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Nevada Basketball opponent preview and prediction: Boise State Broncos

Nevada will have its hands full on Wednesday against Boise State’s excellent defense.

NCAA Basketball: Fresno State at Boise State Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

Despite prolonged absences due to COVID-19, both the Nevada Wolf Pack and the Boise State Broncos will look to keep their hot streaks alive on Wednesday, Jan. 11, when Nevada plays host to the Broncos at Lawlor Events Center in Reno, Nev. Tip-off will be at 7:30 p.m. PT on Fox Sports 1.

The Broncos are the midst of a seven-game win streak, including a 10-point home victory against Fresno State to open conference play; Nevada has won six of their last seven, with its one loss coming in a 27-point road defeat against then-No. 4 Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse. The Pack opened Mountain West play with a 79-70 victory over the New Mexico Lobos on Jan. 1.

Due to COVID-19 issues plaguing the Boise State program, it has not played since the New Year began with three straight postponements. The Wolf Pack have had their last two games postponed and have had six of their last nine either cancelled or postponed due to COVID problems as well.

Boise State ranks No. 3 in the site’s latest power rankings, while Nevada remains No. 6. Here’s what was said about both teams:

On Boise State:

The Broncos have not played since Dec. 28, but it has not been a total loss for them. At 10-4 and on a seven-game winning streak, Boise State has found themselves on the bubble in Joe Lunardi’s latest bracketology predictions that came out last week. Boise State did have games against Utah State and Colorado State postponed due to COVID issues. It would benefit Boise State if they could get both of those games, and ideally win because it would boost their resume come March.

On Nevada:

The Wolf Pack were also plagued with COVID issues and they missed their last two games. It was a tough break for Nevada as they seemed to turn the corner and build some positive momentum at the end of non-conference play. Nevada is scheduled to play tomorrow against Boise State and it should be a good matchup against a pair of teams looking to make some noise in conference play.

Nevada has won 111 of its last 12 meetings against the Broncos. Can the Wolf Pack keep their success against the red-hot Boise State? Let’s dive into the matchup and find out!

Matchup: Nevada (7-5, 1-0) vs. Boise St. (10-4, 1-0)

When: Wednesday, Jan. 12 at 7:30 p.m. PT

Where: Lawlor Events Center in Reno, Nev.

TV/Online: Fox Sports 1 || foxsports.com

Spread: Nevada -1

Money line: Nevada -115, Boise State -105

Last Meeting: Nevada won 89-82 (March 11, 2021)

Matchup History: Nevada leads 50-28

Breakdown:

Boise State has been an exceptional defensive team this year. The Broncos rank 18th in the nation — second behind only San Diego State in the Mountain West — in adjusted defensive efficiency while ranking No. 124 in offense, per KenPom.

Boise State has limited opponents to 62 or fewer points in 12 of its 14 games this season. Over its seven-game win streak, Fresno State’s the only of the bunch to exceed 90 points per 100 possessions while only three — one being a non-Division-I opponent (Montana Tech) — cracked 80.

The Broncos are led by 6-foot-7 forward Abu Kigab, a former Oregon transfer who’s tag teamed with Mladen Armus as two of the the most productive rebounders in the Mountain West this season.

Kigab’s tallied team-highs in points (14.2 ppg) and steals (1.5 spg) while ranking second in rebounds (6.9 rpg), shooting 49.0 percent from the floor and 56.6 percent on 2s. His rebounding ranks within the top-10 of the Mountain West while boasting the second-best defensive-rebounding rate (26.0 percent).

Kigab’s tallied double-figure scoring in six of his last eight contests, including at least 15 points in five of them. Over that span, the senior’s notching 17.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.1 steals on 56.5 percent shooting in 29.1 minutes per night.

Armus, Boise State’s 6-foot-10 burling center, tops the team in rebounding, hauling down 8.5 boards (3.1 offensive) per game. He ranks second in offensive-rebounding rate (13.8) and sixth in defensive-rebounding rate (23.1). Armus also leads the team in blocks (1.3 bpg) and block rate while averaging just 7.1 points per game.

The Broncos have also seen growth from returnees Marcus Shaver and Emmanuel Akot — their only other double-digit scorers. Shaver, topping the team in minutes (32.5 mpg), is posting 12.9 points on 42.4 percent shooting, including 39.1 percent on 4.9 attempts from 3-point range. He’s adding 4.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 0.8 steals per game.

