The Nevada Wolf Pack tip-off the eight-team Cayman Islands Classic against the Tulane on Monday, looking to remain undefeated after their red-hot 4-0 start. What should, we — the very best Nevada Basketball experts/prognosticators (O.K., maybe not the very best) — look out for throughout the three-day tournament? Here are three things I detailed below!
1. Neutral-site tournaments = A new flavor of competition?
Yes! Let’s look at the field!
- LSU (No. 47 in KenPom)
- Tulane (64)
- Kansas State (66)
- Western Kentucky (95)
- Nevada (100)
- Akron (127)
- Rhode Island (173)
- Illinois State (256)
That’s stiff competition.
Over Nevada’s first three games, it will face Tulane and one of Kansas State/Rhode Island — so it has a chance to square off with two top-100 opponents in two games. The Wolf Pack have gone up against two teams ranked outside the top-250 — Utah Tech (255) and UT Arlington (277), who were projected to be two of the three worst teams in the WAC — according to KenPom’s rankings, Grand Canyon (96; preseason WAC winner) and NAIA William Jessup. So this will offer a richer flavor of competition to get further mold this squad ahead of Mountain West play.
All but two of the other seven teams (Rhode Island, Illinois State) have top-130 offenses, spearheaded by Tulane, who has the 48th-best adjusted offense with the 25th-best effective field goal percentage, 11th-best turnover rate and the 15th-best 2-point percentage. Nevada has yet to face a top-130 offense; Grand Canyon, who Nevada held to 46 points, ranks No. 140 (in-part because of its performance in Reno!). The Wolf Pack are **checks notes** leading the nation in opponents effective field goal percentage (.331), 2-point percentage allowed (.323) and are third in block percentage (20.2). Those marks are unsustainable, but impressive nonetheless!
It’s going to be put to the test right away against formidable foes. Let’s see how they hold up!
2. Can Nevada’s shooting progress (positively regress) to mean?
One of the biggest goals heading into the season was to improve the outside shooting, which fell off a cliff last season after it was the conference’s third-best 3-point shooting team in 2020-21.
It hasn’t exactly corrected itself, yet.
In three games against Division-I opponents this season, Nevada’s shooting an abysmal 26.7 percent from 3-point range on 20.0 attempts per game. Jarod Lucas, it’s top high-volume 3-point shooter hasn’t gotten going yet, neither has Kenan Blackshear — despite an improved repertoire — Nick Davidson or Tre Coleman, among others. While it’s not a premier shot creation squad, Nevada’s had its fair share of open looks that it simply hasn’t been able to knock down.
Will that change in the Cayman Islands? Only time will tell. But that’s something I’m definitely looking out for as the season transpires. Defense can travel. Shooting? It’s not all that easy sometimes.
3. How will fatigue play a factor?
Since he’s been at Nevada, Steve Alford’s squads have usually fared well in these neutral-site regular season tournaments/round robins.
In 2019-20, Nevada began the season 4-3, but then won the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands, beating Fordham by 14, Valparaiso by 25 and Bowling Green by 15. In 2020-21, Nevada beat both North Dakota State (by 14) and Nebraska (by 3) in the Golden Window Classic while winning two of its three outings — against George Mason (by 19) and Washington (by 19) — in the Crossover Classic last year.
However, as I’ve depicted before, this is perhaps Alford’s youngest squad yet. They are his first 4-0 team since joining Nevada, but this tournament’s competition is stiffer (as specified above) than what it’s faced so far.
In the end, every team will be playing in similar conditions — no homecourt advantage to rely upon with the same number of games (3) in the same number of days (3). In the end, basketball is the game of runs and Nevada will have to manufacture its own energy on both sides of the rock. That means winning every 50-50 loose balls, contesting every shot, defending without fouling, securing every (short and long) rebound, generating points in bunches at the free-throw line, shooting proficiently from deep, taking care of the ball, so on and so forth. There’s going to be tired legs. There’s going to be hiccups. By nature, every team is there to win (duh!) and nothing will come easy.
Each team and player should have a good time, and not everything will be at stake, but it’s still a stage where you don’t want to lay an egg. They’re in a stretch where they’re playing seven of eight away from home — including four games in a week-long span — one they will figure out a lot about themselves (Alford’s words, not mine).
Its opening game will tip-off at 2 p.m. PST on FloSports!