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Peak Perspective: Nevada still poised for a deep NCAA Tournament run

Despite its second loss on the season, the Wolf Pack are primed and ready for a long stay in tournament play.

NCAA Basketball: Nevada at Wyoming Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

Despite dropping to No. 12 in the AP rankings after a tough road loss to San Diego State, the Nevada Wolf Pack are still a dangerous team, one that can wreck havoc come postseason play.

Whether its via the three-point line, dismantling a zone, or simply out hustling the opposition, the Pack have faced the Mountain West’s best efforts and have responded the majority of the season. Sporting a 25-2 record through 14 hard-fought games in conference and it can make the Wolf Pack a force to be reckoned with come the Mountain West Tournament and heading into March.

Battle-Tested

It’s tough to argue that Nevada’s losses to New Mexico and SDSU were a wake-up call for the Pack. Teams are throwing the kitchen sink to get the Pack out of its comfort zone and its made them a more balanced team in the process. Following the loss to New Mexico, the Wolf Pack won 10-straight games and out-rebounded its opponent in seven of those games. At one point, Nevada became a perimeter-oriented team, but they’ve averaged just over 32 points in the paint and bullied teams inside. Moving the ball inside made the Pack even more dangerous from three-point territory, they’re shooting 38.4 percent from behind the arc since Jan. 15 versus Boise State.

“We’re prepared for whatever comes at us,” Nevada shooting guard Caleb Martin said following a 74-68 win over Fresno State Saturday. “You need to take it one game at a time because guys play with all they have. So its important to stay prepared or else it will come back at you.”

The second loss to the Aztecs did hurt the Pack in the rankings as they fell to a season-low twelfth in the nation, but they still rank 17th in BPI in ESPN’s College Basketball’s Power Index. They still dominant the Mountain West in multiple offensive and defensive categories and picked up two PAC-12 road wins over ASU and USC earlier this season.

“This stuff is really hard, just to be 25-2,” coach Eric Mussleman said. “People start writing and everyone is talking about us slipping but it’s hard to win a game every night. We’re still playing hard and that’s what I’m still happy to see.”

Fatigue, Injuries Catching Up to the Wolf Pack

After an in-state rivalry game against the UNLV Rebels Wednesday, a short two-day rest period couldn’t come soon enough for Nevada. Several members of the Wolf Pack are a bit banged up to say the least. Caleb Martin was seen hobbling on the court after taking several hard falls onto the floor Saturday. Jazz Johnson is still recovering from a shoulder injury he suffered earlier in the season. Not to mention, the Pack traveled from Laramie, Wyoming to San Diego, California without much leeway time in between.

“We got some banged up bodies for sure,” Musselman said. “During these last couple games, we have a tired group right now so we need to manage that.”

If Nevada does have some fatigued bodies, it certainly doesn’t show on the court. The Pack hustled for several loose balls and its extra effort in the waning moments helped capture a 74-68 win over the Bulldogs. That same physical play can help the Pack step on the gas pedal coming down the home stretch of the regular season.

Wolf Pack Hungry for More

The Wolf Pack rank 27th in the nation in scoring at 81.2 points per game, but it’s Nevada’s defense that has played a huge part in the season. They’ve held teams to 65.9 points per game and held opponents to sub-40 percent shooting seven times this season.

Despite its success this season, Nevada doesn’t get the credit or attention it deserves, according to Tre’Shawn Thurman. The senior forward thinks teams are labeling Nevada as "soft", and they're eager to return the favor.

“This team wants to win and send a message,” he said. “I feel we get disrespected sometimes and get called “soft”, so it’s our job to make them think differently.”

Nevada is hungry to close the season on a strong note, and they can string together another solid win-streak when it’s all said and done.

Final Thoughts

Two losses on the road shouldn’t discredit Nevada’s overall play this season. They’ve adjusted numerous times and have shown why they’re one of the top teams in the nation. The Pack can dismantle opponents in several different ways, and it makes the veteran group one of the more dangerous teams in the NCAA Tournament, two losses to UNM and SDSU can’t change that.