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Nevada-BYU: Three keys to victory and a prediction

Cody Martin
Cody Martin and the Wolf Pack take on BYU tonight. (John Byrne/Nevada athletics)

Nevada Sports Net’s Chris Murray breaks down the Wolf Pack basketball team’s game against BYU with three keys to victory and his prediction.

BYU at Nevada

Records: BYU (0-0) at Nevada (0-0)

When: Tuesday, 8 p.m.

Where: Lawlor Events Center (11,536 capacity)

TV/Radio: CBS Sports Network/94.5 FM

TV crew: Carter Blackburn, Pete Gillen

Betting line: Nevada by 13; total of 154.5

Three keys for Nevada to win

1. Play better defense: Nevada’s defensive performance in its two preseason games was not stellar. The Wolf Pack allowed Washington to shoot 61.7 percent from the field and San Francisco State shot 50 percent in the first half before Nevada finally played some defense in the last 20 minutes of its exhibition season. BYU always has an excellent offense and that should be the case again this season after the Cougars returned six of its top seven scorers from last year’s squad that shot 48.2 percent from the field, including 34.7 percent from three. BYU also averaged more than 20 free throws attempts per game, so it can score in a variety of ways and does not turn the ball over (just 11.5 per game). Nevada won’t play many offenses better than the one it faces against the Cougars. The Wolf Pack must be sharper than we’ve seen so far.

2. Make some threes: Like its defense, Nevada’s distance shooting was not good in the preseason. The team hit a combined 10-of-48 3-pointers in those games, good for a 20.8 percent conversion rate. Some of this was uncharacteristically bad shooting from good shooters (Caleb Martin was 4-of-17 from beyond the arc). Nevada is not going to shoot 21 percent from three this season. But after losing Kendall Stephens and Hallice Cooke, it is an open question on how well the Wolf Pack will shoot from beyond the arc. BYU is a good defensive team (and as we said above, the Cougars don’t turn the ball over on offense), so Nevada can’t waste possessions on low-percentage 3-pointers. The team should shoot confidentially but smartly. The Wolf Pack is a heavy betting-line favorite, but it can’t afford another off shooting night.

3. Limit Yoeli Childs: The 6-foot-8, 225-pound Childs is BYU’s version of Jordan Caroline, a high-impact stat-stuffer who averaged 17.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.8 blocks per game last season. He shot 54.1 percent from the field and is capable of hitting a three, although most of his damage comes in the paint, where he averages 5.2 free throws a night. Childs tested the draft waters before returning to school for his junior season and will be the Cougars’ focal point this season after leading scorer Elijah Bryant turned pro but was not drafted (he's playing in Israeli). Nevada has added size to its front court for this season, and this is the Wolf Pack’s first test in defending a big with that size. Trey Porter and Jordan Brown, both of whom are 6-foot-11, will likely draw the defensive assignment. They can let Childs dominate the game.

Prediction

Nevada 78, BYU 70: Nevada could have opened the season with an easy game so it could wade into this highly anticipated year in a setting with a bigger margin for error. It did not opt to do so when scheduling BYU, which hasn’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 2015 but is consistently one of the better programs on the West Coast, with eight appearances in the Big Dance and eight 25-plus-win seasons in the last 12 years. BYU will hit 20 victories again this season and could be an NCAA Tournament team, so this is a big résumé game for both sides (like Nevada’s early-season non-conference game against Rhode Island was last year). The Wolf Pack will have to play a “B” or better game to dispatch the Cougars, who rarely beat themselves under coach Dave Rose (329-122 in his career). While Nevada’s preseason games didn’t instill a ton of confidence, the team was going through the kinks you’d expect the first few times out. While there is limited margin for error in this game, I still expect the Wolf Pack to play well enough to open the season with a victory but not cover the betting line. Season record: 0-0

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