Mountain West Basketball: Nevada vs. San Diego State–Preview, Odds, Prediction
Wolf Pack, Aztecs meet in unbeaten Mountain West showdown
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What: Nevada Wolf Pack (14-3, 4-0) @ San Diego State Aztecs (12-3, 3-0)
When: Tuesday, January 10th – 8:00 PT
Where: Viejas Arena; San Diego, CA
How To Watch: CBS Sports Network
Odds: San Diego State -9 Over/Under 137
Another night of conference play, another crucial game on the slate. The two hottest teams and the lone remaining unbeatens in the Mountain West Conference get together in San Diego on Tuesday night, when Nevada travels to Viejas Arena to take on San Diego State. There will be a return matchup at the end of January in Reno, and multiple other teams will have a say, but this one will give the winner an early leg up in the regular season championship race.
Each team is coming off an impressive road victory on Saturday. The Aztecs went to Laramie and outdueled a snakebitten Wyoming squad 80-75, a game in which the Cowboys shot nearly 60% from the floor. The Wolf Pack on the other hand, turned in one of the more impressive performances through the first two weeks of league play. They went on the road and dismantled an improved San Jose State team 67-40.
The 40 points allowed by Nevada, is the fewest it has allowed to a Division I opponent in the 53 years it has competed as a Division I program itself. With 10:20 to go in the first half, the Wolf Pack trailed 15-7. SJSU would not score again until the teams switched ends of the floor for half number two, and it was 32-15 Nevada at the break. That’s a 25-0 run, something usually reserved for football, not basketball. It also came against a Spartans team that was a deep three at the buzzer against Boise State away from possibly being 3-0 in the conference. Furthermore, San Jose State’s Omari Moore had put together several All-Conference type of performances until Saturday, when the Wolf Pack defense put the clamps on him, holding him to 10 points and 2 assists, and forcing him into 6 turnovers.
The scoring of Jarod Lucas, Kenan Blackshear, and Will Baker has been well documented, and is obviously needed for Nevada to be a contender. But it’s the glue guys and role players that make a good team a great team, and the Wolf Pack seem to be in possession of multiple guys to fill that category as well. Nick Davidson has been a 6th man extraordinaire, and was just named Mountain West Freshman of the Week. When Baker got in foul trouble against SJSU, he filled in as an undersized center, played 28 minutes, scored 15 points and added 9 boards. He can also stretch the floor, hitting 42% of his threes. A look at the box score from Saturday shows Tre Coleman scored 0 points on 0-2 shooting, and grabbed 3 boards in 29 minutes. What the box score doesn’t show you, is Coleman was instrumental in shutting down Moore and holding the Spartans to 40 points. Those sort of contributions go a long way when constructing a possible championship team.
San Diego State has cranked it up a notch since an early season malaise that saw them drop three games (albeit to tough competition) and scrape by a pair of inferior opponents. Their 3 conference wins have included two road wins in tough environments, Vegas and Laramie. On Saturday, despite being down several key rotation players, the Cowboys put four in double figures, shot 58% from the field, 46% from 3-point land, and still couldn’t come away with the home victory. That’s the thing about this Aztecs team that is different from some in the past. Throughout Brian Dutcher’s tenure, and obviously much of the successful Steve Fisher era, SDSU was defense first, and oftentimes struggled to win higher scoring games. This year, the D is still top notch, but they are playing faster, and the offense has another gear to it. Much of that can be attributed to the electric Darrion Trammell. The transfer from Seattle fills up the stat sheet and simply plays the game at a different speed than most. He is however, coming off a season low four point outing, with his minutes reduced just a tad for matchup purposes. That may come into play here on Tuesday as well.
One other key to the improved play of SDSU during the early conference slate has been the resurgence of Matt Bradley. The preseason player of the year had a rough beginning to the campaign, but has turned it on the last three games, averaging 23 per contest, while shooting 13-21 from deep. A rejuvenated Bradley is bad news for the rest of the MWC. As a team, the Aztecs are shooting 48% on three-point attempts in conference play, a remarkable number, even if the sample size isn’t large.
From a general matchup perspective, there are a couple of things to watch for. Nevada possesses incredible length and height, with Lucas their shortest rotation player at 6’4”. That could possibly limit Trammell’s impact if he has trouble defending, unless Dutcher is willing to sacrifice defense for the 5’10” dynamo’s offensive upside. Also, both Baker and Davidson are stretch posts, and should be able to pull Aztec center Nathan Mensah from the basket on occasion. Mensah is the rim protector that Dutcher loves and has been effective at it for years in a SDSU uniform. Any possessions where he is having to guard on the perimeter is a win for Wolf Pack boss Steve Alford.
On the flip side, we looked earlier at the job Coleman did in defending SJSU’s Moore. That is good preparation for the task of trying to cool off Bradley. If he has anywhere near the same level of success, he’s giving his team a great chance at a win. Trammell will have a quickness advantage for sure, so it will be interesting to see how Alford plays him. He can shoot it a bit from deep, but prefers to penetrate and create off the dribble, and is super effective in the open floor. One thing Nevada has excelled at is choking off transition, as they’ve allowed a total of 25 fast break points in their four conference affairs. They also have guarded the three-point line well, with opponents shooting a scant 31% on the season.
San Diego State is rolling right now, and they look like the team forecasted to win the league in the preseason polls. They also have the homecourt advantage (although students not back from winter break nullifies that a tiny bit), and they do not lose many games in the Viejas Arena. They may yet win the conference regular season title. But there is something brewing in Reno. You don’t go on 25-0 runs without being totally connected as a group, and bought into the system of your coaching staff. They also have a few schematic advantages in this one (not the ones Charlie Weis spoke of years ago, just simple x and o matchup edges). Add it all up, and it says here there may be a major upset in the cards Tuesday night.
Prediction: Nevada 73 San Diego State 66