Since 2012, 10 of the past 16 5-seed vs. 12-seed games have seen the higher seed upset the lower seed in the Round of 64 of the NCAA Tournament. It has become commonplace for bracketologists and fans alike to expect an upset in this specific matchup.
The Nevada Wolf Pack has been the sexy pick in the notorious 5-seed vs. 12-seed matchup following Selection Sunday. Most notably, CBS College Basketball analyst Seth Davis foresees the Wolf Pack to advance all the way to Kansas City for the Sweet 16. As the Wolf Pack prepares for tonight’s game against the Iowa State Cyclones, here are the keys to pulling off the upset.
1. Limit the big three
The Cyclones boast an array of polished scorers, both on the perimeter and in the interior. For just the seventh time in school history, the Cyclones have had three players score 500 points or more in a single season. The three players who eclipsed this mark are All-American Monte Morris, sharpshooter Nazareth Mitrou-Long and explosive shooting guard Deonte Burton. All three players have earned All-Big 12 honors this season and are all peaking at the right time, as they have won nine of their last 10 games and won the Big 12 Tournament over 11th-ranked West Virginia. If Nevada is to hang with Iowa State, it needs to mitigate the impact from its three stars.
“We understand that Iowa State can really, really shoot the basketball and they do a great job of sharing the ball and it’s almost like the ball has eyes for them,” said Coach Eric Musselman. “And so we’re going to just do what we’ve always done all year, and we’ll designate who we feel their top 3-point shooters are and try not to give up too much air space to those guys and contest the high hand.”
Lindsey Drew should get the assignment on Morris, as he is Nevada’s best perimeter defender. Look for Musselman to throw multiple looks at Burton and Mitrou-Long with a combination of Jordan Caroline, D.J. Fenner and Josh Hall.
2. Win the rebounding margin
In several of their games this season, the Wolf Pack has been the undersized team. Iowa State starts a four-guard lineup with their tallest forward, Solomon Young, standing at 6’8″. Young, who grew up in Sacramento, has a history of playing high school basketball against Nevada’s Cameron Oliver. This season, the Cyclones are 10-0 when they have won the rebounding margin. Burton, the Cyclones’ top rebounder, will have Caroline breathing down his neck the entire time on the floor. Nevada needs to limit the Cyclones’ extra possessions, as they are one of the least turnover-prone teams in the nation. By winning a few extra possessions on the offensive glass, the Wolf Pack will be able to create more scoring opportunities for their explosive offense.
3. Engage Cameron Oliver
It’s no question at this point in the season that Oliver is the key that makes this Wolf Pack train go. While Marcus Marshall and D.J. Fenner’s scoring are also important, Oliver’s impact on both ends of the floor has the potential to change the flow of the game. There are very few people that can guard Oliver when he gets to his spots, especially if both he and Marshall orchestrate the pick-and-roll to perfection.
“The ball screen with Oliver is going to be a key to the game tomorrow and how to utilize him and him going inside-out,” said Iowa State Coach Steve Prohm. “He’s the toughness and glue to their team. Oliver is a tough matchup. He’s one of the couple major keys.”
More importantly, his defensive rebounding and shot-blocking ability can deter opposing offenses from their typical scoring opportunities. Oliver is the heart and soul of this team and if the Wolf Pack will pull the upset, it needs to ride its star.
The Wolf Pack will have to play a near perfect game tonight if they are to beat the Cyclones, who are playing their best basketball of the season. Part of the mystique of the upset is that a vast majority of people choose the favorite to win the matchup. Tonight’s game is unique in that a lot of pundits have Nevada making a run deep into the tournament. With both teams perceiving themselves as the underdog, it’ll bring out the best effort in both squads.
“The 5/12 line is always a line where they say that’s where the upsets happen,” Morris said. “Totally we got to stay focused. We know we’re in Milwaukee, but the guys are locked in that’s from here and just ready to play good for their homecoming.”