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Nevada-San Jose State: Three keys and a prediction

Jazz Johnson
Jazz Johnson and the Wolf Pack play San Jose State tonight. (John Byrne/Nevada athletics)

The Nevada basketball team plays against San Jose State on Wednesday night in Reno. Nevada Sports Net’s Chris Murray breaks down the game with three keys to victory and his prediction.

San Jose State (3-10, 0-1 MW) at Nevada (14-1, 1-1 MW)

When: Wednesday, 8 p.m.

Where: Lawlor Events Center (11,536 capacity)

TV/Radio: CBS Sports Network/94.5 FM

Online: None

Betting line: Nevada by 27; total of 143

Three keys for Nevada to win

1. Defend the post: San Jose State is a limited offensive team that makes just 41.4 percent of its shots and fewer than seven threes per night. The Spartans are at their best when they’re able to get the ball to their bigs in the post and let them work. Michael Steadman (SJSU’s leading scorer) and Oumar Barry (SJSU’s third-leading scorer) go 6-10 and 6-11, respectively. They’ll take some threes, but neither are effective beyond the arc. They combined to average 23 points per game and shoot 53.7 percent from inside the arc (they’re a combined 8-of-33 from three, 24.2 percent). Nevada will let those dudes take threes if they want, but it has to be sturdy with its post defense. The 6-9, 225-pound Craig LeCesne (8.7 ppg) also can score in the post, with each of the bigs drawing a good amount of free throws (they’ve combined to shoot 133 of them this year). Nevada hasn’t played Trey Porter and Jordan Brown together very often this season, but this might be a game to do so as SJSU plays a big frontcourt that isn’t especially mobile. SJSU is a solid offensive rebounding team – which you’d assume with the size – so Nevada must limit the second-chance points.

2. Only take good threes: As I pointed out in this week’s Monday Mailbag, the Wolf Pack is attempting more 3-pointers per game this season than last (24.8 compared to 24.4) despite hitting that shot at a far lower rate (33.3 percent compared to 39 percent). And over the last seven games, the Wolf Pack is shooting 27.8 percent from three. Nevada should not take the three-ball out of its offense. That’d be dumb. But the Wolf Pack should only be taking open, high-percentage threes off good ball movement. SJSU hasn’t defended the three well this season, allowing opponents to shoot 34.9 percent from beyond the arc while giving up 9.3 made threes a game. There should be open threes to be had for Nevada if the ball movement is good and players are focused on making the extra pass to turn a good shot into a great one. Still, the Wolf Pack’s focus should be on getting the ball into the lane – SJSU allows opponents to make 55.4 percent of their two-point attempts, which ranks in the bottom 45 in the NCAA – as the first and foremost goal.

3. Don’t take the game for granted: Motivation should not be a problem after the Wolf Pack took its first loss of the year in its last outing, although it’d be easy to take the win for granted given the level SJSU has played at in recent seasons. (Fun fact: SJSU has 13 MW wins in its five-plus-year history in the league; Nevada won 15 MW games last year alone). The Wolf Pack has been superb in its first game after a loss under coach Eric Musselman, going 25-3 in such situations in his four seasons (two of those back-to-back losses came in Musselman’s first year). I’d expect the Wolf Pack to come out highly motivated given the situation and Musselman’s history of getting his team prepared after a defeat, but the Wolf Pack also is a 27-point favorite, its highest line against a Division I opponent since at least 2000 (the furthest the numbers go back). It’d be easy to look ahead to Saturday’s game at Fresno State, which is a much more talented team.

Prediction

Nevada 84, San Jose State 60: If San Jose State has been paying attention to the Wolf Pack’s season, you’d figure the Spartans would try and slow the game down and play zone, limiting the number of possessions and making the Wolf Pack beat it from the 3-point line. That’s the formula, although it’d take a miracle for the Spartans to pull this game out. They rank 10th out of 11 MW teams in defensive efficiency and 11th in offensive efficiency. This is to say SJSU is neither good at defense or offense and will be playing a top 10 team in the nation on the road after losing its last two contests by a combined 50 points. SJSU hasn’t beaten a Top 25 team since 1999 when it knocked off No. 19 Alabama, 60-59, in overtime, so this would be one of the best wins in school history (probably the best). The Wolf Pack should roll in this one, a good tune up before the tough test against the Bulldogs this weekend. Season record: 14-1

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