RENO — Minutes after the University of Nevada, Reno clinched its first berth in the NCAA Tournament in a decade, Coach Eric Musselman had a message for his team.
“We are not going to the dance to just go there. We are not going there just to have fun and say we participated in it,” Musselman told his players.
“I’ve been to two of them as a player and two of them as an assistant coach. Haven’t won. We are going to win a game and then see what happens,” he said, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal .
— NevadaWolfPackTV (@WolfPack_TV) March 14, 2017
UNR (28-6) defeated Colorado State 79-71 in the Mountain West Conference championship on Saturday to win the league’s automatic invitation to the NCAA Tournament and a date Thursday night with No. 17 Iowa State (23-10) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Musselman said he wants to be sure his team is in a better frame of mind than the University of San Diego was when he played for the Toreros in two national tourneys three decades ago but lost in the first round both times: by nine points to Princeton in 1984 and by one point in to Auburn in 1987.
“The reason I brought that up to the team is I know when I played at San Diego the two years we were there and made the tournament we were just kind of happy to be there,” said Musselman, the former NBA coach of the Warriors and the Kings who is 0-4 in the NCAA tourney as a player and coach.
“You’ve got to have the approach to go in there and compete like it’s the last game of the year. If you don’t win, you’re coming home and the offseason starts. We understand when people fill out their brackets and stuff that Iowa State is a higher-seeded team,” he said.
Although the Cyclones are a 6-point favorite, the contest features one of those No. 5 vs. No. 12 matchups that often deliver upsets. At least one 12th seed has beaten a fifth seed in 15 of the last 16 tournaments. (UNR lost to Montana as a No. 5 seed in 2006).
In the last five seasons, five and 12 seeds have split 20 games, with each side winning 10 of those matchups. And since 1985, No. 12 seeds have won 36 percent of the first-round games.
Iowa State coach Steve Prohm knows the drill.
“I think everybody is picking them and not just picking them against us but picking them to make a great run,” Prohm said. “That’s fine. Our team, we haven’t gotten a lot of attention all season long to be honest. But with the guys that we have and myself, that probably helps us from the standpoint that it keeps you humble and it keeps you focused. Obviously UNR is very good.”