Nevada faces Air Force’s zone defense
RENO — Nevada basketball coach Eric Musselman said the Pack has been brushing up on its zone offense attack in preparation for today’s game against the Air Force Academy.
Tip-off for the Mountain West Conference showdown is 7 p.m. (ROOT/94.3) at Lawlor Events Center.
The Pack, unbeaten at home this season, and winners of 10 of its last 11 games, is ranked 29th in the country. In Air Force, the Pack plays a smaller team. The Falcons will use varying types of zones if their loss to San Jose State is any indication because over a course of a game they can’t match up against the Pack.
“They play a 3-2 zone, so it’s important to have all our offensive zone packages tightened up and ready to go,” Musselman told reporters prior to Monday’s practice. “We have scored well against zone defenses (this year). Last year we did a good job of getting lay-ups and dunks. This year, we’re getting good looks for 3. We are such a different team this year.
“It’s important to be patient. We have to be unselfish and move the basketball, not take the first shot that presents itself; take the first great shot.”
Musselman doesn’t have to worry about the selfishness part. The Pack shares the ball well, and all five starters shoot at least 35 percent from 3, including D.J. Fenner’s team-leading 50.8 mark and Marcus Marshall’s 40.5.
Nevada swept Air Force last season, and the Falcons’ coach, Dave Pilipovich, believes that team is better this year.
“We are playing probably the best team in the league,” Pilipovich told area reporters at his weekly press conference. “One through five they are big, athletic and strong. They are very confident, and we are playing on their floor. It’s a good challenge for us.
“They have gone the quick-fix route. They have three transfers (Caroline, Marshall and King) that sat out last year. Marshall was an all-Missouri Valley player and Caroline was an all-Missouri Valley freshman player, and they have four guys sitting out this year.”
In fact, the AF coach said Marshall and Caroline may have edged past preseason all-conference player Cameron Oliver.
“They (Marshall and Caroline) are both really good players,” Pilipovich said. “Oliver is really good, but he doesn’t have to do everything.”
Pilipovich said the Spartans forced AF to change defense a multitude of times, and the Falcons must do a better job tonight.
“We have to work a little harder,” Pilipovich said. “Defense is all about energy and effort.”
Defensively, the Pack will face a different type of offense.
“The big thing about Air Force is their ability to play the Princeton offense,” Musselman said. “There is lots of ball movement and body movement. We have to try to eliminate as many backdoor opportunities as we can.
“They are disciplined with a high basketball IQ. They come at you with an eight, nine or 10-man rotation. They have a lot of guys who can do a lot of different things. Obviously (Hayden) Graham can score the ball. They are disciplined with good shot selection. They run the offense really well. They are a tough-minded group. Those are some of the challenges you face when you play Air Force.”
Guard Jacob Van (11.9), guard Zach Kocur (10.5) and forward Frank Toohey (11.2) also score in double figures. Van and Kocur both shoot over 46 percent from beyond the arc.
NOTES: The Wolf Pack moved up in the RPI after a road win at Wyoming and is now at 32. The Wolf Pack is 11-3 against top 200 opponents…Nevada has beaten two schools ranked in Ken Pomeroy’s College Basketball Ranking’s top 100 and has topped a total of 11 in the top 200. KenPom puts Nevada at 66th in the nation.