The Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team looks to snap their four-game skid versus the San Diego Aztecs on Sunday at 1 p.m. PST on CBS Sports Network.
Nevada, who’s lost four straight conference games for the first time since 2014-15, is in the midst of a four-game slate spanning over a week; it’s the first two on the road to UNLV (69-58) and Fresno State (73-56) — both without star guard Grant Sherfield and Warren Washington — with the Aztecs (Sunday) and Colorado State (Tuesday) looming in the air.
San Diego State, who battled back from down 20 with over 10 minutes remaining, suffered a one-point loss to Colorado State on Friday after guard Matt Bradley failed to convert a runner as time expired.
The Aztecs are 13-1 in their last 14 games following a loss and have won 20 straight at home following a loss, too. They have also won nine straight meetings against the Wolf Pack, including their last four by a combined 21 points (14 in 2020-21).
SDSU ranks No. 35 in the KenPom and No. 46 in the NET Rankings; conversely, the Wolf Pack are No. 137 in KenPom and No. 147 in the NET (1-10 in Quad 1 or 2 games).
Can Nevada snap out of its rough skid with an upset victory? Let’s dive into the matchup and find out!
Matchup: Nevada (9-11, 3-6) vs. San Diego State (12-6, 4-3)
When: Sunday, Feb. 6 at 1:00 p.m. PT
Where: Viejas Arena in San Diego, Calif.
TV/Online: CBS Sports Network || www.cbssports.com/cbs-sports-network/
Spread: SDSU -12.5
Money line: San Diego State -800, Nevada +550
Last Meeting: San Diego State won 77-70 (March. 12, 2021)
Matchup History: San Diego State leads 22-6
Nevada’s offense has not fared well without Sherfield and Washington on the floor — mustering together two of its four worst offensive outings of the season. It mustered together 88.5 points per 100 possessions (3rd worst of season) against UNLV and 91.1 points per 100 (4th worst) against Fresno State.
Nevada did, however, shoot the ball better against the better defense in Fresno State (48.9 effective field goal percentage; 10th-best) comparatively to its intrastate rival (37.3 eFG%; 2nd-worst).
The task of creating offense — on the road nonetheless — becomes much more daunting, as San Diego State ranks as *checks notes* the best defensive team in the nation, per Ken Pom. Not second-best, 13th-best or even 60th-best, but the best — surrendering 84.3 points per 100 possessions.
The Aztecs have held opponents to a 42.4 eFG% — the 5th-lowest mark nationally — with a 21.7 turnover rate that ranks just outside the top-40. They’ve surrendered fewer than their defensive efficiency season average nine times, going 8-1 in such games. They have also limited foes to a lower-than-42.4 eFG% 10 times, boasting an 8-2 record.
The cohessiveness and activity of head coach Brian Dutcher’s switch-heavy scheme — spearheaded by Lamont Butler, Trey Pulliam, Aguek Arop and center Nathan Mensah, among others — has allowed SDSU to be so successful defensively, though it has struggled offensively at times.
Their scoring is led by Matt Bradley at 16.6 points on 44.7 percent shooting, 36.0 percent from deep and 81.1 percent from the free-throw line. Though the lefty’s averaging a team-best 19.6 points per game in conference play — fifth-most amongst conference members in such games — boasting three games of 26 or more points.
Butler’s averaging 9.2 points, 2.7 rebounds and a team-most 2.1 steals per game, sinking a team-best 42.9 percent of his 2.7 triple tries per game; Pulliam’s added 8.3 points, 2.9 boards, 3.5 assists and 1.2 steals per game; Mensah, who leads the conference in block percentage, is tallying 7.3 points, 7.2 rebounds (2.2 offensive) and 2.3 blocks per contest.
In part due to (recent) injuries combined with the lack of game-to-game and minute-to-minute consistency — especially against superior (Mountain West) competition — the Wolf Pack has been middling on both sides of the hardwood, ranking as the fourth-worst offense and third-worst defense in the Mountain West during conference play.
When healthy, Sherfield’s been one of the most productive point guards in the country, tallying 18.3 points, 6.2 assists and 4.1 rebounds per contest, shooting 42.6 percent from the floor, 36.3 percent from beyond the arc and 87.0 percent from the free-throw line.
Over the last two games, the Pack’s shot creation has had to come elsewhere with unfruitful results. From a raw statistical stand point, they dished out a season-low seven assists against UNLV and 10 (third-fewest of season) against Fresno State.
Before that, it’s notched at least 11 assists in all but two of its other games, including at least 15 assists in 11 contests.
Kenan Blackshear and Daniel Foster have been their primary lead ballhanders, with a sprinkle of Tre Coleman and Desmond Cambridge. over this limited sample without Sherfield.
Cambridge, who’s second on the team in scoring at 15.5 points per game despite struggling during Mountain West play, has primarily worked off-the-ball. Will Baker, the team’s only starting center in Washington’s absence, has featured a higher workload in stints over the last two games; he’s third in scoring at 11.7 points on 52.4/39.1/67.7 shooting splits, adding 5.6 rebounds per game.
Blackshear has impressed in recent weeks as a two-way dynamo, posting 11.3 points on 46.6 percent shooting and 37.5 percent from 3-point range over his last seven games. On the season, he’s averaging 8.1 points with 4.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.2 steals per contest across 20 games (13 starts).
Last season, the Wolf Pack punched above their weight against the Aztecs, but couldn’t quite slam the door shut — as evidenced by its aforementioned minus-14 point differential over their last three meetings. Those (kind of) enscapsulate this year’s Nevada team — hanging in there against better competition (most of the time) until it seemingly spirals in the final moments. Though no word has been disclosed on Sherfield and Washington’s availability for Sunday’s game, assuming they’re out — Nevada can’t afford to be bitten with it’s oftentimes prolonged in-game consistencies against the nation’s top defense. San Diego State has been a dominant home team all season, and I see that continuing against the presumed shorthanded Wolf Pack, who could be without two of their four best players for the third straight game. San Diego State 71, Nevada 53 (Season record: 14-6)