Unbeaten Nevada Wolf Pack hosts Illinois State
One thing has been constant in Nevada’s 6-0 start this season — defense.
Heading into today’s home game against Illinois State (7 p.m., Lawlor Events Center), the Pack has played the best defense in Eric Musselman’s two-plus years on the job.
Nevada is allowing just 67.3 points a game and is holding teams to 40.7 percent shooting from the field, including a 31.8 mark from beyond the 3-point arc. And, the Pack is forcing nearly 14 turnovers a game. Not bad for a team without a true rim protector.
“This is the most competitive we’ve been in three years,” Musselman told reporters Monday afternoon. “The first year we defended out of desperation because we had zero chance to win unless we defended at a high level. Our guys every night, whether we were home or on the road, had to defend at a high level or not win. Last year we had some offensive weapons, and some nights we defended well and other nights we didn’t. We have a different mentality. Whoever you’re assigned, you try to shut them down.
“For instance, Josh Hall and Lindsey Drew were our best defenders. The last two years we depended on Lindsey to cover the best perimeter player. Now we have a player (Cody Martin) who we can put on the best player regardless of positions. At Hawaii, he was guarding (6-7 Mike) Thomas, and against Idaho he was covering their best guard.”
Nevada’s defensive performance is no surprise to NC State transfer Caleb Martin.
“I’m not surprised,” Caleb Martin said. “We’re long (as a team) and run well. We don’t have any guys that are slow and can’t move.”
Musselman said Cody Martin is the best defender he’s seen in a long time, and he’s not surprised by his performance thus far.
“He is the best defender I’ve seen live in six years,” Musselman said. “He is certainly the best defender we’ve had here. He can guard so many positions.”
Being a defensive stopper is a role Cody Martin relishes. Though he’s averaging double figures, points are secondary to the Pack junior. He thrives on facilitating and defending.
“I took the role (at NC State),” Cody Martin said. “I enjoy playing defense. It’s something I enjoyed. We watch a lot of film. Our coaches do a good job of getting us prepared, so we know everything about our opponents. We are always prepared.”
And, the Pack’s defense will be tested against the Redbirds, according to Musselman. Keyshawn Evans (23.4), Phil Fayne (16.8) and Milik Yarbrough (10.8) are the key offensive weapons.
“They are one of the best mid-majors (in the country),” Musselman said. “They are a real quality opponent, no different than Rhode Island and Davidson. They beat South Carolina, a Final 4 team from last year, this year.
“I don’t think you ever stop a star player. They have three star players. Evans is the first one that jumps out at you. Fayne gets a lot of tip dunks and they throw a lot of lobs to him. Yarbrough gets a lot of free-throw attempts.”
The Redbirds average 75 a game and give up 72 a contest.
Part of Nevada’s 6-0 start, the best since the 2006-07 season, is the Pack’s performance on the road. Nevada is 3-0 this year, and has won 11 of 15 true road games.
“We are a tough-minded group and focused,” Musselman said. “Obviously we’re not afraid to play road games. The game in Hawaii was high risk and little reward because it was just one win.”
Part of the reason for going to Hawaii is because under NCAA rules, the Pack picked up an extra game, which Musselman felt was vital with so many new players on the roster this season.