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Nevada-Akron: Three keys to victory and a prediction

Tre'Shawn Thurman
Tre'Shawn Thurman and the Wolf Pack host Akron on Saturday. (Nevada athletics)

The Nevada basketball team plays Akron on Saturday in Reno. Nevada Sports Net’s Chris Murray breaks down the game with three keys to victory and his prediction.

Akron (7-4) at Nevada (11-0)

When: Saturday, 4 p.m.

Where: Lawlor Events Center (11,536 capacity)

TV/Radio: None/94.5 FM

Online: ESPN3.com/Watch ESPN

Betting line: No line released yet

Three keys for Nevada to win

1. Defend the pick-and-roll: Akron loves to run pick-and-roll with Daniel Utomi, their undersized power forward who can really shoot it, and Loren Cristian Jackson, a 5-foot-8 point guard who can get into the lane. Nevada’s defense has been superb this season, and its length and ability to switch on pick and rolls has been a big key to that. The Wolf Pack is well-suited to defend the pick-and-roll well and most do so well against Utomi, who hits more than three 3-pointers per game and is shooting 38.3 percent from beyond the arc. Nevada can be vulnerable against smaller, quicker guards like Jackson, but its new-found post size (Trey Porter and Jordan Brown) has provided an extra barrier with their shot-blocking ability. Akron’s offense has been average this season, but it’s been good getting points out of the pick-and-pop.

2. Get ready for changes: Akron is better defensively than offensively, but it doesn’t stick with one scheme throughout the game. The Zips have played a 1-3-1 extended zone defense, they’ve played a more traditional zone, they’ve played man. Akron will surely mix things up against Nevada, but you have to imagine it will mostly be a zone scheme against a Wolf Pack squad that has made 19-of-79 3-pointers (24.1 percent) over its last three games. Nevada is a mature team, so it should be able to handle Akron’s rotation of defensive schemes aimed to get Nevada out of offensive rhythm. The Wolf Pack has been out of sync offensively, posting four of its five worst offensive games of the season the last four times out, per the advanced metrics. Getting Caleb Martin back in rhythm would fix many of the issues.

3. More FTAs than 3PTAs: The Wolf Pack shot 39 3-pointers in its last game compared to 23 free throws. That’s not a good ratio. Nevada’s goal should be to take more free throws than 3-pointers. It is bailing out the opposition’s defense if that’s not the case. The Wolf Pack has some capable 3-point shooters, but it is hitting at a 34.4 percent rate, which is down nearly six percentage points from last season and sits at No. 178 in the nation. Nevada’s 301 free throws attempts rank 14th in the nation. The Wolf Pack shouldn’t be gun shy from three. It should take quality shots from beyond the arc. But one of the reasons it has been getting off to slow starts is because it hasn’t been as aggressive attacking the basket early in the game as it has late in the game. Nevada has to use its athleticism to get to the rim.

Prediction

Nevada 78, Akron 65: Akron sits at 7-4, but those four defeats have come by a combined 12 points, none by more than five. The Zips could legitimately be sitting at 11-0. On the other hand, Akron has played the 11th-easiest schedule in the nation, per Ken Pomeroy, and hasn’t beaten a team ranked in the top 150 of the NET rankings. If the Wolf Pack is on its game, it wins this one by 15-plus points. But Nevada has not been offensively sharp of late and could be without its third-leading scorer Jazz Johnson, who missed the team’s last game with a concussion (I think he’ll play). If Nevada gets off to another slow start, it will be in for another dog fight down to the wire because Akron plays really slowly and limits the number of possessions in the game. But the Wolf Pack has far more pure talent and the home-court edge (coach Eric Musselman is 26-0 all-time at Lawlor Events Center in non-conference games), and Nevada should have minimal trouble staying unbeaten. Season record: 11-0

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