In today’s special NCAA Tournament edition of “WRNL Interrogates,” I talked to Jeremy Mauss of Mountain West Connection to get his thoughts on the reigning MWC champion Nevada Wolf Pack. Jeremy dives into a few details on the players that make Nevada so dangerous, and also makes his prediction for the game.
Kevin: For fans who might not have seen Nevada play yet this year, can you give me the classic elevator speech on what people should know about the Wolf Pack? What are some of the things they've done well or struggled with in particular as the season has progressed?
Jeremy: This is a very athletic team, just Google "Cameron Oliver dunks" for an example of what this team can do. This team plays loose, are great rebounders and at times like to pull a heat check for three-pointers. They also can win games when their best players do not play well. In the Mountain West title game, Oliver scored only four points, yet they still won. A couple issues for this team are they struggle on the road (five of their six losses came away from home) and they can be streaky at times when they don't play as a team. Their rebounding and athleticism go a long way as to why Nevada is a good team; they also share the ball well, with all four players averaging in double figures per game.
Kevin: Cameron Oliver has blossomed into an NBA-caliber player this season, especially with the addition of a 3-point shot between his freshman and sophomore seasons (He was 19-60 in 2016, 62-162 this season). Do you have a current NBA or college player to compare his game to?
Jeremy: He is a rare talent that not only is athletic, but shoot threes, rebounds well and plays exceptional defense. Basically, he’s very versatile and impressed the Boston Celtics last year when he tested the NBA waters. Oliver said himself that he is a stretch-four at the next level and compared his game to Draymond Green.
Kevin: Obviously teams can change/improve quite a bit as the season goes along, but Nevada's 81-63 season-opening loss to Saint Mary's (currently #14 on KenPom) sticks out because it was the only game they played against an opponent ranked higher than 78th according to KenPom at season's end. What went wrong against the Gaels, and what gives you hope that the same result doesn't happen against the Cyclones?
Jeremy: Gotta get in the way back machine to recall that matchup. It was obviously their worse loss of the year and part of it is that St. Mary's is very good at home. This is me just thinking, and they will never admit it, but the Wolf Pack were intimidated in that game. Eric Musselman even questioned why they would schedule a team like St. Mary's. While Nevada has size, the Gaels had even bigger size, as they went up against 6-foot-11 Jock Landale who had a career-high 33 points. Iowa State does not really have that size to go against the Wolf Pack, but the three-point shot is where the Cyclones can cause the most damage.
Kevin: Which player match-up most intrigues you about Thursday's game?
Jeremy: Too bad the two best players on the court — Monte Morris and Cameron Oliver — won’t guard each other, but they are part of the most important matchups in this game. The front court for Nevada is stacked, and who ever matches up with Oliver will have to play both ends of the court and be aware of where he is at all times. Oliver likes to head out on the break for easy buckets, he will step out and shoot a three-pointer, and he is a very good defender. In his two years he was named to the all-Mountain West defensive team, plus was named the defensive player of the year this season. While I have not seen Iowa State play much this year, whoever matches up with Oliver will have their hands full.
As for who will guard Morris on the Nevada end, it will likely be a variety of players as Nevada's bench is not deep and they play a four-guard lineup. The likely matchup will be the lengthy D.J. Fenner, who is 6-foot-6, and also future NBAer Marcus Marshall.
As for what matchup is more important, I think Nevada has the edge with Oliver and Iowa State with Morris. However, the bigger advantage when comparing the two is toward Oliver, who is known to go off and score 20-plus, grab double-digit rebounds and with play a great defensive effort as he is averaging 2.6 blocks per game. That is if Oliver is on. While he shows up on defense for every game he has had a few clunkers, with six games where he scored in single digits, including just four in the Mountain West championship game.
Kevin: Let's get your prediction. How does the game play out and what's the final score?
Jeremy: There are a good number of people who like Nevada because they have won nine in a row and have a pair of future pros on this team, but obviously Iowa State is no slouch as they are top-25, have wins over Baylor plus Kansas and just won the Big 12 Tournament. Nevada has not played a team this good since that opener at St. Mary's and Monte Morris is the best guard by far, and a top-three player that the Wolf Pack have played all year.
Iowa State protects the ball well with a plus-4.2 turnover margin per game and they are very good at shooting the three-point shot, but Nevada is one of the best defensive teams in the country in three-point percentage allowed. Also, the Wolf Pack are a great rebounding team and in my humble basketball opinion, while teams can go hot or cold from three-point range, rebounding is a more consistent stat. My assumption is that that the Wolf Pack will have a lot of second-chance opportunities and thus more possessions. Maybe I am biased, but I think Nevada is as athletic as a lot of the Big 12 teams and will pull off a close victory because of those second chance points. I'll say 68-62.
Kevin: BONUS QUESTION - Cake or pie? Choose carefully...
Oh boy... The only acceptable pie is pumpkin. As for cake, ice cream cake is the way to go. Did I straddle the fence well enough?
Looks like it’s time for you to punish his vagueness on the bonus question in the comment section, readers! Thanks to Jeremy for taking the time to answer our questions, and good luck to Nevada tomorrow night.