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Nevada Basketball opponent preview and prediction: South Dakota State

NCAA Basketball: South Dakota State at Arizona Jacob Snow-USA TODAY Sports

The Nevada Wolf Pack begin the first of three games at the Crossover Classic against the South Dakota State Jackrabbits in Sioux Falls, S.D. on Monday, Nov. 22.

The Jackrabbits, who rank No. 78 in KenPom’s rankings, four slots behind Nevada (74), enter at 4-1 with three consecutive wins — two coming against solid opponents (Montana State, Stephen F. Austin) while another against a Division-III program (Presentation College). They have won 20 or more games in five of their last seven seasons, not including this one, with three NCAA Tournament berths (all first round losses).

The Wolf Pack sit at 1-3 with three straight losses — all to West Coast Conference programs. Their most recent loss came in a nail-biting 73-70 road defeat against San Francisco — who begin the season 5-0 — on Thursday, squandering a 16-point lead in the process.

Nevada’s in the midst of its first three-game losing streak under third-year head coach Steve Alford, with the last coming in Feb. of 2015. South Dakota State is in its best five-game start since it began 6-0 in 2015-16.

Will the Pack be able to shake off their drought in their first game of the Crossover Classic? Let’s dive into the matchup below and find out!

Matchup: Nevada (1-3) vs. South Dakota State (4-1)

When: Monday, Nov. 22 at 4:00 p.m. PT

Where: Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D.

TV/Online: None || ESPN+

Spread: South Dakota State -2.5 (William Hill)

Money line: Nevada +120, South Dakota State -140

Last Meeting: Nevada won 72-68 (Dec. 15, 2018)

Matchup History: Nevada leads 3-1

Breakdown:

South Dakota State has been one of the most efficient offensive teams in the nation, ranking in the top-35 in field goal percentage (50.2 percent; T-31), 3-point percentage (42.2; 23rd) and total 3-point makes (54; T-17).

Despite coming off the bench in four of the team’s first five games, Noah Freidel is averaging a team-high 19.2 points on 53.3 percent shooting, including a remarkable 46.2 percent from beyond the arc on high volume (7.8 attempts).

Freidel has recorded 15 or more points in four of his first five games with a 14-point outing in 18 minutes in South Dakota State’s most recent win over Division-III Presentation, 99-62.

Reigning All-Summit league guard Baylor Scheierman is averaging 12.2 points, though the 6-foot-6 guard is grabbing a team-high 11.2 rebounds after snatching 9.2 rebounds (team high) per game a year ago. He is shooting 48.8 percent from the floor, though his 3-point percentage has dipped considerably from 2020-21 (43.8 to 31.8 percent) on slightly less volume (5.7 to 4.4) to begin the season.

Douglas Wilson is second on the team in scoring at 13.2 points in 18.6 minutes per game, knocking down 53.1 percent of his attempts. Alex Arians has totaled 10.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 27.8 minutes per game. He’s shot 51.4 percent from the floor, including a blistering 64.3 percent from 3-point range on 2.8 attempts a game.

The Pack will have the clear size advantage over the Jackrabbits: None of its rotation players stand above 6-foot-8, while the Wolf Pack have oftentimes deployed a two-big lineup with 7-footers Warren Washington and Will Baker.

Washington’s tallied 12.3 points — fourth-most on the team — with 6.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per contest, both team highs. Baker’s tallied 13.5 points per game, including a career-high 24 points on 10-of-12 shooting against San Francisco. Baker’s shooting 59.5 percent and 60.0 percent from distance (on 10 attempts).

Nevada’s spearheaded, however, by two All-Conference guards Grant Sherfield and Desmond Cambridge.

Sherfield, the Mountain West preseason player of the year, is averaging team-highs in points (15.3 ppg) and assists (6.5 apg) and is second in three-point makes per game (1.5). Though he averaged a conference-most 42 steals in 2020-21, the 6-foot-2 guard has yet to record a steal through the Pack’s first four games.

Cambridge is second in scoring at 15.0 points, recording just one fewer point than the his backcourt mate. He leads the team in steals (1.5 spg) and is third in assists (2.8 apg). Cambridge is shooting 42.3 percent from the floor and 35.3 percent from distance, topping the team in total 3-point makes (12).

Prediction:

The focal point of Nevada’s rocky four-game start has been its defense. It’s allowed 40-plus points in the paint in two of its three losses, which is stunning given Nevada’s size, frequent usage of drop coverage (with Washington or Baker in the game) and Alford’s continued emphasis on protecting the paint. South Dakota State has recorded 40-plus points twice, including a season-high 48 in its 91-74 win over Montana State on Nov. 17. Given their robust 3-point efficiency to begin the season — hitting at least 36 percent of its triples in four of their five contests — Jackrabbits are also capable of making it rain, so the Wolf Pack will have to have one of their best defensive performances of the season against a hungry, yet feisty South Dakota State squad. South Dakota State 79, Nevada 74 (Season record: 2-2)