The Nevada men's basketball team dropped a 85-70 decision to Boise State on Wednesday night at Lawlor Events Center to fall to 7-6 overall and 1-1 in the Mountain West. Here are three takeaways from Nevada's loss to the Broncos.
1. Nevada can't beat good teams
Nevada is 100th in Ken Pomeroy's rankings, the preferred advanced metrics of many college basketball enthusiasts. Here are the KenPom rankings of the Division I teams Nevada has beaten this year — 117 (Loyola Marymount), 126 (George Mason), 149 (Washington), 215 (New Mexico), 217 (Eastern Washington) and 241 (Pepperdine). Here are the KenPom rankings of the teams Nevada has lost to this year — 9 (Kansas), 36 (San Francisco), 40 (Boise State), 71 (Santa Clara), 89 (South Dakota State) and 194 (San Diego). Including the head-scratching loss to a bad San Diego team, Nevada is 7-1 against teams it ranks above (if you include Division II Minnesota Duluth) and 0-5 against teams ranked better than it. That's not too unusual, but the disturbing part when forecasting the future is Nevada has been spanked by those higher-ranked teams. Four of the five losses have come by 15 points or more. Each has been a non-competitive game outside a three-point loss at USF. The same holds true of the Boise State loss as the Broncos built a 14-point halftime lead and traded baskets in the second half, never being threatened. And with Boise State coming off an even longer COVID-19 layoff than Nevada, albeit with more pre-game practice sessions, that can't be an excuse for the 15-point home loss to a team the Wolf Pack swept last year (3-0). These performances against top-100 KenPom teams are an issue because the Mountain West has six such squads this year, including San Diego State (No. 32), Boise State (No. 40), Colorado State (No. 50), Fresno State (No. 60), Utah State (No. 63) and Wyoming (No. 88). Nevada must do better against good competition if it's going to earn a Mountain West Tournament bye (top five seeds).
2. A trend change from last year
The poor record against top-100 teams is a trend change from last season when Nevada fared well against the better competition on its schedule. In the 2020-21 season, the Wolf Pack was ranked 91st in KenPom, so similar to this year's mark. But Nevada went 4-6 last season against top-100 KenPom teams, and 6-7 if you move that mark to top-120 KenPom teams. Even in Nevada's losses to KenPom top 100s last year, the Wolf Pack was competitive, including narrow losses to No. 30 SDSU, defeats by two, five and seven points, in addition to a three-point loss to No. 46 Utah State. Nevada went 4-0 last season against teams that reached the NIT, including 3-0 against Boise State and 1-0 against Colorado State. Year-over-year comparisons in college can be silly when rosters change, but Nevada did not lose much in the offseason, the only departures being Zane Meeks, Robby Robinson and Kane Milling, three reserves. Meanwhile, Boise State lost one of the MW's best players, Derrick Alston, Jr., but has taken a step forward without him as Nevada has taken a step backward, especially against good teams, despite returning its nucleus. That's concerning, and it also tells me this is not a talent problem. Nevada has talent. These same guys beat good teams last year. Nevada might not have great depth, but it has two of the MW's best guards and two productive 7-footers. That's enough to be competitive against good MW teams. Something has been off with this team all year, but roughly this same cast of players beat top-100 teams last season. Maybe things snap together if Nevada can play games on a more consistent basis, but something is off.
"It's hard to learn something about yourself and your team in one game, but obviously we've just have to get tougher, as a team, as a whole, individually," said star guard Grant Sherfield, who tallied 26 against Boise State. "Everybody just has to take a look in the mirror and get tougher. As a whole, we have to be a tougher team. Every toughness play, every loose ball they got. Every offensive rebound, they got. Everybody on our team has to look in the mirror and get tougher so we can win these tough games."
3. No defense played
Nevada's wins and losses have largely been defined by whether it plays defense or not. In the Wolf Pack's seven wins, its opponents have made 165-of-444 shots (37.1 percent). Only one of those opponents made more than 37.5 percent of their attempts, that being Eastern Washington in the season opener. In the Wolf Pack's six losses, its opponents have made 197-of-383 shots (51.4 percent). All but one of those opponents made at least 49 percent of their attempts, the lone exception being San Francisco, which still shot 43.8 percent. Nevada was coming off a run of good defensive games, only allowing Kansas to make more than 38 percent of its shots in its last seven outings. But the Wolf Pack defense gave Boise State little resistance, and the Broncos don't have a great offense (113th in KenPom). I figured Nevada would be able to defend Boise State well. I was wrong. The Broncos made 50 percent of their shots despite having a so-so 3-point shooting night (9-of-26, 34.6 percent). Nevada isn't going to win with defensive efforts like that. Add it all up, and coach Steve Alford and the Wolf Pack players were searching for answers in trying to figure out what happened.
"Any loss is disappointing, but this one is very disappointing," said Sherfield, obviously frustrated and also uninterested in making excuses for his team. "I just feel like they were tougher than us tonight, which is just unacceptable, especially when you play against a veteran team. You know they're going to crash hard. You know they're going to play hard. We just didn't match their energy until the second half. We have to get back to the drawing board and figure out what we can do to get back to play the way we're use to playing."
Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.