Matchup: Nevada (9-10, 3-5) vs. Fresno State (15-6, 5-3)
When: Friday, Feb. 4 at 8:00 p.m. PT
Where: Save Mart Center in Fresno, Ca.
TV/Online: Fox Sports 1 || foxsports.com
Spread: Fresno State -9
Money line: Nevada +360, Fresno State -410
Death, taxes, and Mountain West basketball at 8 p.m. on a Friday night. The three guarantees in life and thankfully we have the last one to forget about the previous two.
Before diving in, I am very disappointed that Boise State vs Wyoming couldn’t have been flexed up to this spot and played on Thursday instead. Two of the best teams in the Mountain West deserve to have the eyes of the nation upon them. No one’s fault besides the universe.
Background to nosh on
This is the second installment of Nevada and Fresno State facing off in the sanctimonious Friday 8 pm slot on FS1. The first matchup had Nevada walking away with a 77-73 win. The Bulldogs dominated the first half, at one point having a win probability of 75%, but stumbled out the gate in the second half and the Wolfpack controlled the game from there.
Fresno State did turn the heat up late making it a two-possession lead for the Wolfpack with 1:30 left. The Bulldogs were in arms reach of delivering a Stone Cold Stunner to Nevada, but couldn’t get that crucial turnover that ended in a transition three or basket.
Fresno State has gone 2-1, since the loss, beating New Mexico, losing to Boise State, and manhandling the Spartans by 30 points.
If you read last week’s column, then you know how enamored I am with their star center Orlando Robinson. He’s averaging 19.2 PPG (4th in the conference) and 8.3 boards per game (5th in the conference), all-around a huge problem who does plenty of things that don’t show up in the box score. Whether it’s freeing up real estate down low on offense or forcing drivers away from the rim, his presence is always felt.
Last week I described him as the following:
“If you put the “are you not entertained” ruthlessness of Maximilian in Gladiator and limbs/dexterity of Mister Fantastic in Fantastic Four in a blender you get Orlando Robinson”
After watching him cause chaos for the Spartans on Tuesday, I’ve walked away with a new appreciation and perspective of him.
He’s practically a blend between stoic and robotic. His success seems automated like a well-running engine, and his face never shows any hints of a grin or a frown. He looked at Medusa, turned to stone, and then developed NBA-level talent.
I don’t want my droning to take away from other stellar parts of the Bulldogs. It boasts some incredible talent like Anthony Holland, Isaiah Hill, and Leo Colimeiro.
During the recent Spartans beatdown, the team combined to shoot an insane 8 of 12 from three. When the Spartans crashed on Robinson, there were Bulldogs on the perimeter letting it fly with insane accuracy.
3️⃣ FROM 2️⃣3️⃣— Fresno State Men’s Basketball (@FresnoStateMBB) February 2, 2022
GO OFF, @Leo_colimerio#GoDogs | #ValleyTough pic.twitter.com/UimTDUjl1U
The Bulldogs are a solid squad that are on the tier below Wyoming, Boise State, and Colorado State. All 6 losses on their resume have been relatively close and will hang around all night.
Now it’s time to take a look at the Wolfpack.
One team that is completely different depending on which side of halfcourt they are on.
When they have the ball on offense, you’re watching a team who asserts dominance as soon as they step in the door like Gordon Ramsey in “Hell’s Kitchen”.
Leading scorers Grant Sherfield and Desmond Cambridge Jr. aren’t afraid to expose passive defense or tell you your lamb chop would be ignored by a pig in a trough.
Their 73 PPG is fifth in the conference which is plenty to sit at the grown-ups table with Colorado State, Wyoming, and Boise State. However! The 75 PPG they allow, is the second-worst.
It’s like they go from wearing their regular shoes to playing with cement boots or ice skates.
They’ve given up a 100 once and at least 98 twice this year.
In their recent loss to UNLV, they allowed an astounding 42 in the first half. Sadly it wasn’t the only loss they took that night.
Smokin’ on that Wolfpack pic.twitter.com/gpF4KhZwqZ— UNLV Men's Basketball (@TheRunninRebels) February 2, 2022
If you don’t get it, ask your grandkids why it’s hilarious.
This spin move UNLV’s Bryce Hamilton put on Wolfpack center Will Baker was a felony for public humiliation. As a punishment, he should have to go to the Vegas boardwalk and collect cigarette butts until he fills up a milk jug. Should take him about two listens of “American Pie”.
Bad defense, if that’s not been made abundantly clear, however pretty solid on offense minus the 49 points scored against Utah State last Saturday.
Grant Sherfield was a DNP against UNLV, so his status for Friday night is clear, but if he’s able to play then that will be huge.
. @gsherfield5 -- #BattleBorn // #PackParty pic.twitter.com/66UYO2YkK1— Nevada Basketball (@NevadaHoops) January 26, 2022
His 1 of 12 night from the field against Utah State could be related to the shoulder injury as it was his worst game of the year by a country mile.
No Sherfield opens up space for Cambridge Jr. or Kenan Blackshear to rip the Bulldogs defense to shreds. Blackshear’s 17 points against UNLV set a single-game scoring season-high for him.
It counts! @kbuckets11 with the halftime buzzer beater!#BattleBorn // #PackParty pic.twitter.com/XNMEb2Ul1p— Nevada Basketball (@NevadaHoops) February 2, 2022
It’s a next man-up league and Blackshear has an opportunity to make the most of it.
Pick to Feast on
My handicapping career for Mountain West Connection, got started off with a win thanks to Marcus Shaver and Boise State. That was moons ago and you’re only good as your last ticket so there’s no time to get complacent.
Boise State moneyline for me came right off the hip with little debate. Picking the spread of this one has put me in a mental pretzel. Nine points feels like a big mountain for Fresno State to climb over knowing that they lost to them in the first matchup. On the other hand, Nevada has dropped three straight since then by at least double digits each time. Goes without saying Sherfield isn’t 100% and his injury could be clipping his wings.
There’s not enough there to make me buy into Nevada therefore I’ll be taking Fresno State -9. My eyes might be too big for my stomach on this one, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take. If Fresno State continues hitting threes like it’s a habit they can’t break then it’ll be over well before the game’s final buzzer. Don’t let the specter of the previous game inform the outcome of the one right in front of you.
I am also willing to throw over 131.5 on my ticket. Nevada’s defense hasn’t been able to stop a nosebleed and if they couldn’t handle Utah State or UNLV then I don’t see how they can stop Fresno State. Robinson will make easy work of the seven-foot Will Baker.
The real question is will Nevada do their share? Saying yes to this isn’t a huge leap of faith because Nevada can’t put points on the board and doesn’t run everything through a big.
Congratulations for making it to another Friday now let’s surf on the red wave.