by Jack Rieger
If someone were to walk into a bar on a Sunday during football season and observe the behavior of people watching sports, they would realize that there are two kinds of sports fans. The first type is the optimistic fan. This fan sits in the front of the bar and orders vodka cranberries with lemon peels. They go into every game thinking their team has a real chance of winning, regardless of the team’s recent performance or the majority opinion. While the optimistic fan tends to be a more pleasant friend to watch a game with, they also can be delusional about the outlook of their team.
At the other end of the fandom spectrum is the pessimistic fan, or as they would prefer to be called, the “realistic fan.” The pessimistic fan sits near the back of the bar and orders scotch, neat. He or she is quick to remind you of everything that’s gone wrong with your team in the past decade and is hesitant to emotionally invest themselves into a game. The upside of the pessimistic fan is they are more disciplined; they remove emotion from their analysis and tend to be more objective and logical with their reasoning.
Nevada plays New Mexico in the Mountain West Tournament on Thursday, March 10, in Las Vegas. In the spirit of democracy, here’s Nevada’s outlook in the tournament through both the optimistic and pessimistic fan’s point of view.
Marqueze Coleman has five extra days of rest to heal his severely sprained ankle, and Nevada absolutely needs Coleman’s offensive production to compete with the likes of New Mexico or San Diego State, even if it’s in a limited role. Coleman hasn’t played since spraining his ankle on Feb. 24 against Utah State, giving Coleman 15 days of rest for the game against New Mexico. It’s naive to think Coleman won’t play in what could be his last game in a Nevada jersey, and the Wolf Pack offense would improve significantly with its leading scorer on the floor.
New Mexico swept Nevada during the season, winning by 12 points in December and by five points on Saturday night. Who has the advantage in the third game of that series? You could make the case Nevada does, as the Wolf Pack has extra motivation to avoid going 0-3 against the Lobos. Nevada also couldn’t play much worse than it did on Saturday night, yet the Pack only lost by five without its all-around best player. Senior Tyron Criswell mentioned that Nevada will use its 0-2 record against New Mexico this season as motivation heading into Thursday.
“This is my senior year, I don’t want my season to be over on Thursday night,” Criswell said. “For me, it’s going to motivate me a lot more. We’ve got to work hard this whole week and hopefully we’ll get them on Thursday.”
The biggest reason to be optimistic about Nevada’s chances heading into the conference tournament is head coach Eric Musselman, who has experience coaching on a playoff stage and has proven to be an effective in-game adjuster. Musselman has done more with less than any other coach in the conference, winning 18 games with a team who lost its leading rebounder and starting center from last season and often plays with a four-guard lineup. Musselman has five days to create a game plan for the Lobos and instill confidence into his team.
Last year’s Mountain West champion was Wyoming, who very few people had winning the tournament. Wyoming entered the tournament as the fourth seed in the conference, upsetting both Boise State and San Diego State on its way to the Cowboy’s first conference championship in 27 years. Similarly, Nevada enters the tournament as the fifth seed and will have to upset San Diego State, and probably Boise State or Fresno State to win its first Mountain West Championship in program history. In other words, Nevada has a comparable road to a conference championship as last year’s winners.
Nevada hasn’t won a Mountain West tournament game during its three-year history in the conference, going 0-3 in the tournament. The Wolf Pack has also been performing poorly away from home this year, winning only five of 13 games on the road this season. Along with no tournament wins, Nevada has a decent chance of not having leading scorer Marqueze Coleman. Although it could potentially be his last game of the season, coach Musselman did not seem optimistic about Coleman’s chances of playing.
“Don’t count on it,” Musselman said. “I have zero hope that he will play. He’s continually tried; he cannot jog right now. When a player can’t jog on a Saturday, to get him to play on Thursday in all the years I’ve been around, pretty long road to go.”
If Coleman doesn’t play you can forget about winning a tournament game. Nevada’s offense has struggled to create shot opportunities without Coleman, especially from outside the paint. Lindsey Drew is a serviceable point guard but he doesn’t get to the rim nearly enough for his size and can’t shoot from outside.
Nevada’s lack of depth also really hurts them in the tournament because they will have to play three games in three days if they were to make the finals. The Wolf Pack has been forced to utilize a six-man rotation since Coleman’s injury and has been outrebounded 135-98 in the three games he’s missed. If Nevada beats New Mexico, the team will likely play first-place San Diego State, who has the fifth best scoring defense in the country and will have a dramatic height advantage over the Pack.
So much depends on the health of Marqueze Coleman’s ankle, which Musselman has “zero hope” in. You can’t win games without your best player, especially when that player is your point guard and team leader. Also, New Mexico’s zone defense gave Nevada fits on Saturday night, forcing the Pack to take outside shots they haven’t been able to hit all year. The glass is officially half empty. New Mexico 68, Nevada 65.
Jack Rieger can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @JackRieger.