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Nevada-Loyola Chicago: Three keys to the game and a prediction

Jordan Caroline
Jordan Caroline and the Wolf Pack take on Loyola-Chicago on Tuesday. (John Byrne/Nevada athletics)

The Nevada basketball team plays at Loyola-Chicago on Tuesday. Nevada Sports Net’s Chris Murray breaks down the game with three keys to victory and his prediction.

Nevada (6-0) at Loyola-Chicago (4-2)

When: Tuesday, 5 p.m. (Pacific time)

Where: Gentile Arena (4,963 capacity)

TV/Radio: ESPNews/94.5 FM

Online: ESPN3.com

TV crew: Jordan Bernfield (play-by-play), Sean Harrington (color analyst)

Betting line: Nevada favored by 6.5 points; total of 150

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Three keys for Nevada to win

1. Control the pace: As we saw in last year’s NCAA Tournament game between these schools, Loyola-Chicago wants to slow down the game, limit the possessions and get a high-quality shot each time down the court. The Ramblers rank 201st in the adjusted pace, per KenPom, this season after sitting at 307th last year, so they are playing a little faster, but they don’t want to get in an up-and-down game against the Wolf Pack (ask UMass how that would work out). Nevada isn’t the fastest-playing team (118th in tempo), but it will have the athletic advantage in this one and would like to get the game moving. A lot of that will come down to either forcing turnovers or getting stops and running off misses. Neither of those goals will be easy as Loyola-Chicago shoots 50.5 percent from the floor and averages 13.8 turnovers a night (a little higher than you'd expect). If this game is played in the 60s (like the NCAA Tournament contest), that highly favors the Ramblers. If this game gets into the 80s, you can almost be assured the Wolf Pack will win.

2. Limit Cameron Krutwig: The Wolf Pack used its smallball lineup in full force against UMass, its five-man gang topping out at 6-foot-7 (bigs Trey Porter and Jordan Brown played a combined 15 minutes). It will be interesting to see whether Nevada uses that strategy to try and run Loyola-Chicago’s Cameron Krutwig off the court or if it matches us with the Ramblers’ 6-foot-9, 255-pound behemoth with one of its bigs. Krutwig averages 13.2 points and 7.3 rebounds per game while shooting an insane 80 percent from the field (he’s made 32-of-40 field goals). Nevada limited Krutwig to 13 minutes played in last year's NCAA Tournament game because it went small and used its speed to turn Krutwig into a defensive liability. It might not be able to do the same this season as he’s averaging 26 minutes per game. If he’s on the court, Nevada should attack him offensively (Jordan Caroline is great at tagging fouls on bigger bodies) because Krutwig is an excellent offensive weapon.

3. Continue bench production: With the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline, there’s no doubt Nevada has one of the best starting fives in the nation. But it’s the bench that has been a quiet contributor for the Wolf Pack. Here are the scoring totals from the Wolf Pack bench in the team’s first six games: 26, 17, 33, 36, 31 and 21. That’s an average of 27.3 points per game, with the reserves clearing the 21-point barrier in all but one of those contests. Loyola-Chicago doesn’t get nearly as much pop from its backups. The Ramblers’ bench is averaging 14.8 points per game. That’s a 12.5-point edge for Nevada, which counts a McDonald’s All-American (Jordan Brown) and a double-digit spark plug (Jazz Johnson) as bench contributors. It’s going to be really hard to beat Nevada if the bench keeps giving the Wolf Pack 27 points per night.

Prediction

Nevada 77, Loyola-Chicago 67: This is Nevada’s toughest test to date. Loyola-Chicago had an excellent defense last season and again has an excellent defense this year. The Ramblers rarely foul and limit teams to 40.1 percent shooting, including 32.2 percent from three. Nevada’s offense, meanwhile, is the nation’s best, per KenPom, so this is a strength-against-strength matchup. Loyola-Chicago hasn’t gotten its 3-point shooting dialed in this season, hitting just 31.7 percent from beyond the arc, and will have to do better than that to spring the upset. The Ramblers do have the home-court edge and will have a sold-out crowd behind them, but Nevada should come out victorious in its first true road game of the season. The Wolf Pack was 12-3 on the road last year and coach Eric Musselman’s teams have historically done well away from Lawlor Events Center. I expect Nevada to pick up some revenge over the Ramblers. Season record: 6-0

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