Nevada, Texas meet in game of contrasting styles

Contrasting styles and differing production from the regular season will be part of the appeal when Nevada and Texas square off in an NCAA Tournament South Region contest Friday afternoon at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.

One team, the seventh-seeded Wolfpack, is great on offense, small on size, loves an up-tempo attack, possesses experience in the Big Dance and is a proven success on the road.

The other, 10th-seeded Texas, has one of the country’s best (and tallest) frontcourts, plays at a more deliberate pace, has only one player with NCAA Tournament experience and has fewer road wins this season than all but two of the 68 squads in this event.

Given the differences, this game will likely come down to a battle of wills.

The Wolf Pack (27-7) ripped through their Mountain West Conference schedule, going 15-3 in league play en route to their at-large bid. Nevada was forced into the at-large waiting game by a 90-73 loss to eventual MWC tournament champion San Diego State in the league tournament.

The seventh seed is tied for the best Nevada has received in its eight NCAA Tournament appearances. Only five mid-major teams received an at-large berth this season as the field appeared skewed toward the power conferences, but Nevada’s resume was strong enough to get the third-best seed among the mid-majors at-large teams.

The Wolf Pack’s aggressive scheduling and nation-leading 12 road victories were recognized and rewarded by the NCAA Tournament Committee.

“It’s a little bit different than last year,” Nevada coach Eric Musselman said. “When you win the automatic berth, you know you’re in and just sitting there. Obviously, there are a lot of quality teams that aren’t in this tournament, teams that have had unbelievable years, power conference teams. I couldn’t be prouder of our team. The selection committee gave us a lot of respect as a seven seed. We’re excited.”

The Wolf Pack played six teams this season that made the NCAA Tournament field, including Texas Tech and TCU as well as San Diego State, Rhode Island, Davidson and Radford. Nevada went 4-4 against those teams.

Nevada forward Caleb Martin, who said his team has a lot of confidence and would need it to beat Texas, was asked what advice he’d give to people filling out their South Region bracket.

“Bet on us,” Martin said. “I’m sure every other team is saying the same thing. We’re in a good position and in a good bracket. If we just go there and do what we know we can do and play the style that we know we can, we’ll be in good shape.”

Texas (19-14) struggled in the loaded Big 12 Conference (which sent seven of its 10 teams into the NCAA Tournament and two more into the NIT), going 8-10 in league play although it played the nation’s third-hardest schedule. Only three NCAA Tournament teams won fewer than 19 games.

“It’s a fresh start for everyone — all 68 teams,” Texas third-year coach Shaka Smart said. “Most of us have been there before where it’s not so much about your seed or where you’re going to play, it’s just about the opportunity. You know you’re going to play a great team. There are no teams this time of the year that are not great teams.

“Nevada has had a great season. We just have to be the best version of us and be aggressive in everything that we do.”

Texas missed the NCAAs last season and lost its first game in 2016 in Smart’s first year at the helm. As hard as it is to fathom, the Longhorns haven’t posted a win in an NCAA Tournament game since 2014.

This marks the 18th appearance in the last 20 seasons and 34th all-time appearance by the Longhorns in the NCAA Tournament. Texas is one of eight schools to appear in at least 18 of the last 20 NCAAs.

Texas boasts 6-foot-11 center Mohamed Bamba, the Big 12’s leading rebounder and shot blocker and a projected top-five pick in this year’s draft. Bamba missed four of Texas’ final five games with a toe injury but said Sunday that he’s “100 percent.”

The Longhorns’ leading scorer is 6-9 Dylan Osetkowski, but he’s been up and down through the second half of the season.

Texas will be without guard Andrew Jones, who was diagnosed with leukemia earlier this season and is out indefinitely, and guard Eric Davis, who has been suspended the last five games amid allegations he accepted a loan from an agent.

The Longhorns were last in the Big 12 in scoring (71.7 points per game, ranking No. 237 nationally) and 3-point shooting percentage (31.5, ranking No. 331 among the 351 teams). Yet Texas averages nearly 23 3-point attempts per game.

“Nevada does a great job of defending the 3-point-line,” Smart said. “So we probably do need to make a conscious effort to get the ball inside more, get to the rim and to the foul line.”