Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:00 AM

Wednesday's Essentials

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Game of the Night - Utah State at Nevada (-10, 148.5), ESPNU, 11 p.m. ET

Yes, there are better matchups tonight, but this one caps the festivities and you shouldn’t miss it, so excuse us for a little hyperbole. I’ll touch on five other intriguing games as college basketball starts out the new year intent on making sure it gets a lot of attention.

San Diego State and New Mexico are off to rough starts, so Nevada (13-0 SU, 7-4-1 ATS) may not get much pushback in the Mountain West this season. As the first of the year rolls around, there are just two 10-win teams, the undefeated Wolf Pack and Utah State (10-3, 8-4), which has played some quality competition and owns wins over Saint Mary’s and Weber State.

This conference opener will allow us to see what kind of message the Wolf Pack are looking to send the rest of the Mountain West, especially since at comes at home against one of the upstarts. A holiday hangover appears unlikely given what the undefeated team did to Utah on Dec. 28, posting an 86-71 win in Salt Lake City. Caleb Martin scored a career-best 33 points and seven assists to earn himself Mountain West Player of the Week honors.

Nevada is looking to become the first Mountain West school to win three consecutive titles and will match the best start in school history by handling Utah State here. It is one of only five undefeated teams entering 2019.

Jordan Caroline has been amazing alongside the Martin twins all season, while redshirt seniors Trey Porter and Tre’Shawn Thurman round out a tremendous starting five loaded with talent and experience. Off the bench, they turn to guard Jazz Johnson, who is shooting 59.6 from 3-point range, tops in the country.

Until the win at Utah, the spread monster had caught up with Nevada in terms of covers, since the team cashed only once in all of December, beating USC 73-61. The ‘under’ is 9-3 in Wolf Pack games, prevailing in six of seven, so be wary of that since the Utes became just the third team of Nevada’s 13 opponents to top the 70-point mark.

Utah trailed by just one point at the break but were blown out to open the second half by a flurry that saw Nevada hit nine of 10 shots. Credit Eric Musselman, one of the game’s top coaches, for making the proper adjustments to give his loaded squad a lift. He’ll now match wits with Craig Smith, who will be coaching his first conference game after arriving from South Dakota State in the offseason. A former assistant at Colorado State under Tim Miles, Smith knows the league well but gets quite the baptism thanks to the scheduling gods.

In guard Sam Merrill, the Aggies have a scorer who will have Nevada’s attention at all times. He’s a 50-40-90 guy, which is no easy feat in college. If you’re taking the points, you’re hoping he can find the range in Reno, particularly in the second half regardless of whether it’s tight or Utah State is playing for cosmetic purposes.

The numbers say Musselman will have his Wolf Pack sold that this is a legitimate threat coming into Lawlor Events Center despite the fact Utah State has lost its last four meetings between these schools. The Aggies lead the Mountain West in scoring margin (+16.5), scoring defense (64.8), rebounding margin (+11.6) and field goal percentage defense (.359). In freshman Neemias Queta, a 6-foot-11 center from Portugal, Utah State has a raw gem who keyed the upset of Saint Mary’s with 24 points and five blocks.

The ‘under’ has prevailed in three straight Aggies games. Utah State is 2-3 SU and ATS as an underdog. If the line holds, this will be its first game of the season as a double-digit ‘dog and will undoubtedly be the most points they’ll catch, barring injury, until the postseason.

Best of the Rest

Oklahoma at Kansas (-8, 151), 9 p.m. ET: The Sooners have galvanized after Trae Young’s departure and will take their team-centric approach into Lawrence, where they lost 104-74 last season. Considering they had won the first meeting between the teams, it’s safe to say the Jayhawks got the last laugh. The teams pick up their rivalry with Oklahoma (11-1, 10-1-1) coming in with a streak of seven straight covers, having only lost to Wisconsin in the Bahamas. Kansas (11-1, 6-6) suffered its first loss on Dec. 22 after surrendering a lead to Arizona State but has center Udoka Azubuike back and should be formidable as they look to run their winning streak over the Sooners at Allen Fieldhouse to 18 straight. Oklahoma hasn’t won in Lawrence in 25 years but are 3-0 in true road games this season. The Sooners rank 11th nationally in defensive field goal percentage (.369).

