Mountain West Basketball: San Diego State vs. Nevada–Preview, Prediction, Odds
Aztecs, Wolf Pack meet in Reno
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What: San Diego State Aztecs (17-4, 8-1) @ Nevada Wolf Pack (16-6, 6-3)
When: Tuesday, January 31st – 8:00 PT
Where: Lawlor Events Center; Reno, NV
How To Watch: CBS Sports Network
Odds: San Diego State -2 Over/Under 139
We’ve reached the halfway point of the conference season in the Mountain West, and the second half will start with another headliner on the card in Reno, with first place San Diego State coming to town to take on the Wolf Pack. It was quite the week for Nevada, as they started with an epic, emotionally charged double-overtime victory over New Mexico, only to finish it in disappointing fashion, falling at in-state rival UNLV on Saturday night. For the Aztecs, it was business as usual, with a pair of double-digit home wins.
This is a rematch of the game three weeks ago at Viejas Arena, one in which the Aztecs prevailed 74-65. That was one of those however, where the score does not indicate how close the game was (or was not). The Wolf Pack, to their credit, played hard for 40 minutes, and cut the final margin to 9, but they were never really in the game, it was dominated by SDSU. We’ll see what kind of adjustments Nevada coach Steve Alford comes up with.
The first thing that will change, and it will have the biggest impact for sure, is the location. The Wolf Pack are a completely different team at home than they are on the road, which is quite common in college hoops. If you watched the two games from last week though, it almost looked like two different groups of players. Now, certainly the opponent has something to do with that. UNLV came out super energized on Saturday, intent on bringing an extra level of intensity and physicality that Nevada never really matched. It made for a tough game to officiate, and a tough game to watch, as it was overrun with fouls and whistles, prohibiting a good flow. But, the Wolf Pack were not up to the challenge, and Aztecs head man Brian Dutcher will no doubt want his troops to follow the same script Tuesday night. Contrast the Silver State matchup with Monday’s thriller against the Lobos. That one was played with tremendous intensity as well, just a bit less physicality. Shot making and talent from both teams was on full display in a free-flowing great basketball game. It won’t matter this week, as both of their outings are at home, but in February Nevada will have to figure out how to translate their play at Lawlor to the road, where they are 0-5 against KenPom top 100 teams.
Nobody better encapsulates the up and down week than Will Baker. The 7-footer had a career night Monday with 28, on 17 shots. Obviously, he was a massive part of the Rebels game plan defensively, as they made it difficult for him to even get touches unless it was on the perimeter, and even then he was harassed. The result was 2 points on only 4 shot attempts. Baker did contribute with 10 rebounds, and battled foul trouble (who didn’t), but the Wolf Pack need a more consistent Baker moving forward. He’ll have his work cut out for him versus SDSU – he was held to 7 points and 3 rebounds on 2-7 shooting in the first matchup against defensive ace Nathan Mensah. The other two lead scorers did not fare much better at Viejas a few weeks back. Jarod Lucas and Kenan Blackshear combined to shoot 9-28 (32%), as they were defended similarity to how they were on Saturday. Don’t expect that to change in this one. Big man sub Nick Davidson was actually the leading scorer that night with 17, although many of those came in the late flurry once the game was mostly decided.
For San Diego State, their two wins showcased their balance and their ability to win in different ways. Wednesday night it was an offensive barrage, 85 points against Utah State, including an impressive 12-22 (55%) from deep. In that game, the Aztecs three leading scorers combined for 19 points. For many of the top teams in the Mountain West Conference that rely on their top-end scoring that would spell doom, but not for SDSU. Sharpshooting senior Adam Seiko was unconscious from downtown, hitting his first seven 3-pt attempts and scoring 25 points. The Aztecs missed 30 shots from the floor, and grabbed offensive rebounds on 13 of them, a near 50% rate. Saturday, they decided to revert back to their old calling card – defense. They dialed in versus San Jose State, holding the Spartans to a paltry 21% from the field and 14 total points in the first half, and limiting star guard Omari Moore to 11 points for the night.
If they shoot the ball the way they have shot it in many of their MWC outings, they are going to be difficult to beat. The 8-21 from the first meeting is a good starting point. Any more makes, or a significantly higher %, and this game leans heavily towards SDSU. If the Wolf Pack can lock down the perimeter, their fortunes improve dramatically. That’s not to say the Aztecs can’t score in other ways. Keshad Johnson is off a career-high 16-point outing on Saturday, and has scored in double-figures three straight games. And of course, Matt Bradley can effectively work in the mid-range and the post depending on who is guarding him. Then there is the playmaking and creating duo of Darrion Trammell and Lamont Butler, who can each explode on any given night based on matchups. Again, the depth and number of options on the roster is what sets it apart, even in the tiniest way, from their top league counterparts.
The way the schedule broke in the first half, leaves us a bit curious about San Diego State. Clearly they are among the elite. But they also have not played any of the top contenders on the road yet; those tests will all come in the next month. Their 4 road contests to date are against 4 of the bottom 5 teams in the standings. It’s been a rough go for visiting teams early on, and Tuesday night will tell us a lot. From a Nevada perspective, games like this are crucial to their NCAA tournament hopes. They sport great wins over Boise State and New Mexico, but are currently 5th among Mountain West teams in the all-important NET rankings. This is also their last chance to pick up a big win at home. Their remaining high-level showdowns are on the road (at New Mexico, at Utah State). This would be a huge win for them to get.
Can they get it? Possibly, but it will not be easy. San Diego State is quietly cruising along at 8-1 in league play. They got by with a sloppy effort in Fort Collins and pulled out an overtime win. Otherwise, aside from the home stumble vs. UNM they have been what we expected out of them. They also have the blueprint to slow down Nevada, both from the UNLV game film, and from practice – they frustrated the Wolf Pack with physical defensive play a few weeks ago. As mentioned earlier, Nevada is a different animal at home, and Lawlor should be rocking for this one. Unlike the first matchup, we should have a tight game throughout. Ultimately, the thought here is that points will be at a premium, neither team gets to 70, and the road team gets a late bucket to pull out a well-earned victory.
Prediction: San Diego State 67 Nevada 64