Nevada vs. UNLV: Series Preview
Both squads sit mid-table in the conference, a couple of wins to help elevate them makes the rivalry even more heated.
Wolf Pack host in-state rivals UNLV this weekend with tie-breaking series on the line.
WHO: Nevada Wolf Pack (10-7, 5-5 in the MW) vs. UNLV Runnin’ Rebels (6-7, 3-3 in the MW)
WHEN: Game 1: Sunday, January 31st 6:30 PM PT/7:30 PM MT
Game 2: Tuesday, February 2nd 6:00 PM PT/7:00 PM MT
WHERE: Lawlor Events Center-Reno, NV
TV: Game 1: FS1 Game 2: CBS Sports Network
Stream: Both games can be seen for free on FuboTV with a seven-day trial
Line: KenPom, Wolf Pack currently favored by 2 points in each contest
SERIES RECORD: UNLV leads all-time series 60-31
Yes Mountain West fans, its already that time, time for some rivalry action in the Battle Born State.
— Nevada Basketball (@NevadaHoops) January 30, 2021
Both programs are in very similar positions heading into Sunday’s match up. This should make for a very interesting installment in the rivalry. But in-state bragging rights aside, (all-time going to the Rebels, most recent going to the Wolf Pack) there is plenty on the line this weekend with both programs currently tied for 5th place after two very different seasons thus far.
UNLV is without swiss army knife floor general Marvin Coleman who suffered a stress fracture in his right leg this month before their series against New Mexico. Coleman is the captain of the team and you can find his contributions in literally every part of the box score. But the good news is, in his absence UNLV is 4-1. Featuring one of the many upsets that has occurred in the Mountain West this season, a 59-56 win over Utah State at home.
The Wolf Pack return home after spending six of their last eight games on the road. Taking trips north to Laramie, WY all the way south to Lubbock, TX. They are coming off of a sweep against Wyoming on the road in the dome of doom. Nevada was without starting four-man Zane Meeks, who was out with knee soreness against the Cowboys.
Aside from that set back this week, Steve Alford has this Nevada team in a very great position in year-two back in the Mountain West. As they are challenging for a top-five finish behind what looks like a four team race for the regular season championship.
And being very familiar with the Runnin’ Rebels program as a head coach in the Mountain West (9-7 all-time versus UNLV, 2-0 with the Wolf Pack), he knows what this weekend means to those involved.
“Obviously in-state rivals, you always enjoy things like that,” Alford said. “I’ve been a part of things like that in all six (coaching) stops, plus as a player. It’s puts an extra enthusiasm on it. It’s just unfortunate there’s no fans in the building and you don’t get to go home and home. It’s just two here in Lawlor with no fans. It kind of loses that juice, and we hope our players, who are new and young and are learning all about this, but there’s an extra dose of excitement when you’re playing your in-state rival.” He told told Nevada Sports Net , in an interview about what playing the Runnin’ Rebels means to him as an individual and a coach. Being around the game since the eighties when he was a player back at Indiana.
Match up of the night: A twofer, the smallest and tallest guys on the court
I really wanted to dig into multiple position battles in this series. So for this topic I wanted to highlight two very important parts of the court, with a focus on the point guard and center positions for each side.
The battle down low on Sunday will feature two very similarly built players, who both can be x-factors for each team. For Nevada that is 7-0 big man Warren Washington and for UNLV that is 6-11 senior big man Cheikh Mbacke Diong. Both players are long, bouncy and can run the floor to effect the game on both sides of the court. And both have been playing some of their best basketball of the season in conference play.
Last 4 games: 14.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 58.8 FG%
— Nevada Basketball (@NevadaHoops) January 29, 2021
I refer to Jenkins Jr. as a high-scoring sleeper as he transferred into the program with a bit of a reputation to light it up from everywhere on the court during his time at South Dakota State. Since suiting up for former Jack Rabbits head coach T.J. Otzelberger in the desert though, he has struggled to find any consistency. The 6-2 guard is coming off of his best performance of the season so far, having scored 33-points on 12-21 made field goal attempts including going 5-7 from deep in their 74-83 loss to Utah State to split the series.
Without assist leader Marvin Colman, folks need to step up distributing the ball. That really isn’t Jenkins Jr.’s game and while others look to help, he should really look to score if he begins to knock shots down. As another 30-point outburst from him on Sunday will certainly be needed, especially if current leading scorer Bryce Hamilton (18.3 PPG) struggles as he did in their last game against Utah State (2 points, 1-12 made FGs).
Sherfield, another incoming transfer is himself having an all-conference caliber season in his first year in Reno. The 6-2 combo guard is averaging 18.5 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 5.5 APG & 1.6 SPG thus far. And has done some of his best work in conference play, while only failing to score double-digits twice this season. He’s certainly got help, Desmond Cambridge Jr. (15.2 PPG) to start, but when Sherfield plays well the Wolf Pack can hang around with anyone in the conference.
What’s at stake: Break the current tie for 5th place
Both programs are currently sitting at 5th in the Mountain West Conference standings. The Wolf Pack currently boast a 10-7 (5-5) record and the Runnin’ Rebels at 6-6 (3-3) put both at .500 in conference play. Although the overall game count may not be equal because of a month long pause in the UNLV program due to positive Covid-19 tests within the program starting way back in December.
So is there a lot on the line you ask? Yes. A split in the series will only create the same tie between the two programs. And whoever is on the wrong side of a sweep will then be lumped into another mid-table battle with Fresno State and Wyoming who are currently chomping at the heals of both Nevada programs.
Game One Prediction: Nevada 70, UNLV 66
KenPom.com has this one a little closer with Nevada winning both contests by two points. Though UNLV leads the all-time series by quite a hefty margin, the last couple of years have been Wolf Pack dominated. With Nevada winning the last six straight games by an average of 13.5 PPG.
The last game played between these two squads was as close as it’s been in the last four meetings. Last February the game went to overtime, where a Jalen Harris led (29 points) Nevada held strong and won by three points.
At the time, Harris and Runnin’ Rebel Bryce Hamilton were in the middle of two All-MW First team campaigns. Now Harris is in the NBA and Hamilton is still around and on his way to maybe another All-MW First Team performance. But he has had to chip in with trying to run the offense with teammate and assist leader Coleman out for the season.
The X-Factor: Nicquel Blake
With the already double-feature match up(s) of the night above, nearly 400 words long. I debated adding in an x-factor portion to this preview. But as I kept writing and thought of the role freshman guard Nicquel Blake could have on UNLV’s offense in this series I realized I had to include it.
Blake has been the teams assist leader since losing Marvin Coleman to injury. On a per game basis he trails Bryce Hamilton (4.5 APG) with a close 4.0 APG. Yet when taking a grand total Blake has logged 20 assists to just 9 turnovers (1.8 per game). While Hamilton’s has 18 assists to 15 turnovers (3.7 per game).
Still the 6-4 junior wing may be needed more on the receiving end of dimes than trying to dish them out. Especially if others around him struggle to score. Blake may be able to help there too, averaging 11.2 PPG over his last five games. If Blake steps up in his first ever rivalry game with the Wolf Pack, that could be what’s needed to seal the deal for UNLV.
These two teams are in a very similar position at least being tied for 5th, but as far as winning momentum goes, they are in two different places.
“You have to give Wyoming credit,” Alford said. “They played well. With that said, we took a step back and now we have to take a step forward if we’re going to have a chance in this next series against UNLV.”
Can the Wolf Pack turn it around and make a stand at home against their in-state rivals on Sunday? I’ll definitely be watching to find out.