Texas at Kansas State (-3.5, 125), 7:35 p.m. ET: The Longhorns hit the road for the first time looking to snap a four-game losing streak against Kansas State. Shaka Smart’s team has lost to Radford, VCU and most recently, Providence, but owns wins over North Carolina and Purdue that it will bolster an at-large resume so long as they’re effective in Big 12 play. Center Jaxson Hayes and guard Elijah Mitrou-Long have joined the Texas (8-4, 5-7) starting lineup, so Bruce Weber will have a tweak to deal with as he looks to continue overcoming the absence of top forward Dean Wade, who remains sidelined with a foot injury. Kamau Stokes and Xavier Sneed have helped the Wildcats win four straight games and are equipped to harass a Texas team that ranks last in the Big 12 in shooting percentage (42.5). K-State (10-2, 5-7) has held six of its last seven opponents to 59 or fewer points, including the last five in a row. The ‘under’ is 9-3 in their games.

Texas Tech (-3.5, 137) at West Virginia, 7 p.m. ET: The Red Raiders weren’t expected to threaten for another Big 12 title after losing Zhaire Smith and Keenan Evans, but Jarrett Culver has turned himself into a lottery pick and transfers Tariq Owens (St. John’s) and Matt Mooney (South Dakota St.) have fit in seamlessly. Chris Beard’s teams play suffocating defense, which is why he’s been able to overcome losing two pros while holding opponents to a national-low 32.8 percent shooting clip. Defense usually travels well, but Morgantown is a feared stop on the Big 12 slate. It helps the Red Raiders’ cause that students aren’t back yet, which means a West Virginia (8-4, ) team that was blown out by Rhode Island at the Mohegan Sun and lost to Florida at Madison Square Garden in December will face its toughest true home game. Texas Tech (11-1, 5-7) gave Duke a great game at the Garden but melted down late to frustrate backers that seemingly were in control for 35-plus minutes. The Red Raiders have failed to cover in five of six. The ‘under’ is 9-3 in their games.

Northwestern at Michigan State (-12.5, 144), 8:30 p.m. ET: The Wildcats are already under pressure to post an upset, having started 0-2 in Big Ten play since league play started early due to a switch to a 20-game schedule. Northwestern (9-4, 9-4) fell by a bucket at Indiana and nearly knocked off Michigan, falling 62-60, so Chris Collins has another NCAA Tournament contender on his hands. A marquee win tonight will have to come by slowing down Cassius Winston, who leads the Big Ten at 7.5 assists per game and is one of the country’s top point guards. He shot 6-for-7 from 3-point range against Northern Illinois last time out to pick up a banged-up Michigan State (11-2, 9-4) squad. Derrick Pardon will be key for the Wildcats here since he’s going to have to help the visitors rebound with the bigger Spartans. The ‘under’ has prevailed in five of seven Northwestern games.

Nebraska at Maryland (-1, 142), 6:30 p.m. ET: There’s a great guard matchup here with Glynn Watson and Anthony Cowan going at it, but the ‘Huskers are most concerned with athletic Terps big man Bruno Fernando, who dominated last year’s game with 21 points, nine boards and five assists. Nebraska lacks the size to match up, but will look to continue a hot streak that has seen it shoot nearly 50 percent from 3-point range (43-for-91) over the past four games. It will be interesting to see what tempo Tim Miles employs, but they’ve surrendered over 70 points just twice this season. Maryland has lost to Virginia, Purdue and Seton Hall but come off a 14-point win over impressive Radford and has seen the ‘over’ prevail in three straight.

Others to watch

Tulsa at Houston (-13.5, 131.5), 8 p.m. ET, Iowa State (-4.5, 146.5) at Oklahoma State, 8:05 p.m. ET, Temple at UCF (-6.5, 132.5), 7:05 p.m. ET, Seton Hall at Xavier (-3.5, 143), 7:30 p.m. ET, Harvard at North Carolina (-16, 158.5).

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]

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