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Nevada Basketball opponent preview and prediction: Loyola Marymount Lions

NCAA Basketball: Loyola Marymount at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Nevada Wolf Pack will seeks their first five-game win streak in nearly two years against the Loyola Marymount Lions on Saturday at 8 p.m.

The Wolf Pack enter off a 98-62 victory over Minnesota Duluth, a nationally ranked Division-II opponent, their first game in over two weeks due to COVID-19 issues within the program. The Lions look to rebound off a 63-58 defeat against New Mexico State.

Saturday marks Nevada’s fifth-and-final bout against a West Coast Conference team this season — going 1-3 in the previous four meetings. Though it most recently won 79-66 against Pepperdine at home on Nov. 30, their last game against a Division-I opponent.

The contest will be played on CBS Sports Network — Nevada’s first nationally televised game of the season. Saturday also marks David Carter’s (assistant) first return to Lawlor since getting fired after the 2014-15 season.

Matchup: Nevada (5-4) vs. Loyola Marymount (6-4)

When: Saturday, Dec. 18 at 8:00 p.m. PT

Where: Lawlor Events Center in Reno, Nev.

TV/Online: CBS Sports Network || https://www.cbssports.com/cbs-sports-network/

Spread: Nevada -255, Loyola Marymount +215

Money line: Nevada -6

Last Meeting: LMU leads 29-16

Matchup History: Nevada won 72-67 (Nov. 9, 2019)

Breakdown:

The Lions rank No. 115 in Ken Pom’s rankings and No. 212 in the latest NET Rankings.

Per Barttorvik, Loyola Marymount, No. 131 in adjusted offensive efficiency, have been one of the most careless teams in the country. It ranks in the bottom-40 nationally in turnover rate (22.8 percent; No. 320 out of 358), averaging 16.0 turnovers per game. The Lions have committed at least 15 turnovers in half of their contests this season, including at least 20 twice.

That said, they’re in the top-100 in opponents turnover rate at 21.5 percent, forcing at least 13 in six of their 10 games.

Former Chino Hills high school product Eli Scott has been their most productive player. He’s averaged 17.0 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists — all team highs — in 34 minutes per game, sporting a 52.9 field goal percentage. He’s first in usage rate at 28.5 percent.

Scott has recorded three 20-point outings across his last five games, including a season-high 28 points on 10-of-17 shooting with seven rebounds and two steals against Prairie View on Nov. 27.

Seniors Joe Quintana and Dameane Douglas rank No. 2 and 3 on the team in scoring, respectively (min. 5 games played). Quintana’s averaging 15.1 points on 44.8 percent shooting, including 44.0 percent from 3-point range. Douglas has tallied 11.0 points across eight games, though he’s averaged 13.2 points (on 59.1 percent shooting) in his last five games (all starts).

Nevada ranks No. 76 in KenPom and No. 149 in the NET Rankings.

The Wolf Pack’s four-game win streak has coincided with dominant play from their stout backcourt duo of Grant Sherfield and Desmond Cambridge.

Sherfield was one assist shy of the program’s first triple double since 1979 on Wednesday — finishing with 28 points, a career-high 12 rebounds and nine assists. The 6-foot-2 guard is posting team-highs in scoring (19.6 ppg) and assists (6.8 apg), adding 5.1 rebounds per contest and shooting 47.4 percent with a 39.0 3-point percentage.

Over his last four games, Sherfield’s fashioned 26.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 1.3 steals per game.

Cambridge is undergoing his most efficient season yet, setting career-bests in field goal percentage (48.0), 3-point percentage (39.0), effective field goal percentage (60.2) and true-shooting percentage (60.7).

He’s second on the team with 18.3 points, also a career high, across his first nine games. Cambridge is coming off a season-high 25 points on 9-of-14 shooting, including a a season-most six 3s (on nine attempts). The 6-foot-4 guard is also posting career totals in rebounds (4.7), assists (2.7) and steals (1.6).

No player in the Lions rotation is taller than 6-foot-9, so the Pack should have the easy size advantage with its 7-foot center duo of Warren Washington, if he’s able to play, and Will Baker.

Washington (foot) missed Wednesday’s outing. His status for Saturday is unknown. The 7-footer’s tops the team in rebounding (6.8) while placing third in scoring (12.4). Baker is fourth in scoring at 12.1 points, though he’s shooting an astounding 58.8 percent from 3-point range (56.2 FG%).

Prediction:

Nevada is shooting 66.2 percent combined inside of long 2s this season, per Barttorvik; opponents are shooting 66.7 percent against LMU inside of long 2s this season. As I noted above, the Wolf Pack will have the clear size advantage above — especially if Washington is able to play. Even if Washington doesn’t play, K.J. Hymes, at 6-foot-10, and DeAndre Henry (6-foot-8) should be able to shoulder the load down low. Sherfield, Cambridge and Kenan Blackshear are all capable slashers, too, and can bend the defense to create open looks for teammates. The Wolf Pack’s size alone should win them this game. Nevada 82, Loyola Marymount 72 (Season record: 6-3)