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Nevada Basketball opponent preview and prediction: San Francisco Dons

NCAA Basketball: AFR Hall of Fame Tip-Off-San Francisco at Rhode Island David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The Nevada Wolf Pack will be taking on its third West Coast Conference opponent in their last three games, this time against an undefeated San Francisco Dons squad on Thursday, Nov. 18 at 7:00 p.m. PT.

The Pack have dropped their last two to WCC foes: A home bout against San Diego (75-68) and most recently to Santa Clara (96-74). They surrendered 57 second-half points — 30 in the paint — to the Broncos Tuesday, getting outscored by 25 points after halftime.

San Francisco is off to a red-hot 4-0 start — all coming at home. Three of its victories — to Long Island University, Prairie View and Samford — have come by 16-plus points. It also defeated Davidson by five, 65-60, on Nov. 13.

This contest makes up for the home-road series last year, which the latter was cancelled due to COVID-travel complications between the two programs. Last season, San Francisco smushed the Pack in Reno, 85-60, after knocking down 15 3-pointers at a 44.1 percent clip; for comparison, Nevada hit just four at a 23.5 percent rate.

The Pack have not lost three consecutive regular season games since Feb. 17-25, 2015, while the Dons haven’t won five straight since they opened the 2019-20 regular season on a seven-game win streak.

Can the Pack get back on track and hand USF its first loss of the season? Let’s dig into the matchup and find out!

Matchup: Nevada (1-2) vs. San Francisco (4-0)

When: Thursday, Nov. 18 at 7:30 p.m. PT

Where: War Memorial at the Sobrato Center in San Francisco, Calif.

TV/Online: Stadium, Nevada Sports Net || Stadium.TV

Spread: San Francisco -7

Money line: Nevada +260, USF -320

Last Meeting: USF won 85-60 (Dec. 2, 2020)

Matchup History: USF leads 48-32

Breakdown:

Through their first four games, the Dons have been one of the nation’s most impressive mid-major programs on both sides of the ball. They’re currently in the top-40 in efficiency margin (plus-17.4; 31st), offensive efficiency (108.2; 35th) and defensive efficiency (90.8; 39th).

All-WCC guard Jamaree Bouyea, who had 11 points on 5-of-11 shooting last year against the Pack, topped the Dons in scoring a year ago, tallying 17.3 points on 50.0 percent shooting — 37.0 percent from 3-point range — with a 22.8 player efficiency rating (PER).

It’s safe to say the 6-foot-2 guard’s picked up right where he’s left off.

Bouyea’s posted averages of 17.8 points on 56.3 percent shooting, including 35.0 from distance. He’s grabbing 4.5 boards, dishing out 2.6 assists with 2.0 steals per contest — sporting an identical 22.8 PER.

His backcourt mate, Khalil Shabazz, another All-WCC nominee, is second in scoring at 13.8 points, in addition to his 3.8 rebounds while also legally pickpocketing opponents, snatching a team-most 2.8 steals a game.

Former San Diego transfer Yauhen Massalski has provided a boost to his new West Coast Conference program, tallying 11.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in 22.5 minutes per game. Former Nevada forward Zane Meeks, who transferred to USF in the offseason, has appeared in just game: Its season opener. Meeks logged nine minutes, scoring six points on 2-of-6 from distance.

Nevada’s began its anticipated campaign season on the other end of the teeter totter.

For its standards, the defense has been a tire fire — albeit only three games into a 30-plus game season. Nevertheless, it sports a slightly above average defensive rating, but’s ranked in the bottom-half nationally in scoring defense (82.3), opponent field goal percentage (48.7) and opponent effective field goal percentage (54.8).

Grant Sherfield, the preseason Mountain West player of the year, leads the team in scoring (17.7) and assists (6.3 apg). He’s shooting 41.3 percent from the floor, 46.2 percent from 3-point range and 90.0 percent from the free throw line.

All-Conference guard Desmond Cambridge’s tallied 15.0 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.3 steals per game — placing top-3 on the team in each categories. AJ Bramah has been one of Nevada’s most productive players on a per-minute basis when he’s seen the floor. He’s tallying 14.0 points and a team-most 7.5 rebounds — 3.0 offensive — in just 22.5 minutes per game across two contests.

Bramah missed Nevada’s second game against San Diego due to a concussion. He’s shooting 52.4 percent on the season and 60.0 percent (6-10) on long 2s, per Barttorvik.

Amidst the team-wide struggles, Warren Washington has noticeably taken a leap. He’s averaging 12.3 points and 7.0 rebounds in 26 minutes per contest, knocking down 66.7 percent of his attempts. Will Baker — a former Texas transfer and five star recruit — has providing a solid front-court presence, totaling 10.0 points and 3.7 rebounds, shooting 48.0 percent including knocking down 3-of-5 from distance.

Prediction:

These last two games have been one to forget for Nevada. With high hopes for the non-conference schedule, it’s quickly turned sideways. There’s zero question that this defense isn’t where Alford or anyone else wants it to be right now, and against a formidable two-way opponent inside its home building, the defense has to show up. It can’t surrender 57-point halves, nor can it continue allowing 40-plus points in the paint — which, by the way, it’s done over the last two games (San Diego - 40, Santa Clara - 48). The Dons have just one game with at least 40 points in the paint and two with at least 35 — where they finished with more than 90 points both games. It’s a safe bet that San Francisco’s defense shows up because they’re riding high and will be playing their fifth straight at home, so Nevada’s defense will have to be very good for it to have any chance at a win. Nevada 71, San Francisco 82 (Season record: 1-2)