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Nevada Basketball opponent preview and prediction: No. 6 Kansas Jayhawks

NCAA Basketball: Stephen F. Austin at Kansas Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

In a quick change of plans, the Nevada Wolf Pack will be squaring off with the sixth-ranked Kansas Jayhawks on Wednesday at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kan. The game will tip-off at 5 p.m. PST and can be streamed on ESPN+.

Nevada’s originally-scheduled contest on Wednesday against the San Jose State Spartans — its first of its 18 Mountain West games — was postponed Sunday night due to COVID-19 issues within the Spartans program. SJSU postponed in its first their first three conference affairs — Nevada being the first of the schedule those three.

Kansas’ game with Harvard, also for Wednesday at the time, was cancelled over the weekend due to a combination of injuries and COVID-19 problems within the Crimson program.

Wednesday marks the first time Nevada returns to Allen Fieldhouse since the then-No. 20-ranked Nevada defeated Kansas 72-70 on Dec. 1, 2005 — Nick Fazekas tallied a then-career-high 35 points on 13-of-21 shooting.

In total, the three teams played three games from 2003-2006 with Nevada coming out on top in two of the three. The two programs played three additional games against each other — in 1947-48, 1979-80 and 1980-81 — all Jayhawk victories.

Both teams are on five-game winning streaks. Kansas ranks No. 7 in the latest NET rankings — with four Quad 1 or 2 victories — and No. 5 in the KenPom rankings. Nevada (5-4) is No. 129 in the NET rankings while KenPom has them slotted at No. 77. It is 0-3 in Quad 1 or 2 games.

Can the Wolf Pack pull off the upset? Let’s dive into the matchup below:

Matchup: Nevada (6-4) vs. No. 6 Kansas (9-1)

When: Wednesday, Dec. 29 at 5:00 p.m. PST

Where: Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kan.

TV/Online: None || ESPN+

Spread: Kansas -17.5

Money line: Nevada +900, Kansas -1600

Last Meeting: Kansas leads 4-2

Matchup History: Nevada won 72-70 (Dec. 1, 2005)

Breakdown:

The Jayhawks are unquestionably one of the nation’s best teams, especially offensively.

Per KenPom, they have the No. 3-ranked offense — with an adjusted offensive rating of 118.6 points per 100 possessions — with the 48th-fastest tempo and the 38th-ranked defense.

Nevada will be the second opponent inside the top-80 and fourth inside the top-100 that Kansas has faced all season. Its only other matchup against a top-80 program, per KenPom, came in its season-opener against No. 10-ranked Michigan State — currently ranked No. 17 for KenPom. Kansas won the game, 87-74.

The Jayhawks boast three double-digit scorer — spearheaded by All-Conference guard Ochai Agbaji.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Kansas
Kansas Jayhawks guard Ochai Agbaji (30) brings the ball up the court as Missouri Tigers forward Ronnie DeGray III (21).
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Agbaji’s averaging 22.0 points on 56.1 percent shooting, including 48.1 percent (on 6.4 attempts) from 3-point range, in addition to his 4.6 rebounds and 0.8 steals per game. He’s tallied 20-plus points in seven of his 10 games, including a career-high 29 points on 9-of-17 shooting (3-6 3PT) against Michigan State. He’s also hit five-plus threes in two of his last four outings, knocking down 57.1 percent of his 3-point attempts (7.0 per game) over that span.

Christian Braun, a springy 6-foot-6 wing, is tallying 16.8 points on a team-high 62.6 percent shooting — including 34.5 percent from 3-point range — as the team’s rebounding (6.7 rpg) and steals (1.4 spg) leader through 10 games. He’s second on the team in blocks, rejecting 1.3 per contest.

Braun’s caught some fire of late, tallying 20.6 points on 61.5 percent shooting and 36.8 percent from distance (3.8 attempts) over his last five games. Against St. Johns, he recorded a career-high 31 points on 8-of-12 shooting, along with eight rebounds, four assists, three steals and a block.

Former Arizona State transfer Remy Martin — heralded as one of the top transfers in the country entering 2021-22 — is averaging 10.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. In his four previous seasons with the Sun Devils (118 games), the three-time All-Pac-12 honoree tallied 14.9 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game.

Nevada sports the 50th-ranked offense and the 120th-best defense, per KenPom. It has, however, held five straight opponents to 70 or fewer points on under 40.0 percent shooting, albeit against one Division-II opponent plus four offenses outside the top-100 (highest was Loyola Marymount at No. 109).

The Pack boasts arguably the best backcourt duo in the Mountain West in Grant Sherfield and Desmond Cambridge.

Sherfield stands as the only player in the country to average at least 20.0 points and 6.5 assists per game, doing so on 47.0/40.4/86.7 shooting (59.1 true-shooting percentage). He’s also averaging 4.8 rebounds — third-most on the team — while placing fourth in steals (0.8 spg).

Over Nevada’s five-game winning streak, the All-Mountain West guard has strung together five straight games with 23-plus points, averaging 26.0 points on 55.6 percent shooting, including 41.4 percent from 3-point range over that stretch. He’s also posting averages 6.8 rebounds and 6.8 assists — both team-highs over that span — with 1.4 steals in 36.0 minutes.

Cambridge’s second on the team in scoring at 17.5 points per game, shooting 46.8 percent from the floor and 38.4 percent from the 3-point line. He leads the team in total 3-point makes (33), steals (1.6 spg), is third in assists (2.4 apg) and fifth in rebounding (4.6 rpg).

The 6-foot-4 guard has notched 20-plus points in four of his last five games, knocking down 49.3 percent of his shots and 41.3 percent of his 9.2 3-point attempts.

The Wolf Pack will showcase a 7-foot duo of Will Baker and Warren Washington. Baker, a former five-star recruit, is third at 12.8 points per game, shooting a team-best 50.0 percent from 3-point range.

Washington leads the team in rebounding (6.9 rpg) — while Baker ranks fourth (4.9 rpg) — while ranking just behind Baker at 11.8 points per game. Washington is also the team’s best shot blocker, averaging 1.6 per game with a team-high 7.1 block percentage.

Prediction:

Nevada’s most glaring issue after its first five games — its defense — has presumably been corrected and turned into one of its biggest strengths. I was higher on its defense prior to the season than maybe the consensus; the addition of Kenan Blackshear really heightened its defensive ceiling, especially with Sherfield, Desmond Cambridge, Daniel Foster, Tre Coleman and Washington all returning. It’s rounded into form over the last five. But needless to say, Nevada’s last five opponents aren’t Kansas-caliber. None of Nevada’s opponents are — and, frankly, none them are particularly close. This will be a big test for the Wolf Pack — especially for Sherfield and Cambridge — entering conference play. The Pack will have to limit the 3-point shot and will have to have at least four jerseys crashing the glass. Kansas is one of the nation’s best offensive rebounding teams (36.2 offensive-rebounding rate; 17th in country), so limiting second-chance opportunities will be crucial to its success. The Pack have been an average team in regards to forcing turnovers, but will also likely need to force upwards of 15-20 to maximize their offensive success against a formidable defense. Nevada can win this game, but will need to be pitch-perfect from the opening tip in order to do so. Prediction: Kansas 88, Nevada 67 (Season record: 7-3)