Akot’s dishing out a team-high 3.1 assists while averaging 11.1 points and 2.8 rebounds in 31.6 minutes per game. While his scoring numbers have dipped slighly, his assists have gone up.

In his first eight games, Akot tallied 12.0 points with six double-digit scoring performances while averaging 2.6 assists; over his last six, he’s reached double figures just twice (though he’s tallied nine points twice, too), averaging 9.8 points with 3.7 assists. The 6-foot-8 forward is shooting 42.7 percent, including 39.4 percent from 3-point range (4.7 attempts) — second-best mark on team.

Since the Wolf Pack got boat raced against South Dakota State on Nov. 22, they’ve been one of the best defenses in the Mountain West. According to Barttorvik, the Pack rank No. 38 nationally — third in the conference — in adjusted defensive efficiency over that span, though said database only counts six of its seven games since one was against a non-Division-I program.

The Wolf Pack have surrendered 70 or fewer points on sub-43.0 percent shooting over that seven-game stretch. New Mexico, its most recent foe, was the only one to crack 70.

Per KenPom, the Pack are No. 75 in the country in offense and No. 110 on defense.

Surely Boise State fans (and Nevada fans, for that matter) remember Grant Sherfield’s infamous game-winner in their first meeting last season:

Sherfield’s been one of the most productive players in the nation this season. He’s the only player in Division-I that’s averaging at least 18.5 points and 6.5 assists per game — tallying 18.8 and 6.6, respectively. The 6-foot-2 guard is third in rebounding, grabbing 4.9 rebounds per game, too.

He’s recorded double figure scoring in all but two games with six games of 23-plus points. He’s shooting 45.5 percent on the year and 37.5 percent from beyond the arc on the season.

Despite his worst shooting performance of the season against New Mexico, Sherfield was four rebounds shy of a triple double, tallying 10 points, six rebounds and 10 assists.

His backcourt mate, Desmond Cambridge — arguably the Wolf Pack’s most potent volume scorer — has struggled with his efficiency of late. In his last three games (take it with a grain of salt), he’s shooting just 31.4 percent with a 22.6 3-point percentage (on 31 attempts).

Cambridge’s still posted 14.7 points over that stretch, averaging 17.4 on the season on 43.3/34.5/70.8 (55.2 TS%) shooting splits. The 6-foot-4 guard is also averaging 4.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.7 steals (team-high) and 1.1 blocks per game.

Nevada’s seen considerable contributions from its 7-foot duo of Will Baker and Warren Washington over this seven-game stretch.

Both tallied a 12-point, 11-rebound double-double against the Lobos. Baker’s averaged 11.8 points and 5.1 rebounds per game this season, shooting 54.1 percent from the floor and 46.4 percent from beyond the arc on 2.3 attempts from distance per game.

Washington’s averaging 11.4 points with team-highs in rebounds (7.2 rpg) and blocks (1.7 bpg). Like Armus, Washington ranks in the top-5 in the Mountain West in offensive rebounding rate while in the top-3 block rate, per KenPom. Over his last five games, he’s posting 10.8 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in 25.4 minutes per game on 51.6 percent shooting.

Prediction:

Given the circumstances, neither Boise State nor Nevada have played a lot of basketball of late, so it’s going to be a test for both teams. This will be a battle of tempo. Nevada is one of the most up-tempo teams in the Mountain West while Boise State will muck it up and slow things down in the half-court with its lengthy and discplined defense. Boise State had a difficult time stopping Grant Sherfield and Desmond Cambridge in three games last season, too, though this year’s Broncos team is arguably the best they’ve had under head coach Leon Rice. They are a below-average team at taking care of the rock — recording at least 15 turnovers four times this season — while Nevada is an above-average team at forcing turnovers. The Wolf Pack — who have struggled to shoot the ball of late, albeit a small sample — needs to continue its up-tempo pace in transition behind their stout backcourt in order to maximize their odds for a home victory. Both teams are going to be getting their legs under them after the extended absence. But I’ll give Nevada the benefit of the doubt at home since Boise State hasn’t played a game in over two weeks. Nevada 74, Boise State 71 (Season record: 9-3)