ANALYSIS: It was still a successful season
Appeal Sports Writer
RENO – Despite its earliest exit in its last three NCAA appearances, it was a successful season for the Nevada men’s basketball team.
Nevada was one win shy of tying the school record for wins (27), won its third straight regular-season championship, its second Western Athletic Conference post-season tournament and put together a 14-game win streak, which was second in the nation behind Gonzaga.
While the Pack expected to go at least one game further in post-season play this year, nobody can take away what was accomplished.
“We had a great year,” senior Mo Charlo said in an eerily quiet Nevada locker room. “We won the regular-season championship, we won the tournament and we won 27 games. You can’t take that away. We accomplished a lot.”
When that same question was posed by a local television reporter, head coach Mark Fox almost snarled at the guy. It was out of character to Fox.
“We won 27 games,” Fox snapped. “We were on one side of March magic and now we’re on the other side.”
It was a fair question.
Victory breeds higher expectations, and Fox and his players know that. The program’s expectations have increased, and that’s to be expected. No longer is Nevada just happy to go to the NCAA Tournament. Now, the Pack not only expect to go, but to win a game at the very least.
That didn’t happen, and by now you know why.
Defense, which Fox considers a strength of his team, was terrible. Montana shot 59 percent in the first half and finished over 50 percent, the first time in 13 games a team has done that to the Pack.
“It was a bit of a shock,” said point guard Kyle Shiloh when asked if he expected Montana to be able to attack Nevada so easily. “The first half we didn’t play well. The second half we snapped out of it, but every time we made a run, they answered back. They were a good team, and that’s what a good team does.”
It shouldn’t be viewed as an embarrassment to lose to Montana, especially given the many first-round upsets in this year’s tournament, including No. 14 Northwestern State’s victory over No. 3 Iowa. It was, however, embarrassing to lose the way it did. The eight-point loss didn’t tell the story. Nevada got hammered, and one of the reasons why it happened was because Montana simply wanted it more.
Each and every time there was a loose ball, it ended up being in the hands of a Montana player. At least on this day, Montana was the better team and played good, fundamental basketball the entire 40 minutes.
Was Montana better prepared? Perhaps. It was certainly easier for Montana to find more film on Nevada than vice-versa. Anybody who argues that is a complete idiot.
Were they physically fresher? No doubt. Montana finished its season last Wednesday, and Nevada didn’t finish until Saturday.
Montana players felt Nevada was showing a lack of respect because Pack players admitted that they hadn’t seen any film as of Wednesday on the Grizzlies.
Funny how things can be misconstrued and twisted. As a rule, film is usually the last thing that the coaching staff does to prepare the Pack. The coaches watch it in depth before the team sees it. This wasn’t the first time where the Pack players didn’t know much about their opponent. I’ve thought that odd at times, but I don’t profess to know how to coach basketball. I leave that to the professionals.
Obviously, the Montana players needed something to psyche them up, and that was just as good as anything. What the Grizzlies don’t know is that isn’t the way Nevada operates. Fox won’t let them.
If Stanford coach Trent Johnson told Fox that Montana would be tough, you know Fox believed him, because of the respect he has for his former boss.
In fact, Fox stressed at Selection Sunday that the Pack would have their hands full, and stressed it again at the press conference on Wednesday. He was right and then some.
Montana had a bunch of shooters – even the big men – and that’s something Nevada doesn’t have. Fazekas can shoot it from outside, but Chad Bell and Demarshay Johnson are strictly inside players. Big men that shoot it from the outside are difficult to guard. When guards can penetrate and then kick it back outside to big players who can shoot, it spells trouble.
No doubt this loss will sting for a few days, but Nevada, knowing Fox like I do, will start working on next season.
Let’s look at what’s ahead for the Pack.
The biggest questions surrounding the team are the futures of head coach Mark Fox and junior Nick Fazekas.
Fox’s name has been linked to several job openings, including Missouri, Arizona State and Kansas State. He claims that he hasn’t talked with anybody at the present time. He has one year remaining on his original three-year contract, and Nevada athletic director Cary Groth said she would like to tie him up long term as soon as possible.
Fazekas said he will discuss his future with Fox and his parents, but said no timetable has been set.
Nevada has some nice players returning in Marcelus Kemp, Lyndale Burleson, Ramon Sessions, Kyle Shiloh, Demarshay Johnson and Denis Ikovlev, but no big man inside like Fazekas.
If Fazekas leaves, and everybody is assuming that he will, then Nevada has some major shoes to fill. It’s not easy to replace 22 points and 10 rebounds a game. Fox has a couple of scholarships available, and no doubt he will be scouring the country for a talented JC center or perhaps bring in another high schooler.
JaVale McGee, the son of former USC women’s star, Pam McGee, has signed on to play at Nevada. It’s not known whether he will be able to step in and make an immediate contribution. If Fazekas leaves, the Pack will need the 6-11 McGee to mature quickly and make strides immediately. He is rated the No. 6 player in the Chicago area by Chicagohoops.com.
Brandon Fields, a 6-4 guard out of Texas, should give the Pack some offensive help. He averaged 18 points in his junior season. Matt LaGrone, a 6-9 200-pound forward transferred from the San Diego area to McQueen High School. He averaged 22 points a game as a junior, but didn’t have those numbers this year.
Many of the pieces are there for another good season, but everything hinges on Fazekas’ season. If Fazekas comes back, there is no doubt that Nevada has a good chance to make it four straight WAC titles and make another trip to the NCAAs.