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Why Nevada basketball got the last spot in this year's NCAA Tournament

The Nevada basketball team preps to play UNLV during its regular-season finale. (Mike Stefansson/NSN)
The Nevada basketball team preps to play UNLV during its regular-season finale. (Mike Stefansson/NSN)
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Thirty-six teams get NCAA Tournament at-large invitations. Nevada got the 36th and final one of those spots Sunday.

The margin for error was non-existent, but the Wolf Pack will play in its 10th NCAA Tournament in school history and first since 2019.

While most mock brackets — 77 of the 105 tracked by — had Nevada on the outside looking in as Selection Sunday started, the only panel that matters, the NCAA Tournament selection committee, had the Wolf Pack in. Why?

There were a few reasons, but the two biggest were Nevada's advanced metrics — 37th in NET; 43rd in KenPom — and its 4-5 record in Quad 1 games. Every team in the top 37 of NET made the field, the Wolf Pack being the delineation point. The highest-rated NET team not to make the tournament was North Texas, which was one spot behind Nevada at 38th. Only three teams higher than Nevada in KenPom failed to make the field, including Rutgers (No. 35), Oklahoma State (No. 38) and Oregon (No. 41), which beat the Wolf Pack by 13 points at home in non-conference play.

Oklahoma State and Rutgers were the first two teams outside the field followed by North Carolina and Clemson. NCAA Tournament selection committee chair Chris Reynolds was on CBS asked after the bracket was unveiled why Oklahoma State, which went 18-15 overall and 8-10 in the rugged Big 12, didn't make the field over Nevada.

“They had 18 opportunities in the Quad 1 and they won only six games,” Reynolds said. “They had opportunities in the non-conference schedule to win some games and enhance their résumé and they fell short.”

Added CBS analyst Seth Davis on the final selections: “I had Rutgers in the field, but they had four Quad 3 losses so that’s why they were out. Oklahoma State is the one team that got victimized the most by being in the Big 12. They have a lot of Quad 1 wins but too many losses there.”

The committee favored Nevada's 4-5 record in Quad 1 games over Oklahoma State's 6-12. The Cowboys went 4-2 in Quad 2 games to Nevada's 3-3. Rutgers went 4-7 in Quad 1 games and 6-3 in Quad 2 contests. The committee also appeared to put heavy value in NET and KenPom metrics but not ESPN's Basketball Power Index, which rated Rutgers 26, Oklahoma State 33 and Nevada 71.

BPI historically is lower on Mountain West schools than KenPom and NET, and accurately so if you look at the conference's recent NCAA Tournament history.

The MW is 1-11 in its last 12 first-round/First Four games. It has won just two of its last 15 NCAA Tournament games overall. And since it went to its current conference membership in 2013, the MW is 5-17 in the Big Dance. The committee is generally agnostic on conference affiliation, but it can't completely be so. And it looked past the MW's unfavorable showing over the last decade of NCAA tournaments, including an 0-4 record last season.

The selection committee gave the MW credit for finishing fifth in conference NET by rewarding the league with four tournament spots, including three of the five at-large berths awarded to mid-major teams. And that point should be underscored.

If the selection committee went with a high-loss team like Oklahoma State or Rutgers, it would have been open to criticism of rewarding mediocre power-conference teams over mid-majors. Had it put Oklahoma State or Rutgers in the field, the tournament bracket would have included just four mid-major at-large teams out of 36 spots (Houston, Saint Mary's, Boise State, Utah State). It probably didn't want to look biased in favor of power conferences, although Kansas State head coach Jerome Tang stumped for the Cowboys over the Wolf Pack.

“No offense to Nevada but we played both, and Oklahoma State is the much better team," Tang said on CBS Sports Network after the bracket reveal (the Wildcats beat Nevada by nine points in overtime on a neutral court and swept a home-and-home series with Oklahoma State by margins of five and eight points).

Of course, Nevada head coach Steve Alford, who has now led five schools into the NCAA Tournament and has had stops in the Big Ten and Pac-12, had a different point of view.

"I'm so appreciative of the committee giving our league the respect that I think our league deserves," Alford said. "This is my 10th year in this league, and top to bottom it's been the hardest, best league of those 10 years. For us to get four teams in, I think is huge."

And make no mistake Nevada is in the NCAA Tournament because of what it did in MW play because the non-conference results would not merit a spot in the field. Yes, the Wolf Pack went 10-3 in non-league, but it was 0-2 in Quad 1 games and 1-1 in Quad 2 games out of conference. Almost all of its résumé was built against MW teams, and that's true for most of the conference, which won just three Quad 1 games out of league (two over Saint Mary's and one over Texas A&M). The MW's four NCAA Tournament teams were 1-5 in Quad 1 non-conference games with those teams having more Quad 3 losses (two) and Quad 4 losses (two) out of league than Quad 1 wins (one).

Whether the MW got correct credit for its NET numbers or has been overrated like last year will be determined during this week's first slate of games at the NCAA Tournament. But Nevada, coming off three straight losses, earned the faith of the committee and now gets the chance to show it belongs in the field when it faces Arizona State (22-12, 11-9 Pac-12) on Wednesday in a First Four game before a potential matchup with No. 6 seed TCU (21-12, 9-9 Big 12) on Friday in Denver if it beats the Sun Devils.

"I would say it's not very fun to be on to be on the bubble," said Nevada guard Jarod Lucas, who reached the Elite Eight while at Oregon State in 2021. "I mean, maybe for a little bit. Obviously getting your name called, it's big time and you kind of get that that weight off your shoulder. But it's special. ... This is a special opportunity. As a college basketball player, you always look forward to playing in March Madness and it's always a goal, so it's good to be back."

Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.

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