The familiarity that comes with conference play will be missing from Air Force’s Mountain West opener Wednesday.
Not only is Nevada new to the league, but the Wolf Pack (9-5) has never faced Air Force (8-4) in men’s basketball.
It's not quite like first meeting your bride at the altar, but the stakes are high enough that it's not exactly the place you first want to become acquainted.
“We’ve seen them on tape,” Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich said. “But we watched Richmond a lot on tape and they looked a lot better in person.”
Pilipovich was referring to the Falcons’ most recent game, a 91-68 drubbing at the hands of a Spiders squad it had never faced. This one doesn’t figure to be as lopsided, but it’s difficult to say who has the advantage in coming in virtually blind. Part of the uncertainty comes from one major variable – the number of fans that show up to Clune Arena?
The venue can provide one of the top home-court advantages in the conference, particularly against an opponent that has never been in its compressed atmosphere. But through six home games the Falcons have drawn an average of just 1,639 fans – about 28 percent of its capacity.
“We need everybody to come out. Bring a friend, bring two friends,” Pilipovich pleaded. “If Clune can get a lot of people it can get loud, and our players feed off of that.”
Nevada coach David Carter has made it a point to note all available details as he’s evaluating Mountain West opponents on film for the first time. In addition to on-court situational trends, he has looked at the bigger picture of environment.
“It’s just trying to get familiar with what teams’ tendencies are and how they play at home and how they play on the road,” Carter said. “So it’s a challenge.”
Elevation shouldn’t be a factor. Reno, Nev., sits at 5,000 feet above sea level, making the jump to 7,258 feet a bit less pronounced.
This won’t be the last time Air Force enters a conference game with little idea as to what to expect. Fresno State hasn’t faced the Falcons since 2001. Next year San Jose State, Utah State and potentially one to three others will also join the fold.
“You don’t have anything to fall back on,” Pilipovich said. “Going to UNLV on Saturday we’ll watch last year’s game and the year before’s games. We’ll stack how they scored against us in this-and-this look and how we scored against them in certain situations. So we had a basis prior to getting to the game.
“The first time around you’re going with your instincts and what you see.”