The Nevada Wolf Pack are gunning for the best season in school history. Nevada has never won 30 games in a season, and the Wolf Pack have never secured a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament. Both of those accolades are well within reach this year though, as Nevada looks like one of the best teams in the country. The Wolf Pack are 19-1 and heavy favorites to win the Mountain West. A slip up to the UNLV Rebels on Tuesday night could prove to be costly.
It’s a shame that Lindsey Drew won’t be part of the Wolf Pack this season. The point guard was the first recruit that Eric Musselman convinced to come to Reno, yet he has been bothered by injuries these last couple seasons. He tore his Achilles tendon and injured his hip trying to make up for the torn tendon last Valentine’s Day, and he has been sidelined since that point.
UNLV will be without two of its forwards for the rest of the year. Shakur Juiston suffered a knee injury back in December that will sideline him for the rest of the year, and Cheickna Dembele’s hand injury was ruled season-ending right at the turn of the year. Both players were in the rotation, but Juiston was a starter and the team’s leading rebounder before he went down.
Nevada is a 9.5-point road favorite in this game. The Wolf Pack have won four of their five conference games by double digits since a stunning loss to New Mexico back in early January, but they have not been as solid on the road. They beat Fresno State by just 10 points in northern California and they squeaked by Boise State by a single point. The total for this game is 149.5.
What’s at Stake?
UNLV will have to win the MWC conference tournament in order to be a part of March Madness, and a win over Nevada would go a long way to giving the Rebels a better draw. They lost non-conference games to non-power schools like Loyola Marymount, Valparaiso, Indiana State, and Bucknell, so their hopes of getting an at-large bid are in the toilet. UNLV has been solid at home in MWC action, winning three of its four games by double digits.
The Mountain West doesn’t have another real contender outside of Nevada, so any conference loss would dramatically hurt the Wolf Pack’s seeding. None of their non-conference opponents have really distinguished themselves either, so the mission is to just keep winning.
Nevada is well-rested coming into this game which will help considering it is a road affair. The Wolf Pack last played on Wednesday, and they got some time to unwind over the weekend. Meanwhile, UNLV was getting drilled on the road against San Jose State on Saturday, so they will have only a couple days off ahead of this one.
This is a weird feeling for UNLV. For a long time, the Rebels have been the dominant program in the state, but Nevada’s ascension has pushed UNLV basketball to the backburner. The Wolf Pack have won four of the last five meetings between these two rivals with three of those wins coming by over 25 points.
Coming into the year, Nevada’s strength was its depth. Musselman had a ton of talented seniors that were ready to prove themselves in their last year in Reno, but Jordan Caroline has taken over. The undersized forward is now averaging more than 35 minutes per game for the Wolf Pack, and he is leading the team in points and rebounds. He has scored 19 or more in four of his last five, and he should be very active against a UNLV defense that has struggled with interior defense.
UNLV doesn’t have a player that can take over a game. There are 10 Rebels averaging a dozen or more minutes per game, but that’s more a product of no one stepping up rather than a lot of depth. None of their top five scorers are shooting better than 44.3 percent from the floor, and the Rebels are likely to have a hard time putting up points against Nevada.
For whatever reason, the Wolf Pack have had a hard time on the road. Whether its distractions or going through the motions is unclear, but they have no reason to be distracted ahead of this one. UNLV is Nevada’s main rival, and the Wolf Pack have had plenty of time to prepare. I think this will be a statement win for the Wolf Pack.