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Nevada Basketball opponent preview and prediction: New Mexico Lobos

Syndication: Las Cruces Sun-News Nathan J Fish/Sun News / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Nevada Wolf Pack will open up the New Year with their first Mountain West affair against the New Mexico Lobos on Saturday, Jan. 1. The game will be televised at 6 p.m. PST on Fox Sports 1.

Nevada is coming off an 88-61 road loss against No. 6 Kansas, snapping its five-game win streak. Its originally-scheduled first conference match against San Jose State was postponed due to COVID-issues within the Spartans program.

New Mexico also had its first conference opener against Colorado State postponed due to COVID-19 issues and have not played in over 10 days. Its last game came in a 68-54 win over Norfolk State — its first win with fewer than 80 points this season — on Dec. 21. The Lobos closed their non-conference slate at 7-6.

The contest will be the first of two between former Florida International (2012-13), Minnesota (2013-21) and new Lobo head coach Richard Pitino, son of Rick Pitino, and Nevada’s third-year head coach Steve Alford, who used to be a head coach at New Mexico (2007-13).

Nevada is 7-2 all-time in MWC openers. Can it pick up another victory on Saturday? Let’s dive into the matchup and find out!

Matchup: Nevada (6-5) vs. New Mexico (7-6)

When: Saturday, Jan. 1 at 6:00 p.m. PT

Where: Lawlor Events Center in Reno, Nev.

TV/Online: Fox Sports 1 || Fox Sports

Spread: Nevada -11

Money line: Nevada -600, New Mexico +450

Matchup History: Nevada leads 10-7

Last Meeting: Nevada won 84-74 (Jan. 2, 2021)

Breakdown:

Per KenPom, the Lobos rank as the 173rd-best offense (out of 358 teams) and the 269th-best defense in the nation.

New Mexico’s leading scorer, Jamal Mashburn Jr. — son of former NBA All-Star Jamal Mashburn — followed Pitino from Minnesota, where he spent one season. As a freshman with the Gophers, Mashburn Jr. averaged 8.2 points on 35.0 percent shooting with 12 double-digit scoring games.

As a sophomore with the Lobos, the 6-foot-2 guard’s already recorded 12 double figure performances — including a career-high 26 points, which he’s reached three times already this season.

He’s one two Lobo double-digit scorers, posting 18.4 points per game. Mashburn’s shooting 44.4 percent from the floor and 31.8 percent from beyond the arc, in addition to 2.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 0.5 steals through 13 games.

Mashburn’s backcourt mate, Jaelen House, a former transfer from Arizona State, is tallying 16.6 points with a team-high 4.4 assists and 2.2 steals per game; in two seasons with the Sun Devils, he averaged 4.5 points, 1.3 assists and 1.6 steals with his playing time nearly cut in half (31.5 mpg in ‘21-’22; 17.1 mpg in ‘19-’21).

House is shooting 39.5 percent from the floor and 30.8 percent from beyond the arc, though he’s knocking down 84.6 percent from the charity stripe.

One additional active Lobo player that’s in its top-4 in minutes — Taryn Todd (TCU) — was a previous transfer from higher-end Division-I program as well.

When New Mexico gets the opportunity to, it will play at an extrodinarily fast pace — sporting the nation’s 11th-fastest tempo (73.7 possessions per 40 minutes). The Lobos are an average shooting team, ranking middle-of-the-pack in field goal percentage (43.5 percent; 216th), 3-point percentage (32.9 percent; 216th and effective field goal percentage (48.2; 230th).

Conversely, the Pack have been one of the better offensive teams in the Mountain West, ranking fourth in the conference in adjusted offensive rating, third in scoring (77.5 ppg), T-5 in field goal percentage (44.7) and sixth in 3-point percentage (34.5) and effective field goal percentage (50.3).

Nevada’s All-Mountain West guard Grant Sherfield had his five-game streak of 23-plus points snapped against the Jayhawks on Wednesday — recording 17 points on 7-of-17 shooting.

On the season, Sherfield’s averaging 19.6 points and 6.3 assists per game — the only player in the nation to be averaging at least 19 points-6 assists. He’s shooting 46.4 percent, including 37.7 percent from 3-point range and 85.1 percent from the free-throw line.

Over his last six games, Sherfield’s tallying a resounding 24.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.5 steals per game on 53.1/37.1/82.9 shooting splits.

Cambridge is second on the team in scoring at 17.4 points, shooting 44.9 percent from the floor and 37.4 percent from 3-point range. He has recorded double-digit scoring outings in all but one game this season.

Over his last six, the 6-foot-4 guard is averaging 19.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.7 blocks, shooting 45.7 percent from the floor and 39.0 percent from 3-point range.

The pair of aforementioned guards, forming one of the best backcourt duos in the Mountain West, spearhead the Wolf Pack offense. They do, however, boast two more double figure scorers in Warren Washington and Will Baker — their 7-foot duo.

WIth Kenan Blackshear’s emergence as a small-ball 4, Baker and Washington’s minutes together are mostly staggered — but both present different skill sets to remain effective regardless of the remaining quartet surrounding them.

Washington’s is the Pack’s top rebounder and shot-blocker, averaging team-highs in rebounds (6.8 rpg), rebounding rate (15.0), blocks (1.5 bpg) and block-rate (6.6). He’s fourth in the team in scoring, averaging 11.3 points, on 58.7 percent shooting with a 62.3 true-shooting percentage.

Baker’s the Wolf Pack’s floor-spacing big, ranking third on the team in scoring at 11.8 points per game. He’s shooting 54.0 percent from the floor and 46.4 percent from 3-point range, though he’s hit multiple 3s in just three games this season.

Prediction:

One thing that plagued No. 6 Nevada against Kansas was turnovers. The Wolf Pack had 16 first-half turnovers — more than it totaled in eight of its 11 games — finishing with a season-high 21. The Lobos are a slightly below-average in team in forcing turnovers, but are adept at accumulating steals — spearheaded by House at the point-of-attack. Nevada’s going to have to limit the turnovers to limit Lobo transition opportunities. Though Mashburn hasn’t played his best basketball of late, Mashburn-House and Sherfield-Cambridge will be a fun duo duel to track. It’s been a rocky up-and-down season for Nevada, though it’s been an even more of a rollar coaster for the Lobos, so edge Nevada in that department. If the Pack win, it will be their sixth win over their last seven games and Alford has yet to lose in four matches against his former team. I don’t expect that to change Saturday. Nevada 84, New Mexico 74 (Season record: 8-3)