The Nevada Wolf Pack completes their three-game Crossover Classic slate with the Washington Huskies on Wednesday in Sioux Falls, S.D. Tip-off will be at 4 p.m. PT on ESPN+.
The Pack have split their first two of the Classic: They got routed by 27 against South Dakota State on Monday before winning by 19 against George Mason just 24 hours later, snapping their four-game winning streak — their longest in over a decade.
Nevada is 2-4 after a wonky start to its season. Three of its four losses have come by a combined 32 points against the red-hot West Coast Conference; it has surrendered three 50-point halves over its last seven halves played, with the mounting chaos capped off by dismissing arguably its top offseason transfer acquisition, AJ Bramah, just hours after its 27-point loss to the Jackrabbits.
After going just 5-21 last season, Washington re-tooled its program with a litany of new transfers, starting 4-2 to begin the season.
The Huskies have been in plenty of close contests through its first six games. Four have been decided by seven or fewer points — splitting those affairs. To begin the Classic, they picked up victories against both George Mason (77-74) and South Dakota State (87-76) — and seek the round-robin sweep on Wednesday.
Which team will exit South Dakota as victors? Let’s dive into the matchup and find out!
Matchup: Nevada (2-4) vs. Washington (4-2)
When: Wednesday, Nov. 24 at 4:00 p.m. PT
Where: Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D.
TV/Online: None || ESPN+
Spread: Nevada -4
Money line: Nevada -165, Washington +145
Last Meeting: Nevada won 87-85 (Dec. 11, 2016)
Matchup History: Tied at 4-4
Huskies head coach Mike Hopkins, in his fifth year with the program, re-tooled the roster by bringing in five Division-I transfers that make up five of their top six scorers. They are led by former Seattle and Arizona transfer Terrell Brown Jr., by far Washington’s most potent offensive player.
Brown’s averaging 23.0 points on high volume (17.5 shots). He’s never been a prolific outside shooter — netting just 31.3 percent of his 3-point attempts for his career (20.0 this year), but has always fared well inside the arc as a slasher. So far this year, Brown’s sunk 50.5 percent of his 2s, including a blistering 67.7 percent at the rim. He’s also showcased an adept ability of getting to the free-throw line (7.3 attempts) with good efficiency (81.8 percent).
The 6-foot-3 guard tallied a team-high 32 points on 13-of-18 shooting against South Dakota State after a 23-point outing against George Mason. It marked his second 30-point performance of the season and the sixth of his career. Brown has recorded 20-plus points in five of Washington’s first six games.
Tyler Bey is Washington’s top returnee from from last year; he’s second on the team in scoring with 10.7 points, shooting 36.4 percent from the floor but 42.9 percent from deep. Former TCU transfer P.J. Fuller, who had 21 points against George Mason, is averaging 10.5 points and 1.8 steals per game, shooting 41.2 percent.
Former West Virginia guard Emmitt Matthews Jr. has added 10.2 points and 4.7 rebounds, but has struggled with his shooting efficiency. He’s shooting 35.1 percent from the floor and a dismal 26.1 percent from 3-point range through six games, though he knocked down five of his seven shots (3-5 3PT) against South Dakota State.
Hopkins, who was a longtime assistant under Syracuse head coach and 2-3 zone guru, Jim Boeheim, before his head coaching stint with Washington, began implementing the aforementioned zone when he arrived.
It’s reaped benefits thus far, forcing 18.0 turnovers per game (while holding opponents to 41.4 percent shooting, including just 33.9 percent from beyond the arc (18.2 attempts).
The Pack are led by a pair of All-Mountain West guards Grant Sherfield and Desmond Cambridge.
Sherfield’s coming off a career-high 31 points on 11-of-17 shooting against George Mason, where he sunk three of his six triples. From the opening tip, Sherfield was his aggressive self — much like the one that was second in the conference in scoring (18.6 ppg) a year ago — while grabbing six boards with six assists.
On the season, Sherfield’s averaging a team-most 16.8 points and 6.2 assists — shooting 42.5 percent from the floor, 41.7 percent from beyond the arc and 94.4 percent from the free-throw line.
Cambridge, coming off a 21-point outing, is tallying 163 points, shooting 44.0 percent from the floor and 32.1 percent from the 3-point line.
Will Baker’s opened up his six games with the Wolf Pack with solid front court production with beneficial spacing. The former Texas transfer’s sporting 12.3 points on 58.3 shooting and a ridiculous 62.5 percent shooting from distance, albeit on 16 total 3-point attempts.
Baker and 7-footer Warren Washington both battled foul trouble on Tuesday, despite the 19-point victory. Washington has been one of Nevada’s most productive players, tallying 11.8 points with team highs in rebounding (6.2 rpg) and shot blocking (1.3).
In hindsight, perhaps the Wolf Pack’s dismissal of Bramah was addition by subtraction? At least that’s what one could assume with a one-game sample — but remember, correlation doesn’t equal causation! I digress. Nevertheless, Nevada looked like a completely different program just 24 hours after one of the worst losses in recent program history. The bench was energized; Sherfield and Cambridge were relentless offensively; Nevada had its most complete defense performance. It did all that while battling foul trouble — head coach Steve Alford even experimented with some extra small lineups, which I’ve quietly wanted him to try for a while but, again, I digress. Now, Nevada will be up against a power-five program with plenty of impact transfers joining each other at the right time. The Huskies haven’t been a good shooting team thus far, but have been elite at getting to the free-throw line and taking care of the ball. Both programs have two excellent late-game closers (Sherfield; Brown), which could be a factor late. All that said, if Nevada’s defense can generate stops consistently like it did yesterday — because it’s been very Jekyll and Hyde — I’ll give Nevada the ever-so-slight edge. Nevada 76, Washington 74 (Season record: 3-3)