2021 Mountain West Tournament: Boise State vs Nevada Preview
Boise State looking for first win against Nevada all season on Thursday night.
Broncos look to advance to the semifinals and avenge regular season sweep all in one.
WHO: No. 4 Boise State Broncos (18-7, 14-6 in the MW) vs. No. 5 Nevada Wolf Pack (15-9, 10-7 in the MW)
WHEN: Thursday, March 11th 5:30 PM ET/3:30 PM MT/2:30 PM PT
WHERE: Thomas and Mack Center, Las Vegas, NV
TV/Stream: This matchup can be seen on the CBS Sports Network, Stream via FuboTV and get a seven-day free trial.
Line: KenPom, Broncos are 4-point favorites
SERIES RECORD: Wolf Pack lead all-time series 50-28
Thursday’s second game in Vegas brings us a matchup between No. 4 seed Boise State and No. 5 seed Nevada.
— Boise State MBB (@BroncoSportsMBB) March 7, 2021
The all-time series has been dominated by the Wolf Pack. With the exception of a 73-64 win in Boise last season by the Broncos. Which ended an eight-game Nevada winning streak, that coach Steve Alford was hoping to continue from the Musselman era.
With the Broncos back in the Lawlor Events Center this year for their back-to-back conference series in early February. The hosting Wolf Pack didn’t miss out on a chance to begin a new streak. Completing the sweep, first with an extremely close 74-72 win, led by Grant Sherfield and Desmond Cambridge with a combined 41-points.
A couple of days later they secured a more comfortable 73-62 win. Once again led by their dynamic backcourt with a combined 46-points.
The Wolf Pack have been a tough team yet full of inconsistency all year. With some very convincing wins to be accompanied by questionable losses. Folks have to take a step back and realize how young this team really is. A quick glance at the starting lineup reveals it’s composed of 3 sophomores, 2 freshmen and 1 junior in recent games. The next three guys off of the bench you might ask, all sophomores.
After a very impressive four-game winning streak to follow up a sweep by Wyoming on the road. The Wolf Pack would slip up in Logan, narrowly missing out on an upset in game one, but ultimately falling 75-72. Game-two wasn’t as closed with the Aggies showing a bit more dominance closing out the series with a 87-66 win. But as ever a great representation of this squads capabilities, their following “makeup week” game against Colorado State was a 85-82 Wolf Pack victory.
This is what makes Nevada a dangerous team, capable of toppling any of the top-four seeds at any point (3-4 this season) and ending your season.
The Broncos head into the tournament riding a three-game losing streak. Suffering a devastating “makeup week” game loss to Fresno State, 67-64.
This was the fear of fanbases around the conference who thought a makeup game loss to a bottom-half Mountain West team would ruin the resumes of top-four programs.
The Broncos were hoping for an at-large bid this year. There still might be hope, as they only fell one position in the NET rankings from 44 to 43. Also recently listed as one of the last four in by CBS Bracketology expert Jerry Palm.
Things appear to be aligning just right for Boise State’s first trip back to the big dance since 2015. But no one would prefer to leave this decision in the hands of the tournament selection committee, plus cutting down the nets inside the Thomas & Mack center is half the fun.
Last time in Vegas:
This time last year, very similarly both programs had first round byes on day-one. Nevada then went up against the Wyoming in the quarterfinals. The Cowboys were putting on their best Cinderella impression and made the Wolf Pack their first casualty, winning 74-71.
Boise State on the other hand survived their quarterfinal draw, beating UNLV 67-61 behind a monster 23-points & 15 rebounds performance by now departed senior RJ Williams. Though it was a close win, they advanced.
Next up was a semi-final draw against regular season champions, San Diego State. The Aztec backcourt duo of Malachi Flynn and KJ Feagin led their squad to a spot in the championship game. Both combining for 43-points, eliminating the Broncos on day two 81-68.
Both programs walk into the Thomas and Mack Center Thursday afternoon with a clean slate though. As we all know this is March, anything can happen.
Nevada already has one tournament championship under their belt (2017), while the Broncos are still searching for their first championship game appearance.
Prediction: Nevada 80, Boise State 76
KenPom has the Broncos as the four-point favorites but the poor form of late and possibly missing their second-leading scorer concerns me.
This is a pretty even matchup but the offensive weapons in the Wolf Pack backcourt is what feels like the game changer for me. While Boise State wins if they can put forth a big defensive effort and cause Grant Sherfield to turn the ball over, which tends to happen in Wolf Pack losses.
For Nevada: Big night from their big time backcourt
This squad seems to get majority of it’s production on any given night from two sources. Mountain West Newcomer of the Year Grant Sherfield and All-MW Third-team honoree Desmond Cambridge. The duo score 46.0% (33.7 PPG) of their teams 73.2 PPG. But any slip up or overbearing defensive effort on one of these guys usually puts the Wolf Pack in a tight spot.
Mountain West 𝙉𝙚𝙬𝙘𝙤𝙢𝙚𝙧 𝙤𝙛 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙔𝙚𝙖𝙧
All-Mountain West 𝙁𝙞𝙧𝙨𝙩 𝙏𝙚𝙖𝙢
— Nevada Basketball (@NevadaHoops) March 9, 2021
In the last five team wins, Sherfield averaged 20.0 PPG. In their last four losses, he managed just 12.7 PPG. Cambridge’s production isn’t as game changing, averaging about the same, 16.4 ppg in wins and 17.0 PPG in losses. The latter increasing because of Cambridge trying to make up for Sherfield’s loss of production.
For Boise State: Abu Kigab
Kigab was named 2nd-team All-MWC this week by the conference coaches, and deservingly so. The 6-7 combo forward, averaged 11.8 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.0 APG & 1.2 SPG this season.
Though after suffering what coach Leon Rice described as a dislocated right shoulder, it’s unclear if he we be available.
“I can be empathetic to shoulders,” Rice said. “Shoulders are a tricky, tricky deal. I mean, you just never know. Like I said, it just has to be day-to-day, because, man, some days if you have a bad shoulder, you can’t even lift your arm. Then other days it’s like: ‘Wow, that feels a lot better.’ ”
His status as a game time decision, and comments by coach Rice are worrisome. Without him on the floor the lineup will shift just slightly and likely see Devonaire Doutrive get the start as this squads talented sixth man.
The winner of this quarterfinal matchup goes on to face the winner of No. 1 San Diego State and No. 8 Wyoming in the semifinals on Friday. The victor of that game should be decided before either the Broncos of Wolf Pack set hoof or paw on the court though. Set for a 3:00 p.m. ET tip off.
The Aztecs are favored to win it all, but just ask coach Alford and Nevada how dangerous Wyoming can be, especially after logging their massive 111-80 win over the Spartans in the first round.
Larry Muniz covers college basketball as a writer for Mountain West Wire and WAC Hoops Digest. Also as a co-host of the college basketball podcast “Hoops Talk W/Jay & Larry”. He is also a USWBA Member.