Preview & Prediction: By Blake Hofstad
This mid-major showdown features Nevada (4-4), a powerhouse from the WAC, hosting Southern Illinois (3-4). Nevada brings a big-time big man to the table with the impressive newcomer Luke Babbitt. The freshman has muscled his way to 15.4 points a game, to go along with 7.8 rebounds. He can pop the three ball as well. However, he is the only guy taller than 6-8 on the squad. 6-6 Malik Cooke and 6-3 Armon Johnson are able to do damage on the boards though. Johnson is also a very good passer and does much of his scoring damage inside the three point line. It is the forwards, Babbitt, Cooke and Joey Shaw, who shoot the three most effectively for the Wolfpack. Their lack of size on the inside may prove to be the deciding factor in some games. Fortunately for Nevada, Southern Illinois doesn’t bring a ton of size to the table either.
The perennial MVC contender Southern Illinois relies on Carlton Fay for a lot of their offensive punch. Fay leads the team in rebounding as well. Like Babbitt of Nevada, Fay can step out and hit the three. The Salukis shoot very well from beyond the arc, a necessity in the guard-oriented MVC. As a team they shoot over 42%, led by Kevin Dillard and Bryan Mullins, who is hitting them at a 50% clip. Dillard and Mullins are also extremely capable of finding teammates. Mullins is 5th in the country in assists. However, in order for the Salukis to win, they will need solid performances from Tony Boyle, Wesley Clemmons, Nick Evans (the tallest player in the game at 6-11) and Ryan Hare.
I like the ‘Pack in this one. They have a lot of talent and rarely turn the ball over. However, if the Salukis get hot from the outside, they could steal the road win.
Winner: Nevada Margin: 5-8
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About Blake Hofstad
An avid sports fan, you can nearly always find Blake Hofstad playing, watching, writing or just talking sports. His favorite team is the Wisconsin Badgers, and he is a huge Big Ten and Missouri Valley fan. The two things he hates about college basketball are Duke and the love Duke gets from most media members. You can find more of Blake's work on Onlinesportsfanatic.com.