No. 6 Nevada aims to start fast against Akron
Sixth-ranked Nevada puts it perfect 11-0 record on the line Saturday when the Akron Zips comes to Lawlor Events Center where the Wolf Pack are 5-0 this season.
Akron might be better known for being the home of the Goodyear Blimp and not for basketball, although it is the birthplace of the two of the best players in the world (LeBron James and Stephen Curry).
The Zips under second-year head coach John Groce are 7-4 and play a stifling defense, allowing only 61.4 points per game, which ranks No. 18 in the nation.
The Zips' four losses have been by a combined margin of 12 points.
On offense, Groce's team is not bashful behind the arc. They rank 20th in 3-pointers made (10.3 per game) and 21st in 3-point field goals attempted (325).
The Zips have made significant strides after finishing 14-18 in Groce's first year.
"I don't think we're hitting on all cylinders yet," Groce said recently. "I think our room for growth is enormous."
Veteran swingmen Jimond Ivey has shouldered the load while injuries have sidelined big men LaPear Toles and Deng Riak. Ivey, who recently reached 1,000 career points, is averaging 13.0 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game.
Loren Cristian Jackson, a sophomore transfer from Long Beach State, has scored double-digits in seven of 11 games, including a career-high 26 points in a 75-74 loss to Marshall last Saturday.
The Wolf Pack will be the second nationally ranked team the Zips will play this season. Earlier Akron lost to Clemson, which has since dropped out of the Top 25.
If there is a knock on the Wolf Pack, it's their slow starts this season. Eventually, Nevada won't be able to overcome struggling out of the gate, and the Wolf Pack hope to change that narrative against the Zips.
"We realize we have to come out and play harder each and every game in the first half," senior forward Jordan Caroline told nevadasportsnet. "We've been working on it. Obviously we have to keep improving because it's been like four games in a row now. I wouldn't say we got complacent, but it's something we definitely have to improve on."
Head coach Eric Musselman takes a practical view on his team's lethargic starts, saying it's part of the game with everyone gunning to knock off a Top-10 team.
"We're not going to play perfect basketball for 40 minutes, and Duke's not going to play for 40 minutes, and they have close games all the time through 30 minutes and then the game changes at some point. We went through a stretch where we were tired, too. Not happy with how we played the whole game against South Dakota State and hopefully we play well enough to win Saturday."
On Friday, Caroline and Caleb Martin were named to the Oscar Robertson Trophy midseason watch list, two of 20 on the list to be considered for the nation's top player.
Martin is averaging 18.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. He's reached double figures in all 11 games.
Caroline is the heart and soul for the Wolf Pack. He averages a double-double, grabbing 10.1 rebounds to go along with 18.8 points per game. Three times he has earned Mountain West Player of the Week. He has scored in double figures in all 11 games this season.
Nevada might be without its best 3-point shooter, Jazz Johnson, because of a concussion.
"I think Jazz is day-to-day," Musselman said Wednesday. "We'll just keep evaluating, see where he is, both from a medical standpoint and, Where's his wind? Where's his confidence? Obviously we have a break coming up after this as well."
Johnson is averaging 12.6 points per game and shooting 58.7 percent from the field, including 55.6 percent from three.
Updated December 21, 2018