Before I begin, I want to apologize for the lack of posted content since my original two posts a few weeks ago. I am still trying to figure out which direction I want to take this site and how often I want to post. I used those articles as a test, and now am trying to fine tune, so that I can provide you with useful and profitable information. With that being said, there will be more content coming in the future. Let’s dive in.
Tonight, we have a unique matchup between the Nevada Wolfpack and the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers. In their first true road game, Nevada opened as a 5.5 point favorite, having since been bet down to 4/4.5. You may remember this matchup from the Sweet 16 in March, when Marques Townes hit a three in the closing seconds, giving Loyola enough breathing room to advance with a 69-68 victory. Well, a lot has changed since that game.
Nevada was a completely different team last year. While they were still a highly regarded team, they were not deep. They ran most of the season with a rotation that was only seven deep. Once Lindsey Drew, their star point guard who has started for them since he was a freshman, went down with an Achilles in February, their rotation shrank to six deep. Drew averaged 29 minutes, 8.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game last year, while shooting 39% from three-point range and defending at an elite level, as he was selected as a part of the Mountain West All-Defense Team. He did it all, and not having him for the tournament, let alone against Loyola, a guard-heavy team, hurt. Mix that on top of the absolutely dreadful shooting performance that Nevada put on, and it was a recipe for disaster. The team shot 26% from three, largely due to sharpshooter Kendall Stephens’s awful 0/8 performance, and let Loyola shoot over 55% from the field.
Fast forward to this season, and Nevada has added five, yes FIVE, upperclassmen transfers, and only one freshman to their rotation. A rotation that was only six-deep in the tournament, is now eight or nine deep, and Drew has not even returned from his injury yet! Since adding Tre’Shawn Thurman (Nebraska Omaha), Jazz Johnson (Portland), Trey Porter (ODU), Corey Henson (Wagner), Nisre Zouzoua (Bryant), and Jordan Brown (Freshman), the Nevada Wolfpack now have six players in their rotation that are listed at 6’7″ or above, and two of them are listed at 6’11”. They are too long and too tall for most of the teams in the country, let alone Loyola, who only has two players listed at 6’7″ or above that actually contribute.
Nevada comes into this game on absolute fire, scoring 92 points per game while shooting 48.7% from the field, 38% from three, and 73.1% from the FT line, while gathering 42 rebounds per game and dishing out 16 assists to only 9 turnovers. They can score from anywhere on the court and they draw fouls at an insane clip, 26 times per game. The Wolfpack have held their opponents to an average of 69.7 points per game on 39.8% shooting from the field and 28.5% from three. In their only two games away from home this season (neutral site games), Nevada averaged 103 points per game, shooting 53.3% from the field, 40.7% from three, and 79.4% from the free throw line. This is their first true road game, but I do not see the Joseph J. Gentile Arena being an overly intimidating place to play for them.
Loyola lost three seniors that were key pieces to their run to the Final Four, Donte Ingram, Aundre Jackson, and Ben Richardson. Ingram and Richardson both averaged 30+ minutes per game for the Ramblers last year, while Jackson was their main piece off of the bench, averaging 11 points in 18.9 minutes per game. The Ramblers have had a tough time replacing those valuable minutes this season, having replaced Ingram, Jackson, and Richardson with mostly sophomores and freshmen. They do return seniors Clayton Custer and Marques Townes this season, in addition to key sophomores Cameron Krutwig and Lucas Williamson, but I have a hard time believing that this is enough to compete with this new-look Nevada team. The Ramblers have lost two games already this season, to Furman and Boston College, two teams that are not even close to Nevada’s level. They have shot a miserable 31.7% from three so far this season, and an equally as miserable 60.4% from the free throw line. Those are two places that Loyola needs to score efficiently in order to have a chance to even cover against Nevada, let alone win.
Ultimately, I think Nevada has way too much talent for Loyola this time around. While I do not always buy into the revenge factor, I firmly believe coach Eric Musselman and the Martin twins will have the Wolfpack ready to go for this one. Nevada is scoring at a ridiculous rate, and the Ramblers simply do not have the talent, the experience, or the size to keep up with the Wolfpack. Quite frankly, I do not think this game will even be close. I expect Nevada to get what they want at the rim, dominate the glass, and continue their prolific shooting from behind the arc and at the charity stripe. Loyola will need a near-perfect night to even keep this game within single digits. Lay the points with Nevada with confidence.
Nevada 84 – Loyola 72
4-1 ATS L5 road games
10-3-1 ATS L14 as road favorite
4-1 ATS L5 on the road against a team with a winning home record
1-4 ATS L5 games overall
1-3 ATS L4 at home
1-4 ATS L5 vs team with over 60% win percentage
Follow me on Twitter: @SammySharps