The Nevada basketball team plays against New Mexico on Saturday night in Albuquerque. Nevada Sports Net’s Chris Murray breaks down the game with three keys to victory and his prediction.
New Mexico (7-6) at Nevada (14-0)
When: Saturday, 5 p.m. (Pacific time)
Where: The Pit (15,411 capacity)
TV/Radio: ESPNU/94.5 FM
Online: ESPN3.com/Watch ESPN app
Betting line: No line posted yet
Three keys for Nevada to win
1. Win the turnover game: New Mexico plays unlike any other MW team, cranking up the tempo and pressure. The Lobos play with the 20th-fastest pace in the nation, per KenPom, and create 14.7 turnovers per game, the second most in the MW. New Mexico also turns the ball over 15.2 times per game, the third most in the MW. The Lobos’ ability to create turnovers and score in transition is one of its greatest strengths, although that will be difficult to do against Nevada, which gives the ball up just 9.7 times a night, the lowest in the MW and the sixth lowest in the NCAA. The Wolf Pack has a bundle of ball-handlers, so pressing it into mistakes isn’t very easy. Case in point: Nevada had only five turnovers in its lone game against New Mexico last season, a 77-74 win at Lawlor Events Center (the didn’t play at the Pit). If Nevada only has five turnovers in this game, it will win with relative ease. New Mexico has to force the Wolf Pack, which had 16 turnovers in its last game, into more mistakes than that.
2. Deny the entry passes: New Mexico has some good low-post scorers in UConn transfer Vance Jackson, Kansas transfer Carlton Bragg, Corey Manigault and Vladimir Pinchuk (all are 6-foot-9 or taller), but the Lobos, which have young guards for the most part, have struggled to get them the ball in good positions to score. Nevada must pressure the perimeter and make sure New Mexico isn’t able to get easy entry passes into Jackson (11.4 ppg,) Bragg (10.4 ppg), Manigault (9.8 ppg) and Pinchuk (5.5 ppg), who combine to take more than 27 shots per game (Jackson shoots some threes, but the rest are post players). The Wolf Pack has better size this season and has gotten good interior defense from Trey Porter and Tre’Shawn Thurman, who must play big against the Lobos’ frontcourt, which is one of the biggest in the conference, but the Wolf Pack guards are responsible for making it difficult for New Mexico’s forwards to get the ball in scoring positions.
3. Score more from three: New Mexico and Nevada rank first and second in the MW in 3-point attempts per game. The Lobos trigger 27 a night; the Wolf Pack 24.9. If they’re both going to shoot that much, it’s pretty obvious this is a key. New Mexico is the better 3-point shooting team, hitting 36.5 percent from beyond the arc to Nevada’s 34.4 percent. But the Wolf Pack defends the three much better than New Mexico, holding foes to 30.8 percent shooting compared to the Lobos’ 34.4 percent. Generally speaking, New Mexico’s defense has been bad, allowing opponents to make 45.4 percent of their shots overall. Nevada’s defense has been better than its offense this season, but the combination of New Mexico’s preferred pace and its struggles on defense could lead to a big scoring game for the Wolf Pack. Expect the Lobos to play a lot of zone, a scheme Nevada has seen plenty this year.
Nevada 76, New Mexico 65: Entering the season, this looked to be one of Nevada’s most difficult games. But New Mexico has failed to find traction on the season, splitting its 12 games against Division I opponents while losing twice to rival New Mexico State, including a 35-point defeat (the Lobos also lost to an average Saint Mary’s team by 25). The Pit usually offers a great home-court advantage, but New Mexico has already lost there four times this season (against three wins). Penn, North Texas, New Mexico State and Colorado have all won in Albuquerque, and while those teams are all good, they’re not as good as Nevada. If New Mexico has a good shooting night and creates some turnovers, it is more than capable of beating Nevada, but it will take its best game of the season to date (by a long shot). The Wolf Pack has played really well the last two times out and has an excellent defense, which should be able to limit a New Mexico team that has scored exactly 65 points in each of its last three games against Division I foes (the Lobos are 1-2 in that stretch). I'll take Nevada by double-digits. Season record: 14-0