Nevada Wolf Pack basketball makes first postseason appearance in four years, hosts Montana in CBI first round Wednesday
CBI First Round
Nevada (19-13) vs. Montana (21-11)
Wednesday, 7 p.m. at Lawlor Events Center
Radio: 94.5 FM
Playing in the College Basketball Invitational was not one of the Nevada Wolf Pack’s goals this season.
“The NCAA tournament is want you want to play in,” senior Tyron Criswell said. “It’s tough for our young guys to take a tournament like this (CBI) seriously because they have more years left to get to the NCAA. That’s where they want to go.”
The Wolf Pack’s main goals this year, like every Div. I team, were to win the conference regular season title, win the conference tournament and go to the NCAA tournament. The Pack, 19-13 overall, didn’t accomplish any of those goals, finishing tied for fourth in the Mountain West at 10-8 and losing in the semifinals of the conference tournament to San Diego State, 67-55, last Friday night, March 11.
That’s why the Pack will host the Montana Grizzlies (21-11) on Wednesday night, March 16, at 7 p.m. inside Lawlor Events Center in a first-round CBI matchup.
“There’s obviously some disappointment right now after the Mountain West tournament because our guys really believed they could win that thing,” Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman said. “We had a practice (on Sunday night) and I could sense our guys still had a little hangover from the San Diego State game. That loss really stings for our guys.”
The CBI’s 16-team field includes three teams (Western Carolina, Seattle and UNC-Greensboro) with losing records and another at .500 (Duquesne). Just one team (Ohio at No. 82) has a Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) of under 100. There are also no teams from a Power 5 Conference.
Just six of the CBI teams (Siena, Ohio, Albany, Vermont, Idaho and Montana) have won as many as 20 games. Musselman, though, didn’t hesitate to accept the CBI’s invitation on Sunday night, March 13.
“Coach (Musselman) asked us, ‘Guys, do you want to play in this thing?,’” Criswell said. “‘We can win it.’ We all agreed that we wanted to keep playing.”
The Wolf Pack will need to win five games over the next three weeks to win the CBI. A win on Wednesday will earn the Pack a game on March 21 against the winner between Pepperdine (18-13) and Eastern Washington (17-15).
The CBI semifinals will be March 23 followed by a best two-out-of-three championship round on March 28, 30 and April 1 (if necessary).
Five more victories will give the Pack the seventh most victories (24) in one season in school history behind 2006-07 (29-5), 1945-46 (28-5), 2011-12 (28-7), 2005-06 (27-6), 2004-05 (25-7) and 2003-04 (25-9). A win on Wednesday will give the Pack its 10th season of 20 or more victories.
“We want to get to 20,” Musselman said. “But we can’t overlook this team (Montana) at all. I know they are going to come down here thinking they can win this game.”
Montana came down to Reno last week thinking it was going to win the Big Sky Conference tournament at the Reno Events Center. The Grizzlies, which finished second in the Big Sky regular season at 14-4, ended up losing to Weber State 62-59 in the Big Sky title game last Saturday, March 12.
The Grizzlies and Wolf Pack used to be fierce Big Sky rivals from 1979 through 1992. Montana holds a 22-18 edge in the series, including an 87-79 win over the Pack in the 2006 NCAA tournament.
The Grizzlies are led by 6-foot-8 center Martin Breunig. The senior from Germany, who played his freshmen year at Washington in 2012-13, is averaging 18.9 points and 9.1 rebounds a game. He is also coming off three games in the Big Sky tournament where he averaged 22 points per contest.
The last time the Wolf Pack played in a postseason national tournament was 2011-12 when it won two games in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT).
“I definitely want to go out a winner,” Criswell said.
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