Nevada Wolf Pack vs. Utah Utes Game Preview

Nevada Wolf Pack vs. Utah Utes Game Preview

Mountain West Basketball

Nevada Wolf Pack vs. Utah Utes Game Preview

Nevada ends league play vs. the Pac-12

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Game 13: Nevada Wolf Pack (12-0) vs Utah Utes (6-5)

WHEN: Saturday, December 29 — 11:00 AM PST

WHERE: Jon Huntsman Arena, Salt Lake City (15,000)

TV: PAC-12 Network

STREAMING: FuboTV – Get a seven-day free trial.

RADIO: 630 AM/ Westwood One

SERIES RECORD: Utah leads 10-0

Nevada Has Never Beaten Utah

Nevada is looking out it’s OOC schedule undefeated for the first time in school history since moving to D1.  Their opponent is yet another Pac-12 team, the Utah Utes.  This will be their 3rd game against a team from “the conference of Champions” and will be played in Salt Lake City.  The Utes have a perfect 10-0 record against Nevada and are undefeated when playing at the Jon Huntsman arena.

Utah and Nevada have played three common opponents, GCU, Tulsa and BYU.  Utah won two of those, losing a tight contest to BYU in a rivalry game.

Nevada will put it’s unblemished 12-0 record on the line as they take on the 6-5 Utes in a game being aired by the Pac-12 Network and has an 11:00 AM PT tip off time.

Utah does not have a player averaging more than 28 minutes a game or 13 points a contest, relying heavily on a 10 player rotation.  With 7 players averaging at least 7 points a game and no single player putting up gaudy stats it makes the Utes a difficult team to prepare for.  The Wolf Pack under Eric Mussleman, has a reputation for focusing on shutting down it’s opponents star players.  Parker Van Dyke, a 6-3 senior and 6-2 senior Sedrick Barefield bring experience and leadership to the Utes backcourt and seem to be the de facto team leaders.

Coach K will be on the sidelines for Utah, that’s Larry Krystkowiak, not the Coach K of Duke fame.  In an interesting side note Coach K faced Nevada while coaching Montana and knocked the Wolf Pack out of the NCAA Tournament in a game played in the same arena.  In that March 2006 matchup Nevada was riding a 14 game winning streak but Coach K was able to  the lead the 12th seeded Montana Grizzlies to the upset.

Nevada has been playing lackluster offense of late, a fact that had Mussleman perplexed after their most recent win over Akron.  Teams have been daring Nevada to shoot from behind the arc, packing defenses into the lane.  Much to Musselman’s chagrin Nevada has seemed eager to take the dare in the first half of games without any success.  The second half of games have been a different story with the Wolf Pack focusing more on getting the ball into the paint where their size and athleticism is an advantage against most teams.

Keys For A Nevada Win

Defense and Defensive Boards: The Wolf Pack has played exceptional defense of late and will need to continue that against the Utes.  Nevada had 6 blocks against Akron and altered many more shots.  Caleb Martin has been struggling from the field offensively but has been playing exceptional defense and is coming off a 3 block and 1 steal performance against Akron.  The eagerness of the Nevada players to block shots on the inside had some unintended consequences against Akron.  Often there were 2 Nevada players going for the block when the ball got inside, the result was usually an altered shot that missed.  The problem was that those defensive players were not in rebounding position and Akron was able to grab 16 offensive boards which led to them getting 14 more shots on goal.

Nevada has been outrebounded the last 2 games and they will have to do a better job against Utah if they want to break their losing streak to the Utes. Nevada has held it’s opponents to a respectable 31.4% from distance and will need to guard the 3 point line effectively against Utah. Nevada was giving up fastbreak points early in the season but has corrected that deficiency in a major way, it’s last 2 opponents have scored exactly 0 baskets off of fastbreaks.

Offensive Woes:  In the post game press conference Mussleman lamented about Nevada’s offensive slump.  It was a somewhat reserved Mussleman that seemed perplexed at his teams lack of progress on the offensive end of the court. As all good leaders do he took personal responsibility and vowed that he and his coaching staff would figure it out.  It was somewhat reminiscent of the press conference after Nevada’s defense was shredded by Washington in their first preseason exhibition game.

Nevada simply has to many good shooters to continue their subpar shooting from deep.  With teams protecting the paint against them Nevada is getting good open looks but not nailing them with enough consistency to force teams to extend their defense.  All the talk of poor shooting may have gotten into the psyche of some of the players as Thurman and Jordan Caroline have both showed hesitancy to shoot wide open shots from deep.  Maybe, just maybe, the pressure of high expectations and being undefeated is inhibiting this team from playing with the freedom and execution that last years squad exhibited.

My bold pregame prediction is that Mussleman tries a different starting lineup against Utah. While Utah has tried a number of different lineups Nevada has used the same starting 5 for all 12 games this year.  Starting Jordan Brown instead of Porter might be the move as Brown has a stronger midrange game.  Against zones, and Nevada will likely see mostly zone from the Utes, one of the most effective ways to attack is to get the ball into the high post.  If the player getting the ball at the free throw line is a serious threat to shoot the 15 footer it forces the back line defense to guard which opens things up under the basket.

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