Nevada and San Diego State meet in an exciting Mountain West contest; will the Aztecs keep rolling or can the Wolf Pack pull a major upset on the road?
TV schedule: Saturday, January 18, 8:00 pm ET. CBSSN
Arena: Viejas Arena in San Diego, California
It’s been an up and down season for Nevada (11-7) in Steve Alford’s first year as head coach. These Wolf Pack have been the class of the MWC in recent years, though their on-court opponent almost certainly has that title in 2020. This season, Nevada has had some disappointing performances, having lost two straight before a very close home win over an unheralded Wyoming team.
Many of the faces off those MWC title teams have moved on, but there’s still plenty of talent in the cupboard for the Wolf Pack. Junior guard Jalen Harris (18.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and senior guard Jazz Johnson (17.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg) make up a considerable part of the offense on a team that doesn’t depend on its big men to do the scoring. Their performances helped Nevada get the job done against Wyoming on a night when 3’s weren’t falling. Another name to watch is senior guard Lindsey Drew (12.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg), though he’s struggled over the last week.
This is a fringe top 100 team, sitting at 102nd in NET and 101st in KenPom. The Wolf Pack are an offensive team, with defensive struggles in consistency this season. They rank near the bottom of the nation in forcing turnovers, though do possess one of the nation’s best 3-point defenses. If this team is hitting their outside shots and defending well, they can be a well-oiled machine that plays more like a top 50 team.
At home sits the last unbeaten team, as San Diego State (18-0) has started this season with a bang. Their most impressive wins this season have come over Iowa, Creighton, and BYU. They’ve taken care of business in conference play to this point, winning their first seven MWC games and show no sign of slowing down.
The Aztecs have really developed talent, led by top-scoring junior guard Malachi Flynn (16.6 ppg, 4.8 apg). Flynn has led the Aztecs in scoring in six of the last seven games, leads the team in steals, and can put the ball in the hoop from all over the court. Senior forward Yanni Wetzell (11.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg) has become a serious threat down low while junior forward Matt Mitchell (11.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg) has been leading the way in rebounding in recent weeks. Adding some talent in the rest of this lineup, there’s good reason this team is unbeaten this deep into the season.
San Diego State is 3rd in NET, 12th in KenPom, and currently cling to 7th in the AP Top 25. The Aztecs play slow, methodical basketball and get it done on both ends with regularity. They rank near the top of the league in avoiding turnovers, grabbing defensive boards, and might have an even better 3-point defense than the Wolf Pack. They had their worst outside shooting night of the season on Tuesday and still managed to stay perfect with a win in Fresno.
For the Wolf Pack, clearly they’ll need to limit the San Diego State offense, especially from long-range. If they can lock down defensively, they can try to take the Aztec crowd out of the game before they become smothered. For the Aztecs, the key is to get back on track offensively while maintaining the defensive pressure that has continued to win games all season.
San Diego State has allowed fewer than 70 points in each of their last ten contests. Nevada has not looked great in their last few games. On paper, this looks like an easy win for the Aztecs, especially playing at home, but there’s a reason they play the games. The Wolf Pack has the talent to leave San Diego with a major upset, but it will take a herculean effort on both sides of the ball, something I just don’t see happening.