To say the least, the Nevada Wolf Pack did not close out the season with a flourish. So theirs was a rather controversial inclusion into the NCAA Tournament field.
But they still have to play themselves into a spot in the 64-team bracket, as they take on the Arizona State Sun Devils in a game that begins at 9"10 PM ET at the University of Dayton Arena.
BetOnline patrons who have seen a lot of college basketball over the years will notice that this coaching matchup features a couple of championship-caliber point guards in Steve Alford, Nevada's coach, who played his college ball for Bob Knight at Indiana, and Bobby Hurley of ASU, who played for Coach K at Duke.
Nevada (22-10) scored a couple of impressive wins this season over Utah State and San Diego State, fellow members of the Mountain West Conference. But they closed out the campaign with three straight losses - to Wyoming, UNLV and San Jose State, the latter of which happened in the opening round of the MWC tourney. So you can understand if fans of Rutgers and Oklahoma State were up in arms over their exclusion from the Big Dance.
ASU (22-12) won eleven of its first 12 games, and they had nice wins in the non-conference slate over Creighton, Michigan and VCU. Then in Pac 12 play, they beat Colorado, Oregon, and most significantly, Arizona. In the conference tournament they got by Oregon State and USC before losing a rematch to Arizona.
So you might be wondering you they would have to engage in a play-in game. They look, on paper, like the stronger side.
And there's something of a "payback" angle here; center Warren Washington and guard Desmond Cambridge, who have been staples of the ASU lineup, transferred over from Nevada, as they were unhappy. Or Alford was unhappy with THEM.
In the NCAA Tournament betting odds that have been posted on this game by the folks at BetOnline, the Sun Devils are the favorites:
Arizona State Sun Devils -2 (-115)
Nevada Wolf Pack +2 (-105)
Over 135 Points -113
Under 135 Points -107
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Arizona State undoubtedly plays some D - in fact, they are ranked 29th in the nation in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. And they better stop the opposition, because this has been a horrific shooting squad. The Sun Devils are not only 315th nationwide in three-point percentage and 274th in two-point accuracy, but they are also 288th in free throw percentage. This is a notable advantage for the Wolf Pack, which hits 79.2% from the line, which ranks sixth in the country.
There's a reason we're mentioning some of these numbers and rankings. As we mentioned, ASU comes off as the stronger and more accomplished team here, but there are aspects of this matchup that might play to Nevada's advantage. Alford's team not only shoots extremely well from the line, they are pretty good at getting to it, as 23.7% of their points come by that route. And Arizona State has a tendency to send teams to the charity stripe.
However, they've also pretty formidable when it comes to defending inside the three-point arc (allowing just 43.8%). And so Nevada's 7-1 center Will Baker will have to wake up out of his recent slumber and produce something.
Nevada's defense has been pretty good at pushing opponents out to the arc; the evidence of it is that their foes have taken 42% of their shots from downtown. And the Wolf Pack would like to keep doing that, as ASU's 31.4% three-point shooting won't be good enough to win this.
Nevada is not good at producing second-chance points (332nd in offensive rebounding percentage), so it;s critical that something breaks their way. But they've got an outstanding backcourt of Kenan Blackshear and Jarod Lucas (averaging almost 32 points between them) and ASU's marksmanship (or lack of same) should help the Wolf Pack stay very much in the game. So we'll take the points.
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