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Nevada-Grand Canyon: Three keys and a prediction

Jordan Brown
Jordan Brown and the Wolf Pack play Grand Canyon on Sunday. (John Byrne/Nevada athletics)

The Nevada basketball team plays Grand Canyon on Sunday afternoon in Phoenix. Nevada Sports Net’s Chris Murray breaks down the game with three keys to victory and his prediction.

Nevada (9-0) vs. Grand Canyon (5-3)

When: Sunday, 2:30 p.m.

Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena (18,422 capacity) in Phoenix

TV/Radio: ESPNU/94.5 FM

Online: Watch ESPN

Betting line: No line posted yet

Three keys for Nevada to win

1. Deal with the quick turnaround: Nevada won’t have much time to prepare for this game after leaving Staples Center around midnight Saturday morning and playing at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in a different time zone. The Wolf Pack’s bodies should be able to cope with the quick turnaround, but Nevada won’t have the typical prep time it has for a game (and the Wolf Pack’s preparation is one of its biggest advantages over the competition). After just the 10th victory over a Top 25 team in program history, Nevada needs to quickly forget the comeback win over Arizona State and get fully engaged with the challenge against Grand Canyon, a team the Wolf Pack should put a thumping on if it's 100 percent physically and mentally into this game. Nevada probably won’t be 100 percent in both capacities given the travel situation, but it will be better prepared for a situation like this given its age and maturity.

2. Defend the lines: Grand Canyon lives at the 3-point and free throw lines. The Antelopes average 23.3 3-point attempts per game, which is nearly 40 percent of its shots from the field. That’s a ginormous amount, roughly the same percentage as Nevada, which also likes to shoot the three. Grand Canyon also averages 24.3 free throw attempts per game. Nevada is at 27.6. So, both of these teams make their money from the lines, and while this technically is a neutral-court game, it’s basically a home game for Grand Canyon, which is based on Phoenix. Now, the big difference here is the Antelopes aren’t exactly good at shooting threes, hitting just 30.1 percent from deep (that’s really bad, actually). Nevada averages 45.8 points per game from the 3-point line/free throw line. Grand Canyon is at 38.4 ppg from those two areas. If the Antelopes are going to pull off the upset, they need to out-score Nevada from the lines.

3. Attack the rim: The Wolf Pack’s 3-point shot was not hitting against Arizona State (Nevada was 3-of-18 from deep), but it was able to bury the Sun Devils by attacking the hoop in the second half. Caleb Martin did an especially good job of this. That formula shouldn’t change against Grand Canyon, which does not have a rim-protecting threat (the Antelopes have just 24 blocks this season). Opponents are shooting 44 percent against Grand Canyon, including nearly 50 percent on two-point attempts. Nevada should be able to take the Antelopes off the dribble and while it can only shoot better from three after Friday’s off night, the Wolf Pack shouldn’t be content firing away from deep against a team that doesn’t have much in the way of big men who alter shots in the post.

Prediction

Nevada 85, Grand Canyon 71: The turnaround isn’t ideal for Nevada, but Grand Canyon should not pose much of a threat. The Antelopes haven’t played a top-100 RPI team this season and lost to the three best opponents on its schedule to date (Seton Hall, South Dakota State and Utah). The Antelopes' five wins have come over Delaware State, Jacksonville, Arkansas State, La Salle and Boise State, which are a combined 8-31 against Division I opponents this season. Now, this isn’t to say Grand Canyon isn’t a capable squad. Last year, the Antelopes won 22 games, reached the WAC Tournament final and played in the CBI. But they should not pose an issue for Nevada, which is a cut above. The Wolf Pack has proven it can play from behind, but I expect Nevada to take control of this game early and not face much of a challenge in the second half as it aims to improve to 10-0 for only the second time in school history. Season record: 9-0

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