Mountain West Basketball: Utah State vs. Nevada–Preview, Odds, Prediction
Aggies, Wolf Pack meet in showdown of one loss conference teams
https://twitter.com/coachmosser & @MWCwire
What: Utah State Aggies (14-3, 3-1) @ Nevada Wolf Pack (14-4, 4-1)
When: Friday, January 13th – 9:00 MT, 8:00 PT
Where: Lawlor Events Center; Reno, NV
How To Watch: FS1
Odds: Nevada – 1.5 Over/Under 144
It’s a quick turnaround for a pair of Mountain West Conference contenders, as Utah State travels to Reno for a matchup with Nevada on Friday the 13th. Are there any freaky/spooky things in store? Anything is possible in this season’s MWC. The two teams will enter off drastically different results from the mid-week. Let’s dig in to where they stand overall as we reach the end of week 3 of 10 in the conference slate.
Nevada had an opportunity for a statement win in a primetime game at the Viejas Arena, but San Diego State was in no mood to cooperate, as they were engaged from the start, jumped on the visitors from the word go, and never let off the throttle until the very end, when the result was no longer in doubt. It’s a game the Wolf Pack can learn from, and will have to if they hope to stay near the top of the super competitive MWC. How Nevada handles the disappointment of Tuesday’s result is going to have an impact on this one.
Utah State went through this very scenario their last time on the court, needing to shake off a non-competitive outing at Boise State from the weekend. They did just that, returning to the friendly confines of the Spectrum to drub a depleted, but always dangerous Wyoming club. With the grind that the Mountain West will be in 2023, teams are going to need to be mentally tough, shake off losses/bad efforts, and be able to turn the page quickly, or they risk it spilling over and contributing to another L in the column.
There was never a doubt the Aggies had put the BSU loss behind them, as they led from wire-to-wire. More importantly, they looked like they did for much of the non-conference – playing unselfish team-first basketball, with great movement and crisp passing. The result was shooting 51% from the floor, with 21 assists on 31 made field goals, a super high rate. USU shared the wealth, putting four players in double figures for the game. One of those four was Taylor Funk, who shot the ball well for the second straight game, showing continued signs of emerging from a slow couple of weeks by the grad transfer. Steven Ashworth was not one, as he only scored eight points. Utah State’s leading scorer has now had his two lowest outputs of the season in the last two games, so they will want to get him going again. On the plus side, Ashworth was very much content to participate in other ways as the Cowboys D tried to take him out of the game – recording 6 boards, 7 assists, and 3 steals, with only one turnover.
The task will be harder on the offensive side Friday night for sure. Wyoming was down several key rotation players and the lack of depth affected their ability to defend at a high level for 40 minutes. Nevada did get bullied a bit by the physicality of San Diego State on Tuesday night. And while Trevin Dorius and Dan Akin play strong inside, overall that is not the identity of the Aggies. This is a very high ranking Wolf Pack defense, despite the Aztecs having their way for the first 35+ minutes last time out. Primary on-ball defender Tre Coleman was not quite as effective shutting down SDSU star Matt Bradley, the way he did San Jose State’s Omari Moore the prior game. But, it did take Bradley 14 shots and 7 free throw attempts to get his 17 points. Expect Coleman to be given the assignment of limiting Ashworth’s impact, and that matchup within the matchup will be huge.
Utah State’s defense has been steady, with few exceptions. They struggled with the length and athleticism of SMU in the Diamond Head Classic right before Christmas, and allowed Boise State to shoot 50% a week ago. Nevada possesses similar length to the Mustangs, maybe a shade less athleticism, but a higher level of basketball talent. Can they shoot the ball at a rate near what the Broncos did? They may need to, as they are not going to supplement their half-court offense with many points in other ways. The Aggies are elite at defensive rebounding, and the Wolf Pack are generating very few points in transition.
As mentioned a bit earlier, the Wolf Pack really never got into an offensive flow on Tuesday. SDSU imposed their will, harassed Nevada’s two perimeter scorers (Jarod Lucas/Kenan Blackshear) into a combined 9-28 shooting, and made it difficult for the Wolf Pack to even enter the ball into the post to get Will Baker paint touches. There will be a bit of relief coming Friday night in the sense that they’ll have more room to breathe. Utah State isn’t aggressively in your face on every catch, or out on the wings denying passes, instead they want to contain you off the dribble, and they are excellent at protecting the paint. As a result, one of the Aggies worst metrics is defending the 3-point line. The three ball is not a major part of Nevada’s offense, but there are certainly a few who can make USU pay, Lucas the obvious one. Also, the bigs – Baker and Nick Davidson – can step out and knock it down from deep, and just by being a threat they will drag the Utah State bigs away from the paint, a nice edge for the home team.
Davidson may have been the most consistent performer for the Wolf Pack against SDSU. He poured in 17 points and added 7 boards, and didn’t look intimidated by the moment. The freshman is gaining more confidence as the season progresses and has been outstanding in league play. If that continues, it gives head coach Steve Alford a significant weapon off the bench to go with his three veteran double figure scorers.
As is the case with most Mountain West games, this one should be decided late. Both teams take excellent care of the basketball, and both teams utilize the foul line as a crucial source of offense. One thing to note is how Nevada finished against San Diego State. The outcome was not in serious doubt for most of the second half, but the Wolf Pack kept competing until the final whistle. It didn’t change the result, but it shows a fight that tells you a lot about this team. One other variable not yet touched on, is the home court advantage. Expect Lawlor to be rocking, even if students are not back from break yet. Last weekend, the crowd at ExtraMile Arena in Boise was boisterous and had an impact on the game. Utah State will get return trips to Logan from both the Broncos and the Wolf Pack, and the results there may absolutely be different. But the thought here is that Nevada bounces back and wins a tight one on their home floor.
Prediction: Nevada 77 Utah State 72