BEHIND THE PLATE: March brings out the crazies
A lot has changed in 11 years when Nevada became a national darling and added more madness to college basketball.
Even a lot has changed in the last seven years when Nevada last made an appearance in the Big Dance, falling to Memphis in the second round after shooting blanks in the game’s final seven minutes.
Wolf Pack basketball brought more life to the campus when they dominated the Western Athletic Conference and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for a program-record four consecutive seasons. Nevada won the conference tournament in 2004 to earn the automatic bid and was expected to be an early exit. This was supposed to be the little brother from the Silver State after UNLV snagged all the college basketball headlines in the 1980s and early ’90s.
But this Nevada team surprised the country, just like mid-majors continue to do every March.
The Wolf Pack surprised Michigan State in the first round with Trent Johnson at the helm. Then came Gonzaga, the No. 2 seed, and Nevada made quick work of the Washington-based private college. Nevada was in the Sweet 16 for the first time ever and came close to advancing but fell short to national runner-up Georgia Tech after leading at halftime.
The next three teams found success during the season but none of them could get past the second round.
The 2005 team, under Mark Fox, was upset by Boise State in the first round of the WAC Tournament in Reno but still got an invitation. The Wolf Pack knocked off Texas in the Big Dance but lost to runner-up Illinois.
The fans continued to strongly support Nevada every season last decade, packing Lawlor Events Center and challenging the capacity limit. It got loud and the atmosphere was electric and energetic. This was college basketball in its truest form.
Arguably the best season came the year after when Nevada won the WAC regular season title and then needed overtime to beat Utah State in the tournament championship game in Reno.
The NCAA rewarded Nevada with the dreaded and cursed No. 5 seed and a visit to Salt Lake City for the 2006 tournament. And the Wolf Pack didn’t do any favors in dismissing the myth that the No. 5 vs. No. 12 matchup is the most prone to an upset in the first round. Nevada lost to Montana when fans were expecting nothing short of another Sweet 16 run, or more.
Even with the blunder, Nevada came back strong in 2007 season with Nick Fazekas playing his fourth and final season with the team. Nevada didn’t win the WAC Tournament but still got an invitation to play at least one more game in March. The Wolf Pack advanced to the second round after a win over Creighton but they couldn’t score in the game’s final minutes as Memphis, which was coached by Kentucky coach John Calipari, went on to the Sweet 16.
March is the best month for basketball because of the craziness and madness that follows every single game in the NCAA Tournament. Brackets are ruined after one weekend for most because of some school Google hasn’t even heard of.
But although there’s no local flavor as Nevada is missing from the Big Dance for the eighth year in a row, it shouldn’t interfere with enjoying one of sports’ most exciting and unpredictable postseasons.
Thomas Ranson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.