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Nevada at Fresno State: Three keys and prediction

Jordan Caroline
Jordan Caroline and the Wolf Pack play at Fresno State on Saturday. (Nick Beaton/Nevada athletics)

The Nevada basketball team plays at Fresno State on Saturday night. Nevada Sports Net’s Chris Murray breaks down the game with three keys to victory and his prediction.

Nevada (15-1, 2-1 MW) at Fresno State (12-3, 3-0)

When: Saturday, 5 p.m.

Where: Save Mart Center (15,596 capacity)

TV/Radio: ESPNU/94.5 FM

Online: ESPN.com and Watch ESPN app

Betting line: No line posted yet

Three keys for Nevada to win

1. Defend the three: Fresno State’s biggest key to success this season has been its ability from three, both making that shot and defending it. The Bulldogs sink 38.3 percent of their threes (the second-best mark in the MW) and hold the opposition to 28.4 percent shooting from three (the best mark in the MW). The Bulldogs have made 58 more 3-pointers than its opponent. That’s an average of plus-11.6 points per game (Nevada is at plus-2.1 points per game from three). This is a major advantage for Fresno State, which boasts excellent 3-point shooters in Braxton Huggins, New Williams, Noah Blackwell, Sam Bittner and Deshon Taylor, a first-team All-MW talent who has struggled from three this season but has a good track record. Huggins’ 46 made 3-pointers (at a 41.1 percent rate) are third in the MW behind New Mexico’s Anthony Mathis (55) and Nevada’s Caleb Martin (50). The Wolf Pack must make sure he doesn’t go off like he did in the last game (33 points, eight made threes in a win at Utah State).

2. Caleb Martin (good version): Nevada’s last game encapsulated Caleb Martin’s season. In the first half, he had two points on 1-of-7 shooting. In the second half, he had 21 points on 7-of-8 shooting. Martin has improved a lot defensively this season and has been highly productive offensively. It’s just been hard to know whether his 3-point shot is going to be on or off in a given game (it’s usually been off in the first half and on in the second half). Playing at Fresno State, a NCAA Tournament bubble team, the Wolf Pack needs the good-shooting version of Martin on Saturday. When he shoots well, the Wolf Pack is nearly unstoppable. Martin’s 148 3-point attempts (9.3 per game) are the eighth most in the nation, so he’s going to be firing away. In the 10 games Martin has made at least three 3-pointers this season, Nevada’s scoring margin is plus-17.7 points. In the six games he failed to hit at least three 3-pointers, Nevada’s scoring margin is plus-9.3 points. The Wolf Pack needs Martin to hit three or four treys against Fresno State.

3. Win the size battle: Fresno State is a small team. Nevada is a big team. That will make for an interesting battle. The Bulldogs basically play six guys. Five of those guys are guards, plus 6-8 forward Nate Grimes. Those five guards check in at 6-1, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 and 6-6. Still, Fresno State has held strong on the glass, out-rebounding teams by 2.1 boards a night (Nevada is at plus-1.3). The Wolf Pack should have a solid rebounding advantage in this game given its size advantage, but that could pose issues elsewhere. Defending the perimeter against smaller, quicker guards will be a challenge for Nevada, which started two bigs in its last game (Trey Porter and Jordan Brown) and almost certainly won’t do the same in this game. The Wolf Pack has the ability to match up with its smaller lineup against Fresno State and could use Tre’Shawn Thurman or Jordan Caroline at center to give Corey Henson or Jazz Johnson more minutes. It will be an interest catch-and-mouse game between the two coaches given the size differences on the roster.

Prediction

Nevada 75, Fresno State 71: Nevada’s rout of San Jose State following its loss to New Mexico was nice, but it didn’t really tell us much. SJSU is horrible and the Wolf Pack was playing at home, where it never loses. This game at Fresno State, where the Wolf Pack is 1-3 in its last four games (the win came last season), will tell us a lot more about how Nevada has bounced back from its first defeat of the year. Fresno State could dearly use this win to help its NCAA Tournament at-large résumé. The Bulldogs are surely feeling good about themselves after winning at Utah State, 78-77, on a late 3-pointer by Huggins. Fresno State has only played one bad game this season, a 64-60 home loss to Utah Valley in which it was missing Taylor. You could argue this is Nevada’s most difficult regular-season game remaining (I’d probably take the Wolf Pack’s game at San Diego State given its struggles as Viejas Arena). Either way, this is a major challenge against a veteran and balanced team. A loss here would drop Nevada two full games behind Fresno State in the MW standings, which would not be ideal. The Wolf Pack needs to play one of its better games of the season to walk out of the Save Mart Center with a win. I’m guessing it does just that. Season record: 15-1

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