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Nevada Basketball opponent preview and prediction: Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs

Syndication: Reno Gazette Journal Andy Barron/RGJ / USA TODAY NETWORK

After a 15-day absence, the Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team returns home to take on the unbeaten Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs, a Division-II program from Duluth, Minn.

The Wolf Pack have had their last two games cancelled — against North Texas and UT-Arlington — due to COVID-19 issues within the program. Nevada head coach Steve Alford, who missed its 13-point victory over Pepperdine on Nov. 30 after testing positive for COVID-19 that morning, returns.

After beginning the season 1-4 with its best offseason acquisition getting dismissed from the team, Nevada countered with three straight wins before its COVID cancellations.

The Bulldogs enter a perfect 11-0, including 5-0 in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC). They are fresh off a 13-point home victory over the University of Mary on Saturday, where Josh Brown and Drew Blair combined to score 43 of their 77 points.

Wednesday marks the first ever meeting between the two programs. It will Nevada’s only non-Division-I regular season game this season.

Matchup: Nevada (4-4) vs. Minnesota Duluth (11-0)

When: Wednesday, Dec. 15 at 7:00 p.m. PT

Where: Lawlor Events Center in Reno, Nev.

TV/Online: Nevada Sports Net || Mountain West Network

Last Meeting: —————————

Matchup History: First meeting

Breakdown:

After their sloppy five-game start, the Wolf Pack have won their last three games by a combined 51 points.

It correlates to the magnificent three-game stretch by All-Conference guard Grant Sherfield, who’s averaging 26.0 points, 6.7 rebounds, 7.0 assists and 1.3 steals per game over that span. That includes a career-high 31 points, where he shot 11-of-17 with three 3-pointers, six rebounds and six assists against George Mason on Nov. 23.

On the season, the 6-foot-2 guard is tallying team-mosts in scoring (18.5 ppg) and assists (6.5 apg). shooting 45.5 percent from the floor and 36.8 percent from deep on 4.8 attempts.

Sherfield’s backcourt mate, Desmond Cambridge, has also shined over the last three games — tallying three consecutive 21-point performances. The 6-foot-4 shooting guard is averaging 17.5 points on the season, adding 4.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.5 steals per contest on 46.0 percent shooting. Nearly 62 percent of his attempts come from beyond the arc — knocking them down at a 35.7 percent clip.

Will Baker and Warren Washington — the Wolf Pack’s 7-foot frontcourt pairing — rounds out their double-digit scorers.

Washington’s sporting 12.4 points, a team-high 6.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game — the only Pack player to average more than a block (Cambridge is second at 0.8). Baker’s tallying 11.5 points, shooting 55.7 percent and 55.0 percent from 3-point land.

The Bulldogs boast five double-digit scorers, led by Blair — who’s averaging 19.5 points on 48.0 percent shooting and 38.5 percent from deep through 11 games.

Austin Andrews, a 6-foot-6 forward is second in scoring (17.4 ppg) and assists (2.8 apg) with a team-high 9.9 rebounds (3.0 offensive). Brown’s tallying 14.2 points with a team-high 27 made 3s, while Charlie Katona’s totaled 10.8 points and 5.2 boards per contest.

Jack Middleton has been the team’s top facilitator, averaging a hair above three assists per night, in addition to his 10.4 points. he’s shooting 46.8 percent from the floor and a scorching 46.3 percent from beyond the arc.

Each of the five aforementioned Bulldogs have played and started in all of Minnesota Duluth’s 11 games.

Prediction:

Before the abrupt COVID absence, the Wolf Pack were unquestionably playing their best basketball of the season. Cambridge and Sherfield put together three-straight 20-point outings and looked as formidable as ever; the defense was playing a string and the program had won three straight after a forgettable first five games. Now, they’ll be playing their first game in over two weeks, albeit against a Division-II opponent. That said, in theory, Nevada should be happier that their first game back is a Division-II foe, so it shouldn’t have too much of a problem shaking off the rust in front of its home crowd — especially if its stout backcourt duo remains aggressive. Nevada 83, Minnesota Duluth 55 (Season record: 5-3)