The Nevada basketball team beat Bowling Green, 77-62, on Monday night to capture the Paradise Jam World Championship and improve to 5-3 on the season. Here are three takeaways from the game.
1. Absolute domination
The fact Nevada won the Paradise Jam is not a shock. It was essentially the No. 2 seed in the tournament behind Cincinnati. The way the Wolf Pack won the tournament was a little surprising. It wasn't even tested. The Wolf Pack was like a varsity team against a bunch of JV squads. In its three games, the Wolf Pack trailed for just 41 seconds. Nevada did not trail in the first two games and was behind for 41 seconds against Bowling Green when the Falcons scored the game's first two points. Jalen Harris nailed a 3-pointer 41 seconds later, and Nevada never trailed again. The Wolf Pack wasn't a huge favorite in any of the games, but it overwhelmed its competition. Now, the opponents were not high-level teams. Fordham, Valparaiso and Bowling Green rank 178, 191 and 104, respectively, in KenPom, and Bowling Green was without its top player who suffered a hamstring injury in the Falcons' semifinal. Still, the Wolf Pack won its three games by a combined 54 points, although Nevada could have won every game by 25-plus if it didn't put in subs late. Coach Steve Alford became the first coach to win two Paradise Jam championships. He led New Mexico to the title in 2012, beating No. 23 UConn in the title game. And Nevada bounced back nicely from a 20-point loss at Davidson to start its road trip.
2. Holy 3-pointers, Batman!
The reason for Nevada's dominance? The 3-point line (and defense, more on that later). The Wolf Pack made at least 10 3-pointers in all three of its games. Overall, the Wolf Pack sank 36-of-81 threes, good for 44.4 percent. Nevada held its opponents to 15-of-64 shooting from three, good for 23.4 percent. The Wolf Pack's final two foes made just 5-of-40 threes (12.5 percent). Nevada out-scored its opponents by 63 points from beyond the arc. That's an average of a 21-point advantage per game. Tournament MVP Jalen Harris made 9-of-20 threes. All-tournament team honoree Jazz Johnson sank 14-of-25 threes, an astounding 56 percent. He leads the nation with 32 made threes. And Nisre Zouzoua chipped in 7-of-15 threes. If those three are shooting like that, Nevada will be exceptionally difficult to beat. Alford has raved about his team's shooting ability entering the season, and it showed this week. He's given his team the green light to shoot from deep, asking Johnson to take at least 10 threes per game and saying he's fine with 30 3-point attempts per game as a team as long as they're good looks. With Nevada shooting 37.6 percent from three this season, it's easy to see why he's so confident in his guys. Nevada was shooting only 33.3 percent from three entering the Paradise Jam, so we'll see if Nevada is able to sustain that hot shooting (anything above 38 percent is great).
3. And now they rest
After playing three games in four days, Nevada gets its longest break of the season. The Wolf Pack gets eight days off before hosting Santa Clara on Dec. 4. That's followed by the Mountain West opener Dec. 7 at Air Force, which is unusual but a result of the conference tournament being moved up a week due to a major convention in Las Vegas. Nevada then plays three more non-conference games (against BYU, Texas Southern and Saint Mary's) before moving into MW play full-time. The Wolf Pack is 5-3 and has two non-conference games it will be heavily favored to win (Santa Clara and Texas Southern) and two games in which it will be an underdog (BYU and Saint Mary's). If Nevada splits those two, it will go 7-5 in non-conference play, which is OK, but an upset of BYU or Saint Mary's and taking care of Santa Clara and Texas Southern would put the Wolf Pack at a much better looking 8-4. Nevada played its best basketball at the Paradise Jam, so it will be interesting to see if that high level of play carries over after more than a week off. Overlooked at the Paradise Jam was Nevada's defense. The Wolf Pack held each of its Paradise Jam opponents below 38 percent shooting. Overall, those teams made 63-of-174 shots (just 36.2 percent). Teams shot 43.9 percent against Nevada in its first five games, so the defensive improvement was as outstanding as the 3-point shooting in the Virgin Islands.