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Nevada-Tulsa: Three keys to victory and a prediction

Cody Martin
Cody Martin and the Wolf Pack head out on the road for the first time this season. (Nick Beaton/Nevada athletics)

The Nevada basketball team plays against Tulsa on Thursday in Las Vegas. Nevada Sports Net’s Chris Murray breaks down the game with three keys to victory and his prediction.

Nevada (4-0) vs. Tulsa (4-0)

When: Thursday, 1 p.m.

Where: Orleans Arena (7,500 capacity) in Las Vegas

TV/Radio: Fox Sports 1/94.5 FM

Online: None

TV crew: Alex Faust (play-by-play), Doug Gottlieb (color analyst)

Betting line: No line released yet

Three keys for Nevada to win

1. Bring your own energy: The Las Vegas tournaments Nevada has played in during recent seasons have not drawn well (we’re talking 500 fans a game). The Wolf Pack fell to San Francisco (losing by two) in an event like this last season and nearly lost to UCSB (winning by one) in a similar event the season prior. These are tricky games because you’re not getting anything from the crowd. The Wolf Pack has played in front of large crowds in all four of its games this season, so venturing on the road with minimal support in the stands will be new. Nevada must bring its own energy to the game because any loss to a lower-level opponent would not only be costly in the Top 25 rankings but more importantly it'd be costly come seeding time in March.

2. Defending without fouling: As we’ve noted the first few games, Nevada has pounded the opposition from the charity stripe. Tulsa also has done so. The Golden Hurricane have pinned 26 fouls per game on its opponent and are averaging 32.5 free throws a contest. Comparatively, Nevada is at 32.3 free throws per game. There isn’t one Tulsa player great at getting to the line. It’s a combined effort. The Wolf Pack has largely avoided foul trouble this season despite some tight whistles. Nevada has decent depth, although this team isn’t quite as deep we thought it would be. The Wolf Pack could handle a player or two in foul trouble, but not a handful. The Golden Hurricane aren’t a great 3-point shooting team and has relied on easy points from the line offensively. Nevada’s goal is to deny those opportunities.

3. Crisp ball movement: Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman expects Tulsa to play zone against Nevada, which means: (1) the Wolf Pack needs good ball movement and (2) Nevada needs to make some threes. Musselman was pleased with how his team handled the zone in its last game. “Cal Baptist went zone and we popped them real good,” he said. “Actually, our zone offense was much better than our man offense. The first two games we went through some scoring droughts but sometimes we do a better job of involving all of our teammates when we go into our zone offense. The ball moves a little bit more.” That crisp ball movement will be imperative against Tulsa, an athletic team that has created nearly 15 turnovers per game while holding opponents to 40.3 percent shooting. Nevada gets another crack at a zone, a defense it has seen a ton of already this year.

Prediction

Nevada 86, Tulsa 69: Yes, Tulsa is 4-0 but it has played the 350th-hardest schedule in the nation, per KenPom.com. There are 353 Division I teams in the nation. You do the math. Tulsa hasn’t played a quality team this season and nearly lost to a Cal Baptist team (an 82-79 win) the Wolf Pack just whacked by 35. This game should not be particularly close, and it’s a good way for Nevada to venture away from home for the first time. The Wolf Pack should have learned some lessons the last couple years about playing close neutral-court games against teams it is superior to. Tulsa possesses the best offense Nevada has faced since its season opener against BYU, so the Wolf Pack defense, which has looked good, gets a nice test. Nevada could really blow this one open if its hitting from three, but even if it isn’t, it should coast to another double-digit victory and remain perfect on the season. Season record: 4-0

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