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Nevada-USC: Three keys and a prediction

Nevada
The Nevada basketball team plays at USC on Saturday. (Nick Beaton/Nevada athletics)

The Nevada basketball team plays at USC on Saturday afternoon. Nevada Sports Net’s Chris Murray breaks down the game with three keys to victory and his prediction.

Nevada (7-0) at USC (5-2)

When: Saturday, 1:30 p.m.

Where: Galen Center (10,258 capacity)

TV/Radio: Fox/94.5 FM

Online: None

TV crew: Aaron Goldsmith (play-by-play), Jim Jackson (color analyst), Kristina Pink (sideline)

Betting line: Nevada by 6; total of 160.5

Three keys for Nevada to win

1. Tame the twin towers: USC’s top two scorers are the 6-foot-10 Bennie Boatwright and 6-11 Nick Rakocevic. Neither guy packs on a ton of weight, but their length is a new challenge for the Wolf Pack. Boatwright and Rakocevic combine to average 31.4 points and 18.1 rebounds per game, with both making more than half of their field-goal attempts. It won’t be easy defending those two, but it will be interesting to see if Nevada tries to match up by playing Jordan Brown (6-11) and Trey Porter (6-11) together for the first extended time this season. More likely, Nevada will play its regular lineup, with 6-8 Tre’Shawn Thurman starting at power forward, but the Brown-Porter option should be on the table, if necessary. There aren’t a lot of NCAA teams with two bigs as talented as productive as Boatwright and Rakocevic, but Nevada has more size up front than last year, so it’s much better equipped for this test.

2. Good ball, player movement: Nevada’s offense has been spectacular the last two games, the Wolf Pack destroying the defenses put up by UMass and Loyola Chicago. USC’s defense is as good as Nevada has seen to date, the Trojans holding opponents to 37.8 percent shooting, including 31.6 percent from three. Both are terrific marks. USC has excellent rim protection (4.4 blocks per game), although it has been prone to fouls, so that’s an area the Wolf Pack could may some hay against a stingy Trojan defense by getting to the line, something Nevada has done all season with the exception of the win over Loyola Chicago. The Wolf Pack has the nation’s No. 1 offense, per KenPom, so USC hasn’t faced a unit like this with a multitude of contributors who can post 20-plus-points per night. This will be a fun matchup.

3. Don’t let Porter go crazy: We don’t know if Kevin Porter Jr., a freshman being heralded as a lottery pick, will play as he’s dealing with a quad contusion. But he has star talent and high-scoring potential. Porter isn’t a ball-stopper. He’s attempted more than 10 shots only once this season, so he’s clearly trying to blend into the system, but he also has the potential to go off offensively. If he does play, Nevada's Cody Martin, the reigning MW defensive player of the year, will likely draw the defensive assignment. With no inside information, I’m guessing Porter does play. It’s a marquee game and while quad contusions aren’t great, he should be able to gut his way through things with numerous of scouts on hand. Nevada has traditionally done well defending the opposition’s best player under coach Eric Musselman. This is one of its biggest challenges yet in that regard.

Prediction

Nevada 83, USC 74: This is Nevada’s toughest test to date and I expect the Wolf Pack to rise to the occasion despite being on the road against a team that is equally talented. Nevada has a sizable edge in coaching and the team’s experience means it won’t be rattle playing a good team away from home. Hopefully Porter does play as the Wolf Pack needs to go against the strongest competition it can find to be battle-tested for March. USC’s bigs are really good, but Nevada has the arsenal to battle against those two. Both teams are deep (USC has five players averaging double-figures; Nevada has four). A big key is Nevada's Porter staying out of foul trouble. If he does so and helps neutralize that Trojan size, I think the Wolf Pack to win fairly comfortably. Season record: 7-0

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