Nevada Wolf Pack-Cincinnati pits good ‘O’ against good ‘D’
NEVADA (28-7) VS CINCINNATI (31-4)
When: Sunday, 3:10 p.m.
Where: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, Tenn.
TV-Radio: TNT/630 AM
NEVADA: F Jordan Caroline (17.8, 8-7) and Caleb Martin (19.1, 5.4); G Kendall Stephens (13.5, 2.0), Cody Martin (13.9, 6.5) and Hallice Cooke (4.9, 2.4) or Josh Hall (6.6, 3.9).
CINCINNATI: F: Jacob Evans (13.5, 4.5), Gary Clark (12.7, 8.2) and Kyle Washington (11.2, 5.4); G Jarron Cumberland (11.1, 3.8) and Justin Jenifer (4.9, 1.0).
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Nevada has one of the most efficient offenses in the country. Cincinnati has the second-best defense in the nation.
Sunday’s second-round game between No. 7 Nevada, 28-7, and No. 2 Cincinnati, 31-4, at 3:10 p.m. at Bridgestone Arena shapes up as a great matchup with a berth in the Sweet 16 slot in Atlanta next week as the prize.
Nevada coach Eric Musselman knows the Pack has its hands full.
“Coach Mick (Cronin) just does an incredible job,” Musselman said. “I’ve watched from afar for many years. To get his guys to play as hard as they do, I think that’s a No. 1 trait that you look for in any coach.
“Nobody can respect what he’s done more than I do because, I think that for our program, that’s one of the things we talked about from day one. Cincinnati’s one of those teams that you know year after year after year after year, you can turn their game on in November, December, January, March. Doesn’t matter. Those dudes play hard.”
And, the Bearcats have some length with 6-9 Kyle Washington, 6-8 Gary Clark and 6-6 Jacob Evans III. The Bearcats got 109 more offensive rebounds than their opponents, and average 13.2 offensive rebounds a contest. And, teams shoot just 37 percent overall, including 31 percent from 3.
“They’re just a very physical team,” Kendall Stephens said. “They pride themselves on defense and toughness, but at the same time, they still have deficits, weaknesses that we’re looking forward to taking advantage of.
“We feel like we have a better offense than them. At the same time, slowing them down and transitioning on defense is going to be key for us. They get a lot of points off of fast breaks and off of turnovers.”
The Bearcats have held teams to 60 points or less six of the last 10 games, and won all. Conversely, Nevada has been held to 70 or less twice, and split those games against Hawaii (road win) and USF (neutral-court loss).
Cronin praised the Pack and Musselman’s offensive philosophy.
“Eric’s a great coach, has been for a long time, and they’re a veteran team that’s ninth in the nation in offensive efficiency,” Cronin said. “So they present a tremendous challenge as far as their offense.
“They spread you out, they can really pass. It’s a mark of great coaching when you watch a guy’s team play and they pass a ball the way Eric’s team passes the ball. And it’s impressive. Obviously, they have shot makers, and they compete.”
Cronin also was impressed with the mental toughness Nevada showed in coming back from a 14-point deficit against Texas.
“You know, they’re a team built on competitive toughness,” Cronin said. “So I watched them closely, never give in. You could see they would not give an inch. They would not back down. They kept digging in until they finally got some shots to fall. Once they got some shots to fall, then they were able to keep grinding and get enough stops to win the game. So I expect an extremely hard-fought game with them.”
Cronin feels it will be a game of constant adjustments by both teams. He was asked about going with a smaller lineup to contain Nevada’s five-guard offense.
“We try to adjust as we go,” Cronin said. “Look, Eric’s a really good coach … they do a good job of figuring out what you’re doing and getting the isolation situation that they want. So I think it will be a game of multiple adjustments. That (us going small) would only be just one of them. But yes, I could see that happening.”
One big mismatch Nevada will enjoy is at point guard. Justin Jenifer is only 5-10, albeit he’s lightning quick.
“We’ve prepared for it more than you would think,” Cronin said. “He (Jenifer) and Cane Broome, teams have tried to post them. Our changing defenses, you know, I don’t know if a lot of college teams do that. But to be able to post up guards, your other guy’s got to be able to shoot.
“So a lot of teams, they can’t post up our point guards because their other guys can’t shoot. So whoever you go — you take your five-man, stand him outside the line, we’re not going to go out there. So the challenge, what they do a good job of is when Martin goes to the back down. Jordan (Caroline), he can shoot the ball. So they can go to a spread and a back-down and put four shooters around their posted-up point guard, which you rarely see. SMU was the only team that did it when Shake Milton was healthy. They did it to us when he was healthy.”