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Mountain West Tournament preview and prediction: Nevada vs. Boise State

Can Nevada pull off the major march upset?

Nevada v Boise State Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images

On March 21, 2021, the Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team bested the Boise State Broncos in the 4-5 quarterfinal round of the Mountain West Tournament, 89-82. Nevada’s pair of All-Mountain West guards, Desmond Cambridge and Grant Sherfield, combined for 57 points and the Pack tied their season high for most points in a single game.

Now, 364 days later, the two foes meet again in the quarterfinals of the tourney, though different outlooks surround these two teams this time around.

Boise State, who clinched their first outright Mountain West title against Nevada on March 1, has a much clearer path to make and potentially win the conference title.

Nevada? Not so much. With much expectation (yes, even from yours truly) heading into the year, the Wolf Pack season quickly tailspinned without the ability to get it quite back on track for the remainder of the season.

But nevertheless, they meet again. Nevada’s gone 1-11 against Quad 1 foes throughout the season. Conversely, Boise’s gone unbeaten in Quad 3 games — though Nevada played Boise as well as it could in its March meeting, losing by just six after falling by 15 at home their first meeting.

The Wolf Pack have gone 0-10 against the conference’s top-5 this season, but can the Pack sprinkle some March magic and pull off the major upset? Let’s dive into the matchup and find out!

No. 8 Nevada (13-17, 6-12 MWC) vs. No. 1 Boise State (24-7, 15-3 MWC)

When: Thursday, March 10 at noon PT

Where: Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nev.

TV/Online: CBS Sports Network

Spread: Boise State -6

Money line: Boise State -250, Nevada +210

Last Meeting: Boise State won 73-67 (March 1, 2022)

Matchup History: Boise State leads 51-30

Breakdown:

Boise State possesses two All-Conference players in Abu Kigab and Marcus Shaver, the conference’s freshman of the year in Tyson Degenhart and the coach of the year in Leon Rice, who’s conjured together seven 20-win seasons in 10 years with the Broncos.

Kigab, who was also named to the All-Defensive team, averaged 14.7 points and 5.9 rebounds during the regular season. The 6-foot-7 forward wasn’t too effective from deep, where he netted just 27.9 percent of his shots, but was very effective inside the arc.

Kigab shot nearly 60.0 percent on 2s (59.7 percent) and netted 63.4 percent (on nearly 200 attempts) of his shots inside the painted area, per CBB Analytics. Kigab’s also second on the team in assists (2.3 apg) and second in steals (1.2 spg).

Shaver’s second in scoring at 13.9 points per game, shooting 43.4 percent from the floor and 37.8 percent on 4.9 triple tries per game. He’s third in assists (2.1 apg) and tied for first in steals with 1.2.

Shaver’s averaging a team-most 14.9 points in conference play, where he’s sported 44.9/38.5/74.6 shooting splits. He recorded at least 16 points in all but two of his final seven games of the regular season — posting 17.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.7 steals on 48.3/45.5/75.0 shooting over that stretch.

Degenhart’s had quite the freshman season, though he didn’t produce much in his two meetings against the Pack, registering a combined 14 points on 14 shots. On the year, he tallied 10.2 points and 3.9 rebounds per game, shooting 50.0 percent from the floor and 41.7 percent from deep, where he takes about 43 percent of his attempts.

Emmanuel Akot, listed at 6-foot-8, has also been one of Boise’s glue guys over the past couple of seasons, averaging 10.3 points, 3.1 rebounds and a team-high 2.9 assists on 39.8 percent shooting from distance.

The Wolf Pack are led by Grant Sherfield, who tallied a team-high 27 points — with 15 in the second half — in the opening round, and Desmond Cambridge.

On the year, Sherfield’s averaging 18.9 points and 6.4 assists — the one of three players nationally to be averaging 18 points, six assists — while doing so on 43.2 percent shooting with a 34.1 3-point percentage.

Cambridge’s is averaging 16.2 points on 43.5/37.2/73.2 shooting splits — good enough for a 55.6 true shooting percentage. He’s also averaging 5.1 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.2 blocks per game. Will Baker and Warren Washington are the Pack’s two lone double figure scorers, averaging 11.6 points and 10.4 points, respectively.

Two the two seven footers are averaging above five rebounds per contest. Washington leads the team with 1.3 blocks per game as well.

Prediction:

I feel like I’ve said this over and over again, so I don’t want to totally belabor it, but Nevada hasn’t produced favorable results against good teams. Their 0-10 record against the MWC’s top-5 reflects that; their 2-15 record against Quad 1 or 2 opponents also reflect that. They’ve had a few close losses, but that’s not going to do anything in the Mountain West Tournament. Boise State is fresh off a tough loss on the road to Colorado State, so it’s looking to get a bad taste out of its mouth. Nevada’s key against Boise, once again, will be whether it can generate enough productive offense without any prolonged stretches of “meh”. Boise State is one of the top defenses in the conference and a top-30 defense in the nation. The Wolf Pack have oftentimes struggled to put the ball in the cup when it’s needed to the most. I don’t see an upset here, personally, but could March bring us some luck? Only time will tell. Boise State 75, Nevada 68 (Season record: 20-10)