Nevada Wolf Pack vs. Arizona State Sun Devils
Line: Arizona State -2
Where: University of Dayton Arena, Dayton, Ohio
When: Wednesday, 3/15 at 9:10 p.m. ET
Arizona State and Nevada will be looking to prove that they belong in the NCAA Tournament when the No. 11 at-large seeds do battle tonight in a First Four tilt in Dayton.
The Sun Devils heard their name called on Selection Sunday, despite sitting at No. 68 in KenPom’s ratings, getting in ahead of teams like Rutgers (No. 35) and Oklahoma State (No. 38). Nevada was controversial as well at No. 43, but none of that noise will matter when these teams hit the hardwood with a spot in the Round of 64 on the line.
“I’m extremely excited and couldn’t be happier for our guys,” Nevada head coach Steve Alford said. “They have worked their tails off to turn around the season like last year. They’ve been working hard since April. We just had one bad week. And in that bad week, we had two OT losses.”
Oddsmakers opened Arizona State as a 1.5-point favorite, but the early betting action pushed that line out to -2. Tonight’s total opened at 133.5 before ticking up to 134 points, where it remained this morning. Nevada has gone ‘under’ in four of its last six games, but it has gone ‘over’ in seven of its last nine games as an underdog.
The Sun Devils were ultimately included in the tournament field due to their upset win at Arizona on Feb. 25, hitting a halfcourt buzzer-beater to spring the upset as 11-point underdogs. They added a resume-boosting win in the Pac-12 Tournament last week as well, taking down USC as 4-point ‘dogs.
Desmond Cambridge Jr., who hit the halfcourt heave to beat Arizona, played for Nevada the last two years, averaging 16.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per game last season. Senior forward Warren Washington was with Nevada during that time as well, averaging 10.5 points and 6.6 rebounds during the 2021-22 campaign. They have been two of the Sun Devils’ best players this year, with Cambridge averaging 13.7 points and Washington adding 9.2 points and 6.9 boards.
“It’s ironic that it played out the way it did,” Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley said. “It was chaos in my house. I’ll get their thoughts as we go. I don’t know how much more motivation you need, really. You’re in the NCAA Tournament. Yeah, it is a subplot, certainly, of a storyline for the NCAA Tournament.”
Cambridge was named to the Pac-12 All-Tournament team, leading Arizona State with 27 points and seven rebounds in the win over USC. He had a career-high five steals in the semifinal loss to Arizona and was on the All-Pac-12 second team overall this season.
The Sun Devils have relied on their defensive intensity to win games throughout the season under Hurley, ranked No. 22 in effective field goal percentage and No. 28 in adjusted efficiency on that end of the court. They have not been nearly as strong on the other end, listed outside the top 270 in 3-point percentage (31.4), 2-point percentage (47.9) and free-throw percentage (68.9).
Nevada is a more balanced team as it heads into its tenth NCAA Tournament appearance, capturing the final at-large bid after losing to San Jose State in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Tournament. The Wolf Pack are No. 61 in adjusted offensive efficiency and No. 42 in defensive efficiency.
Oregon State transfer Jarod Lucas leads Nevada with 17.3 points and 2.7 rebounds per game, scoring 28 points in the loss to San Jose State in the MWC Tournament. Senior guard Kenan Blackshear (14.4) and junior center Will Baker (13.5) are both scoring in double figures as well.
The Wolf Pack are 2-4 against the spread in their last six games, but they are 8-3-1 ATS in their last 12 games against Pac-12 opponents. They had not lost consecutive games all year and were 19-8-1 ATS prior to their current three-game skid. Arizona State is 5-12 ATS in its last 17 games, yet it is 8-1-1 ATS in its last 10 games against Mountain West foes.
The pick: Arizona State -2
This game won’t generate the same level of interest as the first-round games on Thursday, but it is still a juicy matchup between two veteran head coaches. Arizona State went 11-2 (8-5 ATS) in non-conference play this season, and it went 5-1 (4-2 ATS) in neutral-site games. The Sun Devils stole two of Nevada’s best players in the transfer portal last season, which might ironically be the difference between these teams on Wednesday night. Their defense is the best unit on the floor in this game, giving them an edge over a Nevada team that relies heavily on Lucas at times. It did not work out for the Wolf Pack down the stretch this year, and I expect that dependence to cost them again in the First Four.