West Region Opening Round No. 7 Nevada vs. No. 10 Florida
Nevada was positioned to be a top-3 seed in late January, as Joe Lenardi's Bracketology had the Wolf Pack a NCAA Tournament 3-seed on January 25. Nevada was 24-1 until they lost at San Diego State Feb. 20, and 10 days later Nevada lost a close contest at Utah State which was the biggest game in Logan in more than five years. Another loss to San Diego State in the Mountain West Conference Tournament semifinals has lowered not only the seed for Nevada, but the public perception of how good they really are heading into the NCAA Tournament. In that contest, Nevada star senior forward Jordan Caroline (17.3 PPG, 9.6 RPG) sat out due to lingering tendinitis in his right Achilles tendon, which he says was bothering him the final month of the season and his scoring averaged dropped to 10 PPG over the final four games. But Carolina says he's healthy and ready to go, and the Wolf Pack's leading scorer Caleb Martin (19.2 PPG) along with brother Cody Martin (11.7 PPG), the teams assist leader, gives them proven players with five of six regular players being seniors.
Nevada is very well-coached by Eric Musselman, and the Wolf Pack are a confident team that has versatility and cohesion among their star seniors. A review of the keys to NCAA Tournament success shows they have proven profiles and advantages in this match-up and are a top-shooting team. The Wolf Pack will be focused to start stronger in the first halves of this year's NCAA Tournament, and should make a statement against an opponent not their equal.
Florida was a bubble team to make the NCAA Tournament in late January, actually on the outside looking in. The Gators then had a bad low-scoring loss at TCU in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, then won in OT at Ole Miss. But three straight losses following against the SEC's top three teams, and Florida failed to cover any of them losing by at least 8 points in each contest. Three more losses followed to close the regular season, and Florida's fringe defensive dominator stats from mid-February had fallen off while Nevada maintained defensive dominator status and continued to be a superior shooting team. When you figure in Florida's negative rebounding margin in this match-up, and the potential problems in the paint with Nevada's stronger shooting inside the arc, it only points towards reaping rewards from the players from Reno.
Florida played the superior schedule, but make no mistake, Nevada is good and certainly better than the Gators. Nevada is experienced and made a Sweet Sixteen run last year, and should have gone further. Arguments can be made that Nevada could have or even should have lost in either of their opening two games in last year's tournament and especially in the Round of 32 when they rallied from 22 points down in the second half to stun Cincinnati. But this team is a little better and has their sites set high again.
Line and ATS Results
Nevada is a 2 or 2.5-point favorite as you shop lines at the leading online sportsbooks. Tipoff is at 6:40 ET from Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa and TNT carries the TV coverage.
Nevada finished 29-4 SU, 15-3 in the Mountain West Conference to tie for the league title, and 17-14 ATS. The Wolf Pack were a double-digit favorite in 13 of the final 15 games.
Florida finished 19-15 and 9-9 in the SEC with a 16-18 ATS mark. Coach Mike White has done another solid job with this team on defense, but the Gators don't shoot well and have three freshman in the regular rotation. The Gators don't keep opponents off the offensive glass enough, and the match-ups and power in the paint all point Nevada's way.
The Picks and Bets
Nevada is rested, experienced and has some mismatches against Florida. The guards and forwards should handle any press Florida tries to spring on them, and Nevada takes very good care of the basketball. Don't expect the Gators to spring the mini-upset, rather this line is cheap for a Nevada team that may well win going away by double-digits.
You can bet on it.
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