After navigating their way through a tricky non-conference schedule, some started to wonder whether or not the Nevada Wolfpack could finish the regular season undefeated. The Wolfpack were trumpeted as one of the best teams in the country, and the second best mid-major behind Gonzaga, at the start of the year, and the Mountain West has not been as strong as in years past. Those dreams of an unblemished record blew up in a big way last weekend though after a 27-point drubbing at the hands of New Mexico. This Saturday, the Wolfpack are out to put that woeful road performance behind them when they face the Fresno State Bulldogs.
Fresno State has no injuries to report according to the Don Best website. The same can’t be said for Nevada though. The Wolfpack lost point guard Lindsey Drew for the year, and the offense has sputtered somewhat without him. It has meant the Martin brothers have needed to play big minutes in order to keep Nevada on the winning path.
The oddsmakers have pegged the Nevada Wolfpack as a small road favorite in this one. Nevada is favored by just 3.5 points after being blitzed by New Mexico in their last road game. The over/under here is 146 points.
What’s at Stake?
If a second team comes out of the Mountain West this season, it’s likely to be Fresno State. The Bulldogs are 12-3 this year, and they only have one bad loss to their name. They defeated Northwestern in non-conference play, and they are currently 3-0 in conference action. Fresno State hammered both San Jose State and Colorado State and picked up a huge road win against Utah State to position themselves as the second-best team in the conference. To put themselves in position to be selected without the automatic bid, they need to beat Nevada in one of their two meetings.
For much of the season, Nevada has been a second half team. The Wolfpack allowed USC, Arizona State, and South Dakota State to take leads into halftime against them, only to roar back in the second half to put the game away. Nevada couldn’t do that against New Mexico last weekend though. The Lobos jumped out to a 12-point halftime lead and only made it worse from there. Nevada knows it needs to start playing better in the first half or this will just keep happening.
Fresno State has yet to play a team with as much talent as Nevada. The Bulldogs’ toughest opponent to date was a good TCU team, and they ended up losing by eight to the Horned Frogs in Fort Worth.
The Wolfpack want to put last week’s loss behind them as quick as possible. This is a team that has proven it can win on the road, knocking off USC, Utah, and Loyola-Chicago in road tilts.
Two transfers are Fresno State’s top two players this season. Braxton Huggins and Deshon Taylor are the Bulldogs’ leading scorers, and both came to campus by way of other programs. This is Huggins only season with Fresno State, and the former New Mexico State Aggie has been making the most of his time on campus. He is one of the most prolific three-point shooters in the country, and he has knocked down 41.1 percent of his treys on over 100 attempts.
Taylor has had a good year, but he has not been the same since an elbow injury sidelined him for four games. Since his return two weeks ago, he is hitting less than 40 percent of his field goals, and he has really struggled from behind the arc. He will need to take his game up a notch if Fresno State is going to knock off Nevada.
The Wolfpack have been led by the Martin brothers for the last few seasons, and they have gotten much of the acclaim. However, this team returned all five of its starters from last year, and that chemistry has been a huge part of their success. Jordan Caroline is averaging 18.4 PPG and 9.4 RPG this year and has been incredibly important. He is a fierce rebounder despite being 6’7, and that gives this team an edge.
Last week’s loss was a wake-up call for Nevada. The Wolfpack can’t continue to sleep walk through the first half and then turn it on in the second. They will want to prove themselves against the second-best team in the conference, and I love them for the game and in the first half.