The Nevada Wolf Pack look to get back on track against the Fresno State Bulldogs on Friday evening at Lawlor Events Center in Reno, Nev.
The Wolf Pack have dropped two of their last three and three of their last five, though each of those three losses in that span have come against three top-60 teams (Kansas, Boise State and Wyoming), per Ken Pom’s rankings.
By that measure, Nevada has yet to beat a top-100 opponent this season, going 0-6 in such games. It’s also just one of three Mountain West programs (joining UNLV, San Jose State) without a Quad 1 or 2 win this season, currently at 0-6.
Fresno State has picked up three Quad 2 victories against UNLV, Santa Clara and, most recently, Utah State on Tuesday. Friday sparks another Quad 2 game for both Nevada and Fresno State, who’s already topped last season’s win total (12) at 13-4.
The Wolf Pack, who are 8-7, have won eight straight against the Bulldogs and lead the all-time series 60-44.
Can Nevada snap out of its funk for its first Quad 2 win of the season? Let’s dig into the matchup and find out!
Matchup: Nevada (8-7, 2-2) vs. Fresno State (13-4, 3-1)
When: Friday, Jan. 21 at 8:00 p.m. PT
Where: Lawlor Events Center in Reno, Nev.
TV/Online: Fox Sports 1 || foxsports.com
Spread: Nevada -2
Money line: Nevada -130, Fresno State +110
Last Meeting: Nevada won 79-65 (Jan. 17, 2021)
Matchup History: Nevada leads 60-44
In its recent losses, Nevada head coach Steve Alford has harped on the team’s toughness, or lack thereof, as a reason for the team’s inability to play a complete 40 minutes of good basketball.
“We’re not tough enough and that’s on me,” Alford said after Monday’s loss against Wyoming. “I’ve got to do a much better job of establishing a tougher mindset of being able to play 40 minutes at a really high level. We’ve had two games — Wyoming and Boise (State) — very good teams (and) both playing very well. And we’ve had moments of when things get tough, we kind of splintered. And that’s on me. I’ve got to do a much better job of getting these guys to come together tighter when adversity hits ... We’re not handling it in a tough way and that showed tonight.
“When things get tough, it’s a lot easier to throw one up from 25 than it is to get the ball to the rim, post it, get a good post feed, move after a post feed,” he said. “We can’t get in any rhythm to get that done ... When we get tired and we have a little bit of adversity, the bad shots and really lazy passes come into us. And, again, that’s toughness. When adversity hits us, we’ve got to really zero in on the fundamental disclipline things that you have to do. And we’re not doing that right now. We’ve got to try to figure out a way to get to that point.”
The road doesn’t get much easier.
In fact, from an “attack the paint” prospective, the task becomes much taller, figuratively and literally. On Friday, the Wolf Pack will be up against 7-foot center Orlando Robinson, one of the most dynamic players in the Mountain West. He is currently in contention for the Mountain West Player of the Year award and would the award’s winner if it ended today, KenPom projects.
Robinson is averaging 19.3 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.6 blocks in 32.2 minutes per game, shooting 50.0 percent form the floor, 32.7 from 3-point range and 72.7 percent from the free-throw line.
For my advanced stat gurus, Robinson also tops the Mountain West in PER (33.5), win shares (4.2), win shares per 40 minutes (.309) and box plus-minus (13.9) while ranking third in block percentage (6.7).
In four conference games, his figures bloat to 22.0 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists while still posting 1.0 steals, 1.3 blocks and a 35.6 PER on 47.9/33.3/69.6 (53.7 TS%) shooting splits. Robinson was recently named the Lute Olson National Player of the Week after averaging 27.5 points and 11.5 rebounds against UNLV and San Jose State last week.
He’s the only player on the team to be averaging double figure scoring — though two other players average at least eight points and two others that average above seven points per game. (That doesn’t include Jemarl Baker, who’s injured and could miss the rest of the season with a knee injury.)
Anthony Holland is team’s best long range shooter, shooting 47.2 percent from distance on 3.3 attempts per game — tallying 9.2 points along with 5.8 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game. Isaiah Hill is having a down year shooting the rock, but is still sporting 8.4 points with 3.0 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.1 steals per game.
Per KenPom, the Bulldogs have been the conference’s third-best defense in the conference — behind only Boise State and Colorado State — surrendering just 93.9 points per 100 possessions, though that number increases to 97.8 points (4th) in Mountain West play. They have surrendered fewer than 90 points per 100 in nine of its 17 games this season.
Conversely, Nevada sports the conference’s fourth-worst defense — giving up over 100 points per 100 possessions — while sporting the fourth-best offense. In four conference games, it’s in the middle-of-the-pack (no pun intended) offensively with the third-worst defense.
Nevada guard Grant Sherfield has been one of the few bright spots to its rollar coaster campaign, averaging 19.5 points, 6.5 assists and 4.4 rebounds on 44.5 percent shooting, including 37.8 percent from beyond the arc.
After the tremendous start to the season, Desmond Cambridge has hit a bit of a wall offensively. In his first nine games, he was averaging 18.3 points on 48.0/39.2/63.2 shooting; over his last six, while still impacting the defensive side of the ball, he’s tallying just 11.8 points on 33.3/23.4/1.000 shooting. On the season, the 6-foot-4 All-Confernce guard’s still averaging 15.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.1 blocks per game.
Warren Washington and Will Baker, it’s 7-foot duo that will largely be tasked with defending Robinson, are the Wolf Pack’s only other double-digit scorers.
Washington’s averaging 10.9 points, topping the team in rebounds (6.8 rpg) and blocks (1.4 bpg). He’s been one of the best offensive rebounders in the Mountain West, hauling down 2.4 per game and sporting the fifth-best offensive rebounding percentage, one spot behind Robinson.
Baker’s averaging 11.5 points with 5.3 rebounds in 21.5 minutes per game. Though he doesn’t shoot often from distance, he’s shooting 42.9 percent from 3-point range while sporting a 76.0 field goal percentage at the rim (54.2 percent overall) this season.
As I mentioned above, Nevada has yet to secure a top-100 win in six tries this season and it’s in midst of arguably the toughest part of its schedule with Colorado State and Utah State scheduled next week. The Mountain West is as deep as ever with six teams that rank within KenPom’s top-75. And each of the three aforementioned squads are lumped into that mix, with the Bulldogs ranking the highest ( fourth in MWC, No. 56 in Division-I). Mitigating Robinson’s impact will be the Wolf Pack’s toughest task. He’s a potent three-level scorer that will operate both with his back to the basket and facing up. He’s a good passer and will sling cross court lasers out of the post when he gets doubled. Robinson’s also a good defender out of the drop and a good help defender — playing a huge role in why Fresno State leads the nation in block percentage. On the other side, the Wolf Pack have had trouble with inconsistent defensive play, especially in their losses — but they will have to consistently be on a string against Fresno’s stalwart if they want to pull off the victory. The Pack, who have shot 27.3 percent from 3-point range over their last six games, must shoot the ball much better, which won’t be easy against Fresno’s stingy perimeter defense. I think Nevada will compete, but I don’t see them pulling it off unless they’re dominant on both sides of the court. Fresno State 77, Nevada 70 (Season record: 11-4)