Nevada vs. Saint Mary’s: Game Preview, TV, Radio, Live Stream, Odds, More
A tale of two tempos as the Wolf Pack travel to the Bay Area
Nevada is still in search of its first marquee victory—and the Gaels certainly qualify
WHO: Nevada (8-4, 1-0 MWC) vs. Saint Mary’s (11-2, 0-0 WCC)
WHEN: Saturday, December 21 — 9:30 P.M. PT / 10:30 P.M. MT
WHERE: Chase Center, San Francisco, CA
WATCH: ESPNU / ESPNU on WatchESPN (cable subscription required)
ALL-TIME: Saint Mary’s leads the series, 51-33
ODDS: Saint Mary’s -6, per KenPom
Nevada got back to their winning ways against Texas Southern on Wednesday, bringing their record to 6-1 over the past seven games. The Tigers came out swinging and led for portions of the first half, but the Wolf Pack eventually pulled away, coasting to a 91-73 victory in Reno.
Especially encouraging for Steve Alford is that the Nevada offense has woken back up after falling asleep at the wheel in their previous game against BYU. That day, the Wolf Pack struggled just to break 40.
But in the five games before that, they averaged 86.6 points per contest.
Sure, those numbers are somewhat inflated because Nevada plays at a high tempo, but this is still a team with a variety of scoring options. It will be interesting to see how the score plays out when the Wolf Pack run up against one of the slowest teams in the country.
Like the Wolf Pack, Saint Mary’s is a team that earns its accolades on the offensive end. Jordan Ford is a bona fide future pro, and fellow veteran Malik Fitts might not be far behind. They are a terrible twosome indeed, but there are experienced players up and down the Gaels’ roster.
Ford launched his All-American campaign pretty much from day one, when he scored 26 in an opening night win over Wisconsin. The senior is averaging 21.5 points per game on the year and is shooting a career-best 44.6% on his three-pointers.
Not only that, but he’s been taking more threes than ever.
And that has been the key for Randy Bennett’s squad in 2019-20. The Gaels rank best in the nation for three-point percentage, shooting a mind-boggling 47.3% on the season. Fitts is shooting right at that average, a clip even better than Ford’s. Tanner Krebs, meanwhile, is shooting over 50% on more than four attempts per game.
These are video game numbers, muted only by the snail’s pace at which the Gaels play their basketball.
Speaking of astronomical numbers, Saint Mary’s hung 96 points on Arizona State earlier this week, while holding the Sun Devils to just 56. It was a drubbing for the ages, one which has set the Gaels’ trajectory back toward the Top 25.
But Nevada could play spoiler on Saturday, while also nabbing a grand feather for their Selection Sunday cap.
On THE WOLF PACK’S POSSESSIONS…
Nevada likes to play fast, so expect them to try to get early shots from their guards. Jalen Harris, Lindsey Drew, and Jazz Johnson can all score in buckets. Harris is more an inside threat, while Drew and Johnson will launch three-pointers. Nisre Zouzoua and Zane Meeks can also provide some offense, but don’t expect much scoring punch out of big men Johncarlos Reyes and KJ Hymes.
Despite their frenetic pace, the Pack are remarkably careful with the ball, sporting a Top 30 turnover rate. The Gaels are pretty pedestrian when it comes to forcing turnovers, so Nevada shouldn’t feel too much pressure on the ball.
Saint Mary’s is good at keeping teams off the offensive glass, which certainly won’t help a Nevada squad that has struggled to get those boards all year long. The Gaels don’t foul much, either, so unless Nevada really starts pounding it inside, the Wolf Pack likely won’t be on the line very often.
If the offense shows up—remember, it didn’t against Nevada’s last WCC opponent—then the Wolf Pack should be plenty efficient. But the question remains just how many possessions they’ll end up getting. It should be noted that the Gaels’ defense does allow teams to play a little faster than their own offense’s tempo.
ON THE GAELS’ POSSESSIONS…
Though Nevada is going to try to push the pace, they may be racing to a red light. When the Gaels get the ball, they will look to grind things to a halt. After they make the Wolf Pack wait and wait and wait…they’ll likely score. This is one of the most efficient teams in the nation and they can score from inside as well as out.
That said, it might not be a bad idea to try to work inside a little more with Fitts. Nevada has defended the three-ball well this season, but they’ve been more susceptible to the two-pointer. Still, Reyes and Hymes do well on the defensive boards, even if they don’t get many offensive rebounds.
Saint Mary’s plays an even tighter brand of hoops than Nevada does, ranking in the top 20 in terms of ball security. And if the Gaels’ takeaway game is pedestrian, then the Wolf Pack’s opportunism is next to nonexistent. Nevada forces turnovers at one of the lowest rates in the country, so don’t expect many fast breaks. The Pack also sends opponents to the stripe a bit too often for their own good.
The Gaels are absolutely deadly on offense, but if the tempo gets away from them, it will be telling to see how they respond to being sped up out of their comfort zone.
SAINT MARY’s 74, NEVADA 72
The DPI projection for this game is very close, with the Gaels prevailing in a one-possession contest. With the game tipping off so late, that kind of exciting contest would be a welcome prize to the fans staying up past their bedtimes. This result would likely close the door on Nevada’s already-slim NCAA Tournament hopes, save for an unexpected romp through league play—or, more likely, a Mountain West Tournament title. But if the Wolf Pack can find their way to victory, it would finally give them the marquee victory that has eluded them throughout the non-conference season.
Andrew is a current USBWA member, covering college basketball for multiple outlets, including Mountain West Wire of the USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Busting Brackets of the FanSided Network. He also runs the Dieckhoff Power Index, a college basketball analytics system, and provides bracketology predictions throughout the season.