The Nevada Wolf Pack advanced to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in school history with impressive victories over Mich. St. 72-66 (overcoming a double digit second half deficit) and Gonzaga 91-72. They received a bid to the tournament as the winner of the WAC Tournament; they had an RPI of 29 and went 5-3 against teams in the field during the season. They have what scares you most in a "Cinderella" (i.e. lower seeded) type team, a dominant player that can take over the game when nothing else is going right – Kirk Snyder. Last year, Dwayne Wade was that player for Marquette, Snyder is very similar and is currently projected to be a first round draft pick if he chooses to declare early.
Nevada is a team to be reckoned with, any team that has made it this far deserves to be here. Nevada loves to play an up-tempo game and are extremely aggressive drivers (they routinely shoot more FT's than their opponents) and rebounders – top 20 nationally in rebound margin (+6.2). GT will need to be very aware of Nevada's perimeter players and stop their dribble penetration or it will be a long night.
Nevada employs an 8-man rotation that relies heavily on their starting 5. The players know their roles and play them to a T. In many ways, Nevada looks very similar to Georgia Tech with more size and athleticism inside. They are an excellent FT shooting team so they will attempt to draw fouls. Both Michigan State and Gonzaga got in serious foul trouble. Nevada comes into this game having won 9 in a row.
Nevada wants to play at a fast tempo. They will attempt to penetrate to the basket and either shoot, pass to Kevinn Pickney sliding in from the PF spot or kicking back out to Todd Okeson for threes. Their center, Nick Fazekas, is a thin, but dangerous three-point shooter. When all else fails they will give Snyder the ball and let him create. On the season they are shooting 45.7% FG, 34.7% 3FG, and 72.8% FT. in Tourney play they are shooting 45.5% FG, 38.5% 3FG, 82.8% FT. They have more assists than TO and outrebound opponents by over 6 per game. They have taken almost 200 more FT's than their opponents.
Nevada tries to use its speed to its advantage on defense. A lot of man to man defense – very similar principles to GT. Garry Hill-Thomas is a lock down defender on the wing. Only Okeson is a little undersized. They have held teams down pretty well defensively. On the season they have allowed opponents to shoot 41.3% FG, 30.3% 3FG and have averaged 6.5 steals and 4.6 blocks per game. Opponents have more TO than assists. In the tournament they have played even better holding opponents to 39.2% FG and 21.1% 3FG. A very experienced team that plays well together.
Players – Starters
Todd Okeson – 6'0, 165 Sr. – Was primarily a spot up shooter last year but has evolved nicely as their PG this season. Small, but tough guard and a dangerous outside shooter. On the season he is averaging 11.1 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 4.0 apg in 31.4 mpg. He shot 40.7% FG, 36.7% 3FG, and 87.0% FT. He has a 1.9:1 A:TO ratio and 52 steals in 33 games.
Kirk Snyder 6'6, 225 Jr. – The Pre-season and Post-Season WAC PoY. Considered a likely 1st round draft pick if he comes out. Probably the best player GT has seen this year outside of Pickett and Emmett. Very similar to Pickett, only bigger. Loves to get to the rim, but is also capable of hitting the outside shot. Very athletic. On the season he averaged 18.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.5 apg, in 31.7 mpg. He shot 43.7% FG, 35.6% 3FG, and 72.1% FT. He had 22 blocks and 34 steals in 33 games.
Garry Hill-Thomas 6'4, 200 Sr. – Garry is a sneaky good scorer off the drive, but not a threat from three-point range (0-4). Very good athlete who is Nevada's #1 defender. Has shut down some very good players including Brooke Stepp. On the season he is averaging 9.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.6 apg in 28.0 mpg. He is shooting 48.9% FG and 70% FT. He has a 2:1 A:TO ratio and has 32 steals.
Kevinn Pinkney – 6'9, 230 Jr. – Very athletic PF, if you saw his dunk off the inbounds play against Gonzaga. Just a good, athletic baseline athlete, one you have to be aware of on the court – had 20 against Gonzaga. On the season he is averaging 9.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg in 26.9 mpg. He is shooting 50.6% FG and 71.2% FT. He has 32 blocks and 18 steals in 33 games.
Nick Fazekas – 6'11, 215 Fr. – Named to the all-Freshman team, he has been a key component to Nevada's success as he will bang inside despite a lack of strength and is an excellent outside shooter. On the season he is averaging 12.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg, in 27.0 mpg. He is shooting 53.5% FG, 35.9% 3FG and 77.2% FT. He has 44 blocks and 18 steals in 33 games.
Players – Reserves
Marcellus Kemp 6'5, 21- R-Fr. – Is a dangerous but inconsistent freshman. Athletic with the ability to get hot from outside. On the season he is averaging 4.7 ppg, 1.5 rpg in 13.5 mpg. He is shooting 33.7% FG, 33.3% 3FG, 62.5% FT. He has 10 steals.
Jermaine Washington 6'5, 205 Jr. – JUCO transfer has provided nice depth for Nevada on the wing. Another athletic slasher, like Hill-Thomas. On the season he is averaging 4.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg in 14.9 mpg. He is shooting 52.8% FG , has made 1 of 6 three attempts and 61.5% FT. He has 10 blocks and 19 steals.
Sean Paul 6'9, 245 Sr. – Former starter that now come off the bench with Fazekas starting this season. Big body that works hard in the paint. Not a big scorer, more of a glue guy. On the season he is averaging 3.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg in 17.2 mpg. He is shooting 40% FG and 75.5% FT. He has 32 blocks and 16 steals.
Nevada is a very dangerous opponent for GT. They have played extremely well so far in the tournament and have a player in Snyder that is bristling with confidence and his team is feeding off that. This will be a very different game from the two previous ones for GT. This is a game where both teams will want to get out and run. Both like to pressure the ball and speed the tempo. Should be a very entertaining game and GT will have to come with more offense to have a chance to win.
The three key stats to keep an eye on will be rebounding, fouls and shooting percentages. If one team finds a comfort zone and starts hitting shots watch out – Nevada was 8-17 from three-point range against Gonzaga. Also, rebounding will be very important as Nevada is an excellent rebounding team that loves to crash the boards. This creates the third key – fouls. Nevada is excellent at drawing fouls and both Gonzaga and Mich. State had large foul problems with their big men that limited their game plans. GT can't afford to have the same thing happen to them. GT must defend the dribble penetration well.
Should be an exciting and closely contested ball game.