One or two mid-majors seem to make noise every year in the NCAA tournament. Nevada and Creighton both hope to be one of those teams this season.
Nevada looks to shake off a loss in its most recent game Friday night when it faces Creighton in a South Regional first-round matchup at New Orleans.
While teams from power conferences like the Big Ten, Big East and SEC receive most of the notoriety, schools from leagues such as the WAC and Missouri Valley Conference are often the ones pulling early-round upsets.
Playing against each other in this game, seventh-seeded Nevada (28-4) or 10th-seeded Creighton (22-10) will have to wait until the next round for a chance at an upset. The winner is likely to next face second-seeded Memphis, provided the Tigers get past North Texas.
Creighton is in the tournament for the seventh time since 1999, compiling a 2-6 mark during that span. The Bluejays have first-round wins over Louisville in 1999 and Florida in 2002.
“Making it to the tournament isn’t good enough anymore around here,” Creighton senior center Anthony Tolliver said. “Just making it is an accomplishment, but we need to do something else. We need to make some noise and differentiate ourselves from the past teams.”
This is the fourth straight trip to the NCAA tournament for Nevada, which lost in the second round in 2005 after advancing to the regional semifinals in 2004. The Wolf Pack were upset by 12th-seeded Montana last season.
Nevada forward Nick Fazekas, the three-time WAC player of the year, said the sting of the Montana loss lingers and he thinks it could motivate his team against Creighton.
“It’s a fragile experience and you have to make the most of it because it’s one-and-done,” he said. “There’s definitely some good teams in that bracket and there will be no cake walks. I’ve seen Creighton on TV, and they’re a tough-nosed team that knows how to win.”
Nevada cruised through the conference portion of its schedule, winning the WAC regular-season title outright for the third straight season. The Wolf Pack, though, suffered a surprising 79-77 loss to Utah State in the second round of the conference tournament.
Whatever success Nevada has in this tournament will rest mainly on Fazekas, who capped a stellar collegiate career by averaging 20.5 points and a conference-best 11.3 rebounds this season. Fazekas and Texas’ Kevin Durant are the only two players in this tournament averaging at least 20 points and 10 rebounds.
As important as Fazekas is to Nevada, having a healthy Kyle Shiloh, the team’s top defensive player, is also key. Shiloh sat out the Utah State game with a strained hamstring but is expected to see action Friday.
“I’m definitely excited to get back on the court,” said Shiloh, a senior guard averaging 9.6 points. “I hope to be 100 percent by Friday.”
Creighton enters this tournament on a roll after winning the MVC tournament with victories over Indiana State, Missouri State and then-11th-ranked Southern Illinois.
“We need to come out like we did in St. Louis, focused and determined and willing to do whatever it takes to win,” senior guard Nick Porter said. “We come out with that will to win, we can play with anybody in the country.”
The Bluejays are led by MVC player of the year runner-up Nate Funk, who averages a league-best 17.6 points and tops the club with 97 assists and 39 steals.
Tolliver adds 13.4 points, 6.7 rebounds and a team-high 1.8 blocks per game.
These teams have split six all-time meetings, but Nevada has won the last three, most recently a 61-58 victory on Dec. 19, 1995 in Hawaii.