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Nevada-Arizona State: Three keys to victory and a prediction

Jordan Caroline
Jordan Caroline and the Wolf Pack play ranked Arizona State on Friday night. (John Byrne/Nevada athletics)

The Nevada basketball team plays against Arizona State on Friday night in Los Angeles. Nevada Sports Net’s Chris Murray breaks down the game with three keys to victory and his prediction.

Nevada (8-0) vs. Arizona State (7-0)

When: Friday, 9 p.m.

Where: Staples Center (21,000 capacity) in Los Angeles

TV/Radio: ESPN2/94.5 FM

Online: ESPN3.com

TV crew: Dave Feldman (play-by-play), Jay Bilas (color analyst)

Betting line: Nevada by 7.5; total of 158

Three keys for Nevada to win

1. Don’t get trashed on the glass: Arizona State ranks seventh in the nation with a plus-13 rebounding margin, so while Nevada hasn’t been shabby on the glass – it is plus-6.5, which ranks 47th in the nation – this will be a big test. The Sun Devils are good on the offensive and defensive backboard. They grab 36 percent of their missed shots and retrieve 80.5 percent of their opponent's misses (both rank in the top 20 in the nation). Nevada hasn’t been a good offensive rebounding team (for one, it doesn’t miss many shots), but it does do an excellent job on the defensive glass. That will be the key in this one, limiting Arizona State from getting second-chance points. The Sun Devils grab 14 offensive boards per game, so they’re used to those second-chance opportunities. Only 6-foot-8 pogo stick Zylan Cheatham averages more than seven rebounds per game for Arizona State, with five players grabbing at least 5.7 boards per game, so there’s no one particular player to focus on. The Sun Devils do a great job of rebounding as a team.

2. Win the transition points: As noted above, Arizona State likes to crash the offensive glass, which gives Nevada a big opportunity to push the ball and get quick points in transition if it can secure missed shots. The Sun Devils, meanwhile, like to take some risks in the passing lanes defensively, although it averages just 6.4 steals per game, which ranks 148th in the nation. Nevada has done a great job of avoiding turnovers – just 8.9 per game, which ranks third in the nation – so giving the ball away shouldn’t be an issue against Arizona State. But if the Wolf Pack does cough up live-ball turnovers, it will pay for them. The Sun Devils have stellar athleticism and an solid defense that can create chaos. Transition defense will be big for both teams as Nevada and Arizona State don’t mind playing with speed when given the opportunity, more so for the Sun Devils (76th nationally in tempo) than for the Wolf Pack (209th in tempo).

3. Hit at least 10 3-pointers: The Wolf Pack is an excellent team, but it seems nearly unbeatable when it’s hitting its threes. Nevada is shooting 38.7 percent from three this season, which is only a shade below the 39.2 percent it shot last season. That number is buoyed by Jazz Johnson, the team’s sixth man who is hitting treys at a 56.8 percent clip, which places him seventh in the nation. Johnson and Caleb Martin have combined to make 47 of the team’s 74 3-pointers. That’s nearly 64 percent of those made threes. Other players on Nevada’s team can hit threes, but it’s really on those two to carry the team in this department. Arizona State is excellent at defending the three, holding teams to 31.2 percent from beyond the arc. The Sun Devils have great length across the board, but if Nevada moves the ball well (as it usually does) it should get open threes. If the Wolf Pack, which will be shooting in an NBA arena, which is an adjustment given the sight lines, hits those 3-point attempts at its usual rate, it should remain undefeated.

Prediction

Nevada 84, Arizona State 78: Nevada is the higher-ranked team, coming in at No. 6 to Arizona State’s No. 20, but the Sun Devils won’t care much about that. During Bobby Hurley’s four seasons as Arizona State’s head coach, the Sun Devils have beaten five Top 25 teams, including three away from home. That includes a victory over No. 15 Mississippi State this season, although the rest of Arizona State’s schedule this year has been light (its second-best win is over Mountain West school Utah State, 87-82). Meanwhile, Nevada hasn’t played a team as good as Arizona State, but it has passed road tests against Loyola-Chicago and USC with flying colors the last two times out. If Nevada rebounds and hits its threes, it will win by double-digits. If it gives up second-chance points and doesn’t connect from deep, it could be in trouble. This one should be fun. I’ll take Nevada to out-last Arizona State in a battle of the unbeatens. Season record: 8-0

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