Mountain West Basketball: Nevada vs. UNLV--Preview, Prediction, Odds

Mountain West Basketball: Nevada vs. UNLV--Preview, Prediction, Odds

Mountain West Basketball

Mountain West Basketball: Nevada vs. UNLV--Preview, Prediction, Odds


Mountain West Basketball: Nevada vs. UNLV–Preview, Prediction, Odds

Wolf Pack, Rebels meet in key MWC matchup in Vegas & @MWCwire

What: Nevada Wolf Pack (16-5, 6-2) @ UNLV Runnin’ Rebels (13-7, 2-6)
When: Saturday, January 28th – 7:00 PT
Where: Thomas & Mack Center; Las Vegas, NV
How To Watch: CBS Sports Network
Odds: UNLV -1 Over/Under 140

As we near the midway point of Mountain West Conference play, the first of two matchups between in-state rivals UNLV and Nevada takes place Saturday night in Vegas. The Wolf Pack added another signature win to go with their opening night triumph over Boise State, when they knocked off nationally-ranked New Mexico on Monday night in a double overtime thriller. The Rebels meanwhile, snapped a four-game slide Tuesday, as they try to resurrect their season. We should get the best shot from both teams in this battle of the Silver State.

Nevada is riding high after working extra to take down the Lobos in a wonderfully played game. The extra day of rest will certainly be of benefit to the Wolf Pack as their five starters played 40, 39, 40, 42, and 42 minutes against UNM. There were many positives to take from that outing, including the fact that they only turned it over 9 times, and had assists on 23 of their 36 made field goals, a very high rate. Despite shooting it poorly from behind the arc, Nevada nearly shot 50% overall, meaning they were super-efficient from the paint and mid-range area. And as always, they did a great job using the foul line for offense. If they do those things at the same clip on Saturday night, they’ll be well positioned for a victory, as we’ll see when we look at the keys to beating UNLV’s defense in a bit.

Will Baker had a career night inside against New Mexico, with a 28/5/3 split, and hitting on 12-17 shots. It will be interesting to see how effective Baker is here, as the nature of the Rebels defense makes it difficult at times to consistently establish a post presence. The same thing applies with Kenan Blackshear and his mid-range, NBA style offensive game. That makes Jarod Lucas huge in this one, as a catch and shoot player is vital against UNLV. Lucas couldn’t find his shot against the Lobos, but still tallied 22 points, aided by making 9 of 12 free throws. Also look for Nick Davidson to bounce back after an ineffective night on Monday.

While Nevada has multiple scoring options, they’ve been just as efficient defensively, though that would have been hard to figure out watching Monday night’s game. The 94 points allowed can be somewhat forgiven as the game did go double OT. But UNM shot 54% from the floor, and scored 20 fast break points, normally a strong suit for the Wolf Pack. To be fair, the Lobos sport one of the nation’s best backcourts, and when they are on, they’re near impossible to slow down. And they were certainly on, as Jamal Mashburn Jr. went for 33, and Jaelen House was creating plays for his teammates to the tune of 10 assists. UNLV has a talented group of guards and wings, but not at that elite level, so a bit of a reprieve is coming Nevada’s way in that sense. As they usually do, the Wolf Pack cleaned up their defensive glass, ceding only 7 offensive rebounds to New Mexico in 50 minutes of game action.

UNLV enters with momentum after a comfortable home win versus Wyoming Tuesday night. After scuffling for a few weeks, any win is a good win, even if it did come against a last place team. A late scratch caused by an injury shuffled the lineup a bit, and a tactical change defensively left the Rebels feeling good about what they accomplished on the floor. Senior captain Luis Rodriguez, one of three players to average in double figures with 12.1 per night, missed his first game of the season with a leg issue, and is day-to-day. In his place slid another veteran leader, Elijah Parquet. The 5th year senior might not add a lot on the scoreboard, but is a key piece of the defense, and a major intangibles guy. Parquet just returned from injury himself, missing over a month of action.

As for the adjustment defensively, the Rebels frenetic, uber aggressive style was their calling card in the non-conference portion of the schedule, forcing a ton of turnovers, and keeping opposing offenses off-balance. UNLV would try to deny penetration to the middle of the floor at all costs, and the help defense was often swarming around, to the point where sometimes it looked like there were 6 defenders on the floor. In league play though, better competition has seen guards be able to attack the forbidden spot, and crisp ball movement has resulted in many more open looks from the outside. Teams have shot the ball much better against the Runnin’ Rebs since conference play has started, and the points per game allowed has increased. To highlight that a bit more, all 8 MWC opponents have scored at least 72 points, whereas only 2 of 12 reached that mark in the non-con. Head coach Kevin Kruger scaled back the pressure against Wyoming, limiting the number of switches on the perimeter, and trying to prevent dribble penetration a bit more in general. Nevada boss Steve Alford and his staff will need to have game plans ready to attack both styles.

Offensively UNLV also looked like a completely different team, although that’s what happens when you make 55% (11-20) of your three-point attempts. The Rebels only shoot 35% as a team on the year, but knocked down shot after shot against the Cowboys. Some of that was the right guys shooting – Jordan McCabe and Justin Webster are legit shooters, and guys you have to locate defensively. Keshon Gilbert also has a good percentage from deep. There are some however, Rodriguez, if he’s in uniform, and leading scorer EJ Harkless, who would be better suited firing less from deep and doing more attacking of the basket. The other factor from Tuesday is the fact that Wyoming’s defense has been sieve-like most of this season. They have been decimated by injuries that seemingly change the rotation on a night-by-night basis, but their 3-pt defense is statistically one of the worst in the country. Expect the sledding to be tougher on Saturday for the Rebels.

This one should be what we’ve come to expect out of the Mountain West in the first half of the conference slate – hard fought, down-to-the-wire games. Logistically, things broke well for Nevada here; normally the euphoria after a win like they had over New Mexico would lead to a hangover the next time out. But two things nearly nullify that completely. One, that game was on Monday – by the time they take the floor in the Thomas & Mack Center, five full days will have passed, plenty of time to get refocused. More important is the opponent. Were it to be a random, middle-of-the-pack league foe the Wolf Pack were traveling to this weekend, it’s entirely possible they would be less than sharp. It just happens to be their rival from the other side of the state, and one who swept Nevada a season ago. Therefore, they should be fully charged and ready to run against the Rebels. For UNLV, they will want to build upon their prior outing. And with several winnable games ahead on the schedule, there’s a chance to get back on a roll heading towards the postseason. The thought here though is that we need to see another game or two of complete basketball from the Rebels before they can take down another elite team (to pair with their win at The Pit 3 weeks ago). The games in the two weeks following that upset win saw some poor chemistry offensively and a bit of a drop in the defensive intensity that was so evident back in November and December. It may all come together for them Saturday night at home in a rivalry setting, but the feeling is that Nevada is the more cohesive group at the moment, and they’ll escape Vegas with a hard earned victory.

Prediction: Nevada 71 UNLV 64



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