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College hoops spotlight: Nevada-New Mexico

By Matt Youmans  (VSiN senior editor) 

January 5, 2019 04:36 AM
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Jordan Caroline has helped lift Nevada to 14-0. The Wolf Pack will hit the Mountain West road to face New Mexico on Saturday night.
© USA Today Sports Images

Eric Musselman can handle the truth. The Nevada coach is an intense perfectionist, but he’s well aware that a spotless 14-0 record masks the truth about his flawed basketball team.

The Wolf Pack could run the table in the regular season — Caesars oddsmakers posted a prop on that possibility — because they rate by far the best in a weak Mountain West. Musselman has built a powerhouse in Reno. His roster is deep and experienced, and only Gonzaga has more talent on the West coast.

But if you can see through the hype and beyond the stack of wins, there are potential problems. Nevada has no true point guard and lacks consistent perimeter shooting. Musselman recently admitted the offensive shortcomings, and there are numbers to prove it.

In seven games since Dec. 1, the Wolf Pack have shot 54-for-178 (30.3 percent) from 3-point range. Leading scorer Caleb Martin, who normally runs the point, has jacked up a team-high 130 3s while hitting only 33 percent for the season.

Those problems can be masked in home games against inferior opponents. For example, Nevada shot 7-for-29 from 3 and committed 16 turnovers yet still blew out Utah State 72-49 on Wednesday. Those problems can be magnified on the road, especially against a zone defense.

Even in a bad conference, elite teams will hit bumps in the road. The Wolf Pack might hit one against New Mexico on Saturday night in The Pit, one of college basketball’s toughest venues. Obviously, it’s not as tough now while the Lobos (7-6) are struggling. Still, Musselman’s team can expect to take each opponent’s best shot.

New Mexico’s Paul Weir is a sharp Xs-and-Os coach and he recently implemented a zone that he’ll surely use to force the Wolf Pack to launch perimeter shots. Weir’s defense has been torn up by teams with small, quick guards, but Nevada has big guards, so this is a decent matchup.

The Lobos have size and they are not short on offensive talent. Anthony Mathis, a 6-foot-3 senior guard, might be the best shooter (45 percent from 3 on 106 attempts) in the Mountain West. Vance Jackson, Dane Kuiper and Makuach Maluach are long forwards who can hit 3s. Carlton Bragg and Corey Manigault are strong low-post players who can match up with inside-out threat Jordan Caroline.

Nevada is certainly legit and worthy of its No. 6 ranking by Ken Pomeroy (Kenpom.com). New Mexico ranks No. 184, and that makes this a mismatch by the numbers. Pomeroy projects a score of 86-70, and the line is 14½ to 15.

In my estimation, the Lobos will start to show improvement and are nowhere near as bad as their market rating. New Mexico’s most hideous nonconference results were in early December, but this is a home conference game with some matchup and situational advantages.

I project Nevada to win by seven to 10 points. Of course, my numbers include opinion and other factors and could prove to be off. This game will be a test.

Another aspect to consider is Nevada’s trend of slow starts. In their seven wins since Dec. 1, the Wolf Pack held halftime leads of three points or fewer three times and trailed at the half three times. So I’ll play one unit each on the first half and the game, with the South Point and William Hill currently offering the best number at 15.

Play: (722) New Mexico (plus-8 1H/plus-15) over Nevada

There are 75 games on the main betting board today. Including the “Added” (23) and “Extra” games (41), there are 139 lined games.

Other plays for Saturday:

(603) Clemson (plus-16) over Duke

(606) Ohio State (plus-2½) over Michigan State

(608) Pittsburgh (plus-9) over North Carolina

(612) Notre Dame (plus-2) over Syracuse

(614) Butler (-4½) over Creighton

(718) Pepperdine (plus-7½) over San Francisco

(738) Boise State (-2) over San Diego State

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