For Nevada, good things come in missed 3's
So, if we told you a team was 325th out of 326 Division I teams with 2.7 made 3-point field goals per game (a total of only 87 3s all season) while shooting 27 percent overall from behind the arc, what would you think?
Would you believe, for one second, that this team won its conference (by two games) in a highly competitive league and won a first-round NCAA Tournament game last season?
Well, it happened ... and if you guessed it was Nevada -- which won the WAC and then beat Texas in the first round -- you know more about the Wolf Pack than most in the country.
Consider that Fresno State sophomore Ja'Vance Coleman, who plays in the same conference as Nevada, made 82 3s in 30 games, 2.7 a game, by himself. Or, nationally, that Saint Joseph's senior Pat Carroll made 135 3s in 35 games (almost four per contest).
Did it matter that only two Wolf Pack players shot better than 30 percent from 3-point range, one of whom was leading scorer Nick Fazekas, who came in at a second-best 32.7 percent?
"I wouldn't say it was our Achilles' [heel], because we got accomplished what we wanted by winning. We got tired, exhausted, in the WAC tournament [losing to Boise State], beat Texas, and then lost to Illinois, the national runner-up," said Fazekas, a junior. "We got there without much 3-point shooting."
"We were a great defensive and great rebounding team," Nevada coach Mark Fox said, "and we had guys inside who could score. We realized last January that we were last in the nation in 3-point shooting. But we won the WAC and won an NCAA Tournament game."
But can a team really have continued success while shooting so poorly on 3s?
"Not likely," 3-point guru and Louisville coach Rick Pitino said.
When told that Nevada indeed had thrived with that formula, Pitino said, "Look at how they defended the 3-pointer. If they defended it well, then it might not have been as much a negative for them. There are exceptions to the norm."
In fact, Nevada did defend the 3 well, limiting teams to just 30.5 percent from the arc on the way to a stingy 61.7 points allowed a game. The Wolf Pack also outrebounded teams by seven a game.
Still, the Wolf Pack can't expect their defense, rebounding and overall offensive flow to be the same without making a few more 3s this season. Nevada is being considered for the preseason Top 25 and could repeat as WAC champ and possibly get to the NCAA's second round again (or beyond).
Fox knew he had to change the personnel around the perimeter. He didn't have to look far for his first pickup, redshirt sophomore Marcelus Kemp.
Kemp sat out last season after tearing his ACL in August 2004. As a freshman, Kemp was fourth on the team in 3s (21) and shot 34.4 percent. He was 4-of-5 on 3s in the Preseason NIT second-round game at Connecticut that season.
Kemp got needed minutes and reps (scoring in double figures in four of the five games) during Nevada's spring trip to Italy.
The other addition is junior college transfer Denis Ikovlev.
"Those two guys will help us shoot better," Fox said.
But if the Wolf Pack are to become more versatile offensively and less predictable, it might come down to Fazekas as much as anyone else.
Fazekas made the USA Basketball U-21 roster in July because he could make shots. The coaching staff figured the 6-11 Fazekas was perfect for the international game due to his ability to stretch the defense out to the 3-point line, but it didn't exactly work out that way.
Fazekas was 2-of-10 on 3s in the seven games he played (he didn't play in the quarterfinal loss to Canada because he was ill).
"He's one of the players who needs to be the guy, instead of a guy," said USA Basketball coach Phil Martelli of Saint Joseph's. "He needs long minutes and lots of touches. He was a wonderful kid, but his numbers would have been much different if he played a lot more -- just like it would have been for J.J. Redick, too."
Martelli was referring to Fazekas' 13.4 minutes per game for the U-21s, although he did maximize his time by averaging seven points a game. Redick played 19.6 minutes per game and averaged a modest (for him) 10.8 points a game.
"Nick does a little bit of everything, not just one thing," Martelli said.
"He didn't get many touches and that's OK," Fox said. "He understands how to play and understands the experience. He's a unique player who has to be in the right system, one where he's going to get a lot of touches in a lot of different places around the court. One thing he did do on that team was rebound [a team-best 6.6 a game]."
Fazekas' frontcourt mate from last season, Kevinn Pinkney, has graduated. Replacing Pinkney's board work (7.7 per game) and scoring (12.5 ppg) will put more pressure on Fazekas (20.7 ppg, 9.4 rpg) -- heat that he welcomes.
"I've been doing a lot of shooting," Fazekas said of his work on his 3-point shot. "Denis [Ikovlev] has been, and we're moving Ramon [Sessions] out there, too. He can shoot from 17 feet, so we're moving him back another few feet."
Nevada returns three of five starters, and the comeback of Kemp essentially gives them a fourth. Once they find a fifth, the squad will be set to make another run. If Nevada can shoot a little better, returning to the Sweet 16 again isn't a total reach.
"[Former Nevada star] Kirk [Snyder] passed the torch on to me after my freshman year when we went to the Sweet 16," Fazekas said. "I'm a junior now, and we made the NCAAs last year and people are talking about us this year.
"I'll be the focus, for sure," Fazekas said. "Coach Fox is going to put the ball in my hands and expect me to be the leader and get us back to the tournament."
Fazekas said he expects this to be a tournament team. Fox doesn't want to get into any predictions, but it's clear he would be disappointed if the Wolf Pack flopped and didn't edge out Utah State, Hawaii, Boise State, Louisiana Tech and others for the WAC title.
The Wolf Pack were thin numbers-wise last season, and that's why they played slow. Fox expects that to change with more depth. But he also knows making 3s will help speed up the game even more for his squad and increase its overall production, making them less reliant on the post.
Nevada also is getting close to crossing over into the mainstream, with a road game at Kansas and a John Wooden Classic date against UCLA (although this event has become less of a destination for high-major teams due to a lack of national television).
"We've got a lot of interest in our program, and the atmosphere here at home has been phenomenal," Fox said. "We've got to continue to build on that."
Making a few more 3s won't impact the love affair with the Reno community, but there's no doubt it will make this team more effective and ultimately more appealing nationally.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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