountain West basketball since 2015 and has been featured on Bleacher Report, NBC Sports, SB Nation, Yahoo Sports, MSN, and other platforms. Boettger is also a United States Basketball Writers Association member. He’s a brilliant basketball mind who also wrote an investigative piece on the alleged “transfer epidemic” last year for Athletic Director U that was one of the most memorable pieces of college basketball journalism I’ve ever read. He gave some great insight and I think you’ll appreciate what he has to say on the matchup. You can follow him on twitter at @boettger_eli.
EF: Coach Eric Musselman has utilized the transfer rules as well as anyone in the country. Tell every how this roster has been constructed and how it’s one of the most unique in the country.
EB: It was definitely a work-in-progress for Nevada and his staff. Musselman made it clear that when he arrived in Reno that he wanted the team to be as competitive as quickly as possible, and the best way to accomplish that was by exploring the transfer market. His NBA background mixed with a willingness to build a roster through transfers is why Nevada is composed of experienced, position-less players that are so tough to beat.
EF: Nevada’s strength of schedule ended up being quite low this season partially due to some Pac-12 opponents in USC, Arizona State, and Utah not being anywhere near as good as you would have expected before the preseason. How do you feel about the way the Wolf Pack were seeded?
EB: I thought the seeding was fair, though it was definitely a disappointment based off where Nevada was pegged in the preseason and in November and December. The non-conference schedule was supposed to be such an asset for this team’s resume but so many of its non-conference opponents fell apart this season and it’s why Nevada had such a lack of quality wins come Selection Sunday.
EF: Nevada wasn’t a great defensive squad last year finishing 108th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency last year but they’re up to 33rd now. How has this team improved defensively?
EB: Getting a guy like Trey Porter to help out down low has been huge. Last year, the team didn’t really have a defensive anchor inside with as much size as Porter and it has allowed the rest of the defense to improve as a result. Caleb Martin, who is commonly known as the lesser defender of the Martin twins, also greatly improved on the defensive side of the ball this season.
EF: I find Nevada’s offense to be a lot different than what you see from a lot of college teams. How do they like to score the basketball?
EB: It’s a lot of isolation and pro-style for the Wolf Pack. That can be both a good and bad thing. At times, it means Nevada is taking contested shot attempts which aren’t typically good looks but it also results in dribble drives and finishes or drives to the baskets and kick-outs to open shooters on the perimeter. It’s not your typical college-style offense.
EF: Strangely enough, two of Nevada’ four losses this season came to San Diego State. What did the Aztecs do to beat them twice and is there anything a team like the Gators could extrapolate from those games to build a gameplay for themselves?
EB: Nevada has struggled of late to play from behind and that’s what happened in both of the Wolf Pack’s losses to San Diego State this season. The Wolf Pack trailed by 16 in the regular season loss and by 13 in the conference tournament loss to the Aztecs. Being physical, getting off to a good start, and contesting shot attempts on as many possessions as possible will be the formula for Florida to beat Nevada.
EF: What do you consider to be the biggest strength of this Nevada team?
EB: Nevada can rip off lengthy scoring runs as well as any team in the country. As cold as the Wolf Pack can be at times, everyone knows that a 9-0 run, 12-0 run, or something along those lines is capable of happening in a short span and completely change the outcome of the game. Nevada has shooters, athleticism, and is fantastic in transition.
EF: What do you consider to be their biggest weakness?
EB: As great as Nevada is at scoring runs, the team’s biggest weakness is going cold from the field. The Wolf Pack only made two field goals in the final seven and a half minutes (both in garbage time) in its semifinal loss to San Diego State in the Mountain West Tournament. When the shots aren’t falling, Nevada is vulnerable.
EF: Coach Musselman rides a tight rotation and doesn’t use a lot of players off the bench. Are you someone who thinks depth is overrated in the NCAA Tournament or do you think their short bench could bite them?
EB: It can be overrated, but it also depends on how teams operate. Last year it was a problem because the team was just one player in foul trouble or one injured player away from having to bring a walk-on or lightly-used player onto the floor to play meaningful minutes in March. That’s scary. Though Musselman doesn’t allocate many minutes to guys off the bench this year, it isn’t nearly as dire as it was a season ago. Rotations tend to shrink this time of year anyways and Nevada is already used to playing that way, so it can be a benefit.
EF: I’m not sure how much Florida basketball you’ve watched this year, but is there anything off the top of your head that you think the Gators do that could potentially pose a problem for the Wolf Pack?
EB: Pace will be important as well as getting off to a good start. Nevada is going to run as much as possible and easy baskets will be hard to come by against Florida’s stout defense. If Nevada’s jumpers aren’t falling, getting easy baskets down low or in transition will be huge. Florida’s ability to prevent any of these types of opportunities could lead the Gators to a victory.
EF: Give me a prediction for this game. It can be anything you want, from a particular player getting hot or going cold or just something you expect to see from a pace or style of play standpoint, you don’t even have to say a score or pick a winner.
EB: This should be a good one. I expect Nevada to pick up a double-digit lead at some point during the game (maybe late first half or early second half) and things tightening up greatly down the stretch with both teams exchanging leads over the final minutes. I have Jazz Johnson as Nevada’s most important player in this game as I expect him to knock down some key three-pointers to stave off a Florida comeback bid. I predict Nevada to win this game with a defensive stop on the final possession of a game that ends with both teams in the 60’s.