|7 seed Nevada set for test from 10th-seeded Gators|
Nevada made a nice run in last season's NCAA Tournament and is aiming to make another deep dash.
But the No. 7 seed Wolf Pack (29-4) also teetered a bit down the stretch of this season and will look to regain their swagger when they face 10th-seeded Florida (19-15) in the first round on Thursday at Des Moines, Iowa.
Nevada started the season by winning 24 of its first 25 games, but went 5-3 to close the season, including two losses to San Diego State. It was the second straight season that the Aztecs sent the Wolf Pack home in the Mountain West tournament semifinals.
"We have to feel good going in," Nevada coach Eric Musselman said. "We did last year. We can't let a lingering loss affect us. It didn't last year."
Last year, the Wolf Pack defeated Texas and Cincinnati before they lost in the Sweet 16 to tournament darling Loyola-Chicago.
Nevada's 58 wins is the most in a two-season span in school history. The NCAA Tournament appearance is the Wolf Pack's third in a row but going on another run won't be easy.
Florida's win-loss record might not be impressive but the Gators played an arduous schedule and are toughened up by the rigors of Southeastern Conference play.
The Gators dropped their last three regular-season games but an upset of LSU in the quarterfinals of the conference tourney appeared to seal their NCAA bid. Florida lost to eventual tournament champion Auburn in the semifinals.
Florida is making its third straight NCAA tourney appearance and advanced to the Elite Eight two seasons ago before falling to South Carolina.
The Gators are well aware of the challenge and they also know the quality of conference doesn't come into play in an NCAA Tournament game.
"It's a different level of competition, regarding the NCAA Tournament," senior center Kevarrius Hayes told reporters. "Everybody is playing to win. We have to bring our 'A' game because that's exactly what the other team is going to do. ... We have to lock in and be more focused than ever going into those games."
Gators coach Mike White studied the Wolf Pack and was impressed with what he witnessed.
"They're terrific. They've won a ton of games over the past couple years. They're big and their old," White told reporters of a veteran Nevada roster. "They're trying to play eight guys and six are seniors. They've got to be, probably, the oldest team in the country. Experienced, talented, athletic, versatile. Defensively, they're long and athletic and can get away with a lot of switching. Offensively, they're very efficient."
Nevada senior big man Jordan Caroline missed the loss against San Diego State due to a lingering Achilles injury but Musselman said he will Florida.
Caroline averages 17.3 points and a team-best 9.6 rebounds while forming a powerful one-two punch with star senior guard Caleb Martin, who averages 19.2 points and has drained 105 3-pointers.
Martin is disappointed with how the Wolf Pack finished the season -- they also lost to NCAA team Utah State down the stretch -- and feels the team is ready to redeem itself.
His twin brother, senior forward Cody Martin, said the club's focus needs to improve.
"It takes a lot of heart and a lot of consistency, in every aspect of the game," Cody Martin told reporters. "Not taking any possession for granted. We can do that as a team. We can do that at a high level. We just have to make sure we're prepared and we're focused and we have our mind right."
Senior guard KeVaughn Allen (12.0) is the lone Florida player scoring in double digits.
--Field Level Media