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Nevada Basketball opponent preview and prediction: Wyoming Cowboys

NCAA Basketball: Wyoming at San Diego State Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The Nevada Wolf Pack return home to take on the Wyoming Cowboys in its re-scheduled meeting on Monday, Jan. 17 at 5:00 p..m. PT.

Their Jan. 4 matchup was originally postponed due to COVID-19 problems within the Pack program, who’s dealt with a fair share of COVID-absences throughout their season. Including their meeting with the Pokes, a half-dozen of its last 11 originally scheduled games have either been postponed or cancelled. While Nevada’s seen an on again, off again flow, it has won seven of its last nine games and two of its first three conference affairs.

Though Nevada, No. 131 in the NET rankings, has yet to beat a quality opponent — the Pack sports an 0-5 combined record against Quad 1 or 2 opponents.

Wyoming is a conference-best No. 28 in the NET rankings and is 2-2 against Quad 1 or 2 foes. It’s off to its best 14-game start since the 2014-15 season, having suffered just two losses on the season, both to Pac-12 programs (No. 3 Arizona by 29, Stanford by three) away from Laramie, Wyo.

The Pokes have played in just one contest — on Saturday against Utah State, its conference opener, where it won by two — since Christmas Day, with four of their games postponed in that time frame because of COVID, too.

Can the Wolf Pack close out its three-games-in-six-days with a victory against Wyoming, one of the best teams in the Mountain West through the first two months of the season? Let’s dig into the matchup preview and find out!

Matchup: Nevada (8-6, 2-1) vs. Wyoming (12-2, 1-0)

When: Monday, Jan. 17 at 5:00 p.m. PT

Where: Lawlor Events Center in Reno, Nev.

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

Spread: Nevada -2

Money line: Nevada -130, Wyoming +110

Last Meeting: Wyoming won 93-88 (Jan. 24, 2021)

Matchup History: Wyoming leads 17-9

Breakdown:

When Wyoming’s scored 70 or more points, it’s 11-0; when it’s score 69 or fewer, it’s 1-2. It boasts the country’s 46th-best offense, per KenPom, tallying over 111 points per 100 possessions — boasting an offensive efficiency of more than 115 points in eight of its 14 contests.

It also ranks in the top-35 nationally in effective field goal perceentage, turnover rate and field goal percentage inside the arc.

Graham Ike’s first two collegiate games — after recovering from ACL surgery in his right knee — came against Nevada. In the second game, the 6-foot-9 forward tallied 18 points with six boards in 22 minutes off the bench. The then-freshman evidently played in the team’s final 12 games (seven starts), averaging 11.2 points and 5.4 rebounds on 60.4 percent shooting.

Now, he’s in contention for Mountain West Player of the Year.

Ike’s tallying a team-high 19.7 points on 55.7 percent shooting, in addition to grabbing a team-most 8.4 rebounds, dishing 1.4 assists with 0.9 steals per game. He’s recorded double-digit point totals in each of his 14 games played, including seven 20-point games — one fewer than Nevada’s Grant Sherfield (see below) and Fresno State’s Orlando Robinson for the conference lead — with five double-doubles.

Wyoming guard Hunter Maldonado is also having a career year, posting career numbers in points, rebounds, steals and field goal percentage. He’s averaging 17.6 points per game with double-digit outings in all but one game, in addition to 5.7 rebounds and a team-high 5.9 assists per game.

Xavier DuSell (10.8 ppg) and Drake Jeffries (10.3 ppg) are the Pokes’ two remaining double-digit scorers.

Jeffries has been one of the most efficient shooters in the Mountain West, sinking 3.1 triples at an astounding 48.9 percent clip, a Mountain West best. DuSell is knocking down 2.6 3-pointers at a very respectable 38.7 percent clip as well.

Nevada sports the fourth-best offense with the conference’s fourth-worst defense through 14 games, per KenPom. (The Mountain West has seven teams rank within the top-110 in the country in defense this season; Nevada is No. 136).

The Wolf Pack are led by its All-Conference backcourt duo of Sherfield and Desmond Cambridge.

Sherfield, averaging 19.5 points and 6.4 assists, remains the only player in the country that’s averaging at least 19 points and six assists. He’s doing so shooting at a 44.8 percent clip from the floor, 38.8 percent from 3-point range and 86.8 percent from the free-throw line, in addition to hauling down 4.5 boards with 0.7 steals per game.

Cambridge has struggled shooting of late, though the 6-foot-4 guard is still averaging 16.4 points at a 42.7/34.4/72.0 clip. In his last five games, he’s averaging just 13.0 points on 33.3 percent shooting, including 25.6 percent from 3-point range.

Like Jeffries and DuSell, Cambridge knocks down 3s at a high volume — canning three per contest. He’s tops the team in steals (1.7 spg), is third in assists (2.1 apg) and fourth in rebounding (4.6 rpg).

Warren Washington and Will Baker — the Wolf Pack’s 7-foot center duo — both are averaging 11.4 points per game. Saturday was the first time this season when they didn’t start together, however, though Baker recorded his second double-double (11 PTS, 10 REB) in three games while Washington was one rebound shy (12 PTS, 9 REB) from doing so.

Prediction:

Playing three games in six days after a near-two week absence — especially when two of the respective opponents are amongst the best in the conference — isn’t an easy task. Nevada hasn’t proven it could beat top teams — yet — especially when the reasons for its losses have come with a common theme: Defense, or lack thereof. In its six losses, it’s surrendered at least 107 points per 100 possessions; in eight wins, it’s only allowed 100 points per 100 once (102.2 - Air Force). Wyoming boasts one of the best offenses in the Mountain West. The Pack had trouble with the Pokes offense in both of their matchups last year, and they have a more dynamic offense in 2021-22. Nevada will have to lock in and generate stops defensively if it wants to avoid losing three of five. Wyoming 81, Nevada 73 (Season record: 10-4)