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Nevada-Little Rock: Three keys to victory and a prediction

Cody Martin
Cody Martin and the Wolf Pack take on Little Rock on Friday. (John Byrne/Nevada athletics)

The Nevada basketball team hosts Little Rock on Friday. Nevada Sports Net’s Chris Murray breaks down the game with three keys to victory and his prediction.

Little Rock (2-0) at Nevada (2-0)

When: Friday, 8 p.m.

Where: Lawlor Events Center (11,536 capacity)

TV/Radio: ESPNU/94.5 FM

Online: ESPN3

TV crew: Steve Quis; Richie Schueler

Betting line: Nevada by 25; total 154

Three keys for Nevada to win

1. Just don’t mess up: That’s really Nevada’s mantra for the next four games as the Wolf Pack plays Little Rock, Cal Baptist, Tulsa and either Southern Illinois or Massachusetts. None of those teams should pose a threat to Nevada as long as the Wolf Pack doesn’t mess it up, but they're high-risk, no-reward games (Nevada gets no bump for winning the game but would be crushed for losing one). It’s the calm before the story of potentially risk games with opponents like Loyola Chicago, South Dakota State, USC, Arizona State and Utah, which litter the back-half of Nevada’s non-conference schedule. The Wolf Pack is a 25-point favorite against Little Rock, its largest spread against a Division I opponent since January 2007 when it was a 26.5-point favorite against Idaho (Nevada won that game, 81-55). It would take a historically bad effort for the Wolf Pack to lose this game, so it would be best advised not to do that tonight.

2. Defend the three: Little Rock likes to trigger threes, and as we know, the best way for a big underdog to beat a better opponent is to get hot from three. Nevada has done an excellent job of defending the arc this season, limiting opponents to 11-of-51 shooting from three (that’s 21.6 percent). If Little Rock shoots in the low-20s from three, it’s going to get crushed. That figure has to be in the low-40s or better. Little Rock is shooting 36.4 percent from three in its first two games, so it’s a capable shooting team that can get hot. Jaizec Lottie and Markquis Nowell, a pair of small, quick guards, have combined to make 11-of-25 3-point attempts (44 percent), so those are the players for Nevada to mark.

3. Limit the turnovers: Little Rock has forced 34 turnovers over two games (that’s 17 per outing) and has averaged 19.5 points per game off those turnovers, so it likes to play with some pace and get easy baskets. Little Rock also has been prone to turnovers, giving the ball away 29 times in its first two contests, so takeaways will be a big statistic in this one. Nevada has been excellent at not giving the ball away during coach Eric Musselman’s tenure, so Little Rock will have its hands full flustering the Wolf Pack and creating miscues from a team that rarely gets frazzled given its high number of quality ball-handlers.

Prediction

Nevada 92, Little Rock 68: Little Rock is 2-0 but it also required overtime to beat Southeastern Oklahoma State, Division II school, in its season opener, so that 2-0 means little at this point, although Musselman did express some concern over the problems the Trojans could pose. “They play a really difficult style,” the Wolf Pack head coach said. “They play free and loose and shoot a lot of threes, high-volume free throw attempt team and they create a lot of steals and they cherry-pick and leak out as much as any team I’ve seen in the three years I’ve been here.” Little Rock is led by former NBA head coach Darrell Walker, so the Trojans are competently run and have some solid size down low, but Nevada has a major advantage in personnel and should roll to a third straight lopsided victory to open the season. Season record: 2-0

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