MILWAUKEE – The 5 versus 12 first-round matchup in the NCAA Tournament has lent itself to many upsets over the years.
Since 1985, No. 5 seeds have lost 49 times, and the 2012 tourney is the only one since 2007 where there wasn’t a No. 12 seed pulling off an upset.
The Nevada Wolf Pack, 28-6, hopes to make it 50 wins for No. 12 seeds when it faces Big 12 postseason champion Iowa State (23-10) today at the Bradley Center (6:57 p.m., TruTV).
Both teams come in red hot. Nevada has won nine straight and the Cyclones have won nine of their last 10.
Nevada is a 6 1/2 –point underdog entering its first NCAA game since 2007. The Pack embraces the underdog role, however.
“We have been the underdog most of the year,” senior D.J. Fenner said. “I have been an underdog ever since I’ve been at Nevada. We approach this game like we approach every game, expecting to win and go out and play hard regardless if it’s Iowa State, Colorado State or North Carolina.”
“Iowa State is going to be the favorite,” Nevada coach Eric Musselman said on Sunday. “We know that.”
Two Cyclone stars, Naz Mitrou-Long and Monte Morris, are well aware of the 5-12 history.
“The 5-12 line is always a line where they say that’s where upsets happen,” Morris said. “Totally we have to stay focused.”
“A lot of people come into the tournament with the mindset that they’re going to win because they are the higher seed,” Long said. “We have been in that situation in the past. Playing against Nevada is not something we’re taking lightly by any means. They didn’t win their conference or have the record they have by a fluke. We are approaching them as if they are the best team we’ve ever played, and just understand that they are capable and they are here for a reason.”
Iowa State coach Steve Prohm pointed out recently the teams are similar, and the numbers bear that out.
Both shoot the 3-ball well (ISU 40.2 and Nevada 38.5). Both teams also defend the 3-ball well (ISU 34.8 and Nevada 30.7). Both teams score a shade above 80 a game. Defensively, ISU gives up 72 a game and Nevada 70.9.
Both teams also have four starters in double figures. ISU has Monte Morris (16.3), Long (15.5), Deonte Burton (14.8) and Matt Thomas (12). Nevada counters with Marcus Marshall (19.8), Cameron Oliver (15.8), Jordan Caroline (14.8) and Fenner (14.1).
“Their numbers are good defensively,” Prohm said. “Their numbers are good offensively. That is why they are 28-6. They have very good offensive players. I think (Lindsey) Drew helps them defensively. He is very, very active. Their team prides themselves on getting deflections, being in gaps and trying to get their hands on balls.
“We are very similar in how we play. Both coaches give teams a lot of freedom. You have guys who can make shots. Shot selection will be key. They are very good, and we’re looking forward to the challenge tomorrow.”
Prohm believes one of the keys is containing Oliver, who Prohm considers a stretch 5. Oliver averages 15.8 a game, knocking down 38 percent of his shots from long range and 46.5 overall.
“The ball screen with Oliver is going to be a key to the game,” Prohm said. “We have to do a great job on ball screens. We have to have great ball pressure on him when he catches on the perimeter, and make sure you contest every shot.
“We have to close out under control so he doesn’t drive by you. You can over help because you have Caroline going to the glass every time. Caroline is the toughness and glue to their team. Oliver is a tough match-up.”
Oliver has played well in the last five games, averaging 17 points and 11 rebounds with 1.5 blocked shots a game. The highlight of that run was a 27-point 19-rebound effort in the MW regular-season championship game against Colorado State.
Conversely, Nevada will have its hands full with Morris, who’s considered one of the best point guards in the country. He averages more than six assists a game and turns it over just a shade over one time per contest.
“Our whole program has great respect for what Monte has done,” Musselman said. “On film, he has great court vision, really unselfish, makes other players around him better, creates steals defensively and can knock down the 3-ball.
“He is excellent at splitting pick and rolls. Rebounds well for his position. He has the whole package. He has a bright future because he’s able to do so many things well. What I see on tape, he is one of the best point guards in the country.”
Musselman said he will approach defending the 3-pointer the same way he always does. “We understand that Iowa State can really shoot the basketball,” Musselman said. “We will designate who their top 3-point shooters are and try not to give them too much air space. I don’t think we do anything special defending the 3. I think what we do is identify who we would like to try to pay special attention to.”