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Nevada Basketball opponent preview and prediction: Santa Clara Broncos

NCAA Basketball: WCC Tournament-Santa Clara vs Pepperdine Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Nevada Wolf Pack begins their first road trip Tuesday with a road bout against the Santa Clara Broncos, who begin 2-0 for the second time since 2015-16.

Santa Clara, who is playing its first four games at home to begin the season, has knocked off Cal State Fullerton (84-77) and Stanford (88-72) in its first two games. The Broncos moved up to No. 109 in Ken Pom’s rankings and rank No. 5 nationally in shooting (58.1) and No. 8 in assists per game (23.0).

In its 16-point victory over the Cardinals, Santa Clara shot 59.6 percent, including 12-of-25 (48.0 percent) from beyond the arc.

Meanwhile, Nevada got off to hot start with a 91-76 victory against Eastern Washington before a not-so-hot start against San Diego, losing 75-68. The Pack, who trailed by 19 at one point, opening the second half on a 15-0 run and eventually evened it at 51 — but couldn’t fully climb over the hill, failing to grab the lead in the second half.

The Pack are in the midst of a three-game battle against West Coast Conference programs, with Santa Clara being the second. Can the they begin their lengthy trip away from Lawlor Events Center on the winning end? Let’s dive into the matchup and find out!

Matchup: Nevada (1-1) vs. Santa Clara (2-0)

When: Tuesday, Nov. 16 at 6:00 p.m. PT

Where: Leavey Center in Santa Clara, Calif.

TV/Online: WCC Network || www.santaclarabroncos.com

Spread: Nevada -1.5

Money line: Nevada -125, Santa Clara +105

Last Meeting: Nevada won 98-67 (Dec. 4, 2019)

Matchup History: Santa Clara leads 34-29

Breakdown:

The Broncos retained each of last year’s top three scorers — boasted by three-time All-West Coast Conference forward Josip Vrankic. The 6-foot-9 forward was ninth in scoring (15.2), while leading in rebounding (8.2 rpg) and double-doubles (8) a year ago.

Needless to say, we’re one week into the season, but Vrankic, the focal point of its offense, has had an outstanding start to the season. He tipped-off his super senior campaign with a 29 point-8 rebound-5assist-5 steal showing on 13-of-20 shooting against Cal State Fullerton before notching 16 points with four rebounds and eight assists on 7-of-10 shooting against Stanford.

With plenty of requisite size up-and-down its roster, Nevada will likely showcase multiple bodies on Vrankic to try to mitigate any damage. But it will also have to find to shut down Jalen Williams and Keshawn Justice, Santa Clara’s No. 2 and No. 3 scorers last year, respectively.

Both have had good starts to the season as well. Williams has tallied 17.5 points, 4.5 assists and 1.5 steals per game, shooting 52.2 percent from the floor and 40.0 percent on 10 3-point attempts.

Justice has averaged 14.0 points with eight boards and a steal in 34.5 minutes per game, shooting 52.4 percent and 50.0 percent from deep (eight attempts). Green Bay transfer PJ Pipes has added 17.0 points on 60.0/44.4/75.0 shooting to begin the season, in addition to his 5.0 assists and 1.0 steals per game.

Nevada, slipping from No. 51 to No. 64 in Ken Pom’s rankings, is led by All-Conference guards Grant Sherfield and Desmond Cambridge.

Cambridge, who topped the Pack in scoring with 22 points in their season opener, was limited to just five points on 3-of-13 shooting in last Friday’s loss. Sherfield, despite averaging 15.0 points through the first two, hasn’t had the uber-efficient beginning — shooting just 35.7 percent and 33.3 percent from distance, albeit a small sample (just like it is for everyone else, so take it as you please).

Pack 7-footer Warren Washington leads the team in scoring, tallying 16.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks. Washington tallied his fourth career double-double on Friday with 18 points and 10 boards.

Former Robert Morris transfer AJ Bramah, who had 17 points and a team-high nine rebounds in their opener, did not play in Friday’s game due to still being in concussion protocol. The energy he provides would up lift the Pack on both ends — something they missed for most of their contest against the Toreros.

Former Texas transfer Will Baker, has transitioned well into the starting 5. He’s averaging 12.5 points on 55.6 percent shooting in 27.0 minutes a night.

Six different Pack players have tallied double figure scoring in two games. Last year, seven did all season.

Prediction:

It’s way too early to thinking about March Madness — given that we’re seven days in — but with its loss to San Diego, the current state of affairs suggest that Nevada must remain perfect in order to be considered as an at-large favorite in March. On paper, it had frail non-conference schedule and it’s not going to get any easier on Tuesday. The Broncos are playing outstanding basketball right now and the Pack will need to find a way to fashion enough energy to win. They have the talent and the depth, especially if Bramah suits up, but can they bounce back against the Broncos on Monday? Only time will tell. Nevada 88, Santa Clara 83 (Season record: 1-1)