Last Updated: 2019-03-19
Coming into this season, many people were talking about No. 7 seed Nevada the same way we used to hear people talk about Gonzaga. The Wolf Pack were thought to have the best team in their history, and there was rampant discussion of a No. 2 or No. 3 seed at the start of the year. With all that hype, perhaps it was inevitable that we’d be let down, but at least Nevada is in the tournament despite not winning the MWC Conference Tournament. They have a chance to get another postseason win too when they face the No. 10 seed Florida Gators.
This West Region First Round game will take place at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa. It is slated to tip around 6:50 p.m. ET on Thursday, March 21, and it will be broadcast on TNT. Nevada is a narrow two-point favorite over Florida here, with the total set at 132.5. The winner of this game will likely face Michigan on Saturday, provided that Wolverines take care of business against Montana.
Florida did not become a basketball power until hiring Billy Donovan in 1996. Before then, the Gators had made it to one Final Four, but they had never made it further than the Sweet 16 in any other season. Under Donovan, Florida made it to four more Final Fours and won back-to-back national championship with the greatest team in school history in 2006 and 2007. Since Donovan’s departure, they have made it to the Elite Eight once, but they largely haven’t been the same under Mike White. White would have been likely let go if the Gators didn’t make their third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament this year.
Nevada has never been further than the Sweet Sixteen. The Wolf Pack didn’t win their first NCAA Tournament game until 2004, and they ended up getting to the Sweet 16 that year after upsetting Michigan State and Gonzaga as a No. 10 seed. They made just their second Sweet 16 appearance last year, beating Texas in overtime before edging Cincinnati by two points as a No. 7 seed. Their dreams came to an end against an even unlikelier Cinderella when Loyola-Chicago nipped them 69-68.
How They Got Here
It wasn’t easy for the Gators to make it back to the NCAA Tournament. A number of people gave up on Florida when they were 12-11 in early February, and a three-game losing streak to end the regular season put their hopes on life support. Florida needed a strong performance in the SEC Tournament, and the Gators were able to beat Arkansas and knock off regular season champion LSU to make it to the semifinals. Their strength of schedule and NET rating pushed them across the line despite a mediocre record of 19-15.
A 14-0 start to the season had Nevada fans dreaming of a year for the ages, especially after they came from behind to beat multiple PAC 12 teams. When it became apparent that the PAC 12 was a shell of itself, the perception changed. Nevada getting off to slow starts before rallying in the second half was not as impressive, and a 27-point loss to New Mexico highlighted some of the major problems that had been lurking. The Wolf Pack only lost four games all season, but a weak non-conference schedule led to them getting a No. 7 seed.
Florida plays at a very slow tempo and relies on its defense to win games. The Gators have not been good on offense all year long, and there is only one Gator scoring in double digits. KeVaughn Allen is averaging 12 PPG, but he is hitting just 38.7 percent of his field goals and 32.8 percent of his threes. None of UF’s top three scorers are hitting better than 39 percent from the field and as a team the Gators are sinking just 33.5 percent of their threes.
It hasn’t been as good as expected, but Nevada’s offense has been pretty solid. The Wolf Pack have a veteran unit that has been together for a while, and those seniors know how to play off of each other and get buckets. Caleb and Cody Martin are the names that everyone knows, but Jordan Carolina is a double-double threat and Jazz Johnson is a lights-out shooter from three, hitting more than 45 percent of his triples.
These are two completely different teams, so the contrast in styles should be fun to watch. The battle for rebounds when Nevada misses a shot could be a deciding factor though. The Wolf Pack don’t do a good job of grabbing their misses, but Florida has had a really tough time boxing out while primarily using a four-guard lineup.
Fatigue could be an issue too if this game goes to overtime. Florida uses its depth and only one player is averaging more than 30 minutes a game. Meanwhile, all four of Nevada’s starters play at least 26 minutes a night.
Pick: Nevada -2
I’m betting that the Wolf Pack have largely been sleepwalking through the season. They really didn’t play anyone of note in the non-conference slate, and this team has been gearing up for this moment since the end of last year. I don’t like Florida’s scoring options and their lack of solid big men, so I’ll lay the points.
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