“I tell ya, I get no respect. If I was a politician I would be honest.”
The year was 2004, it was March. We were at a bar in Myrtle Beach or Austin, Texas, or West Palm Beach, FL. I was there, my guess is so was Gersh, no doubt Spo, and probably Schwartzy, Emmett, EW, and Foltzy. It was March Madness and my alma mater, the University of Nevada, was on TV.
The Wolf Pack was led by 6′ 6″ Junior guard Kirk Snyder and a 6′ 11″ Freshman from Arvada, Colorado named Nick Fazekas. The team had gone 13 and 5 in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) and then won the conference tournament to earn a trip to the NCAA tournament as a 10 seed. It had been two decades since Nevada earned a birth so, for this grad, the game against #7 seed Michigan State was a big deal. It was Thursday, they were on a court in the Key Arena at Seattle Center. I was in a bar somewhere else. The Pack won by 6 to earn a date, two days later, with Midwest second seed Gonzaga. Back at the same bar, because that’s what a true fan does, 48 hours later I sat in amazement and watched Nevada not just upset the Zags but blow Gonzaga out of the gym, 91-72. It was hard to believe but the Wolf Pack, my Wolf Pack was on the way to St. Louis and the Sweet Sixteen to take on Georgia Tech. I didn’t go but I got the T-shirt.
Nevada lost by 5 but Pack fans took some consolation from the fact that Georgia Tech made it all the way to the National Championship game that year before losing to UConn. Led by Nick Fazekas, the Wolf Pack returned to the “big dance” the next three years and won first round games in both ’05 and ’07. I admit it’s not Duke (now working on their 22nd straight appearance) but it was a damn good run. Then Fazekas graduated and it took ten years for Nevada to get back.
The team that accomplished the feat is this one, a run and gun, put it up from anywhere, tour de force, that won both the Mountain West Conference regular season and the conference tournament. Despite those accomplishments neither Nevada’s coach, Eric Musselman (28-6 this year, 52-20 in two years at Nevada) or any of his talented players including Marcus Marshall, Cameron Oliver, D. J. Fenner or Jordan Caroline were worthy enough for conference coach or player of the year honors. “I tell ya, I get no respect”.
Selection Sunday rolled around and Pack fans all over the world waited to see who they’d play and where. We didn’t have to wait long. CBS front man Greg Gumbel called for the first bracket, the Midwest, “with games being played on Thursday in Tulsa and Milwaukee and Friday in Sacramento and Indianapolis. Many of us, especially those living in and around Reno, were hoping this would be the region in which Nevada would land because a first round date in the California capital city of Sacramento would result in an easy, over the Sierra, two-hour drive. We got half our wish. The Pack would indeed be one of the 16 teams trying to come out of the Midwest but they’d have to start in Milwaukee with, more than likely, only a handful of hearty hometown fans in attendance. Northern Nevada and Mountain West Conference “conspiracy theorists” were on high alert especially considering of the eight teams suiting up in Sacramento only three hailed from west of the Mississippi. One was Oregon the other two were Omaha, Nebraska based Creighton and Oklahoma State.
The next indignity, if you’re one of those looking for indignities, was the seeding. Nevada was given a 12 seed despite having won more games than all but two squads in the sixteen team bracket. Then came the kicker, the opponent. The brilliant minds on the tournament committee decided the 5 seed the Mountain West Conference regular season and tournament champion would face would be… Iowa State. A 23-10 team that had just dispatched with Oklahoma State, TCU and West Virginia on its way to winning the Big 12 Conference tournament championship for the third time in four years. “I tell ya, no respect.”
“What do you want?” you ask. Well let’s look. I would argue, as would many of my Wolf Pack brethren and “sisteren”, that a 12 seed was too low for this team. Probably better suited as a 10 seed which would have meant first round games against South Carolina, St. Mary’s, Dayton and Michigan. All, I would contend, more winnable than the Cyclones. Even if you kept Nevada a 12 seed they could have been matched up with Minnesota or Virginia in other regions. Also easier match ups than Iowa State. I will admit that as a 12 they could have also had to play Notre Dame so I guess you could say the committee threw coach Musselman a bone. “What a dog I got, his favorite bone is my arm!”
The bottom line is good teams have to beat other good teams to advance in this tournament. Nevada is a good team, a really good team if they shoot like the did in the second half of their conference tournament tilt against Fresno State or the first half in the championship game against Colorado State. Marshall, Fenner, Oliver, Caroline, Musselman and company will have their hands full against Monte Morris, Deonte Burton and the rest of the Cyclones tonight.
This time I’ll be watching from home. I have no idea what Gersh, Spo, Schwartzy, Emmett, EW and Foltzy will be doing. CBS Sports’ Seth Davis thinks Nevada can win and so do I. If they do a return to the Sweet Sixteen, and another T-shirt is not out of the question. Neither is earning a little respect.