A basketball player shoots a free throw at a Nevada game with the crowd cheering in the back.
Nevada forward Johncarlos Reyes shoots a free throw against Cal State East Bay on Saturday, Oct. 19.

Nevada basketball is back with a new coach and a mostly new line-up. Here are five upcoming games that will be decisive in the Wolf Pack’s success this year. 

Texas Southern @ Nevada – Dec. 18

This will be the first time Texas Southern has played at Nevada.  Texas Southern’s head coach Johnny Jones served as associate head coach at Nevada during the 2017-18 season. He helped lead the Wolf Pack to a 29-8 record, tying their highest win total in program history.

Jones played college basketball at Louisiana State University, where he also worked as head coach for five years. Additionally, Jones also spent time coaching at North Texas University.

His son, guard John Jones, was a walk-on for the Pack during the 2017-2018 season but made the move to Texas as well. Though the Tigers are 1-5 currently, this match will not be a cakewalk for the Wolf Pack.

Senior guard Tyrik Armstrong leads Texas Southern in total points with 71 through five games. Armstrong also leads the team in steals, with 13.

Wolf Pack seniors Jazz Johnson and Lindsey Drew will have to step it up offensively during the game, and not only by working on their shooting, but providing assists for other players like Johncarlos Reyes, Zane Meeks and Robby Robinson. This will lead to a diverse offensive scheme for Nevada which should help propel them to victory. 

Defensively, the Wolf Pack need to impede Armstrong from acquiring the ball and getting the freedom to score. Shutting down Armstrong may be the key to victory in this matchup.

Nevada @ Saint Mary’s – Dec. 21

Nevada will appear in its first-ever Al Attles Classic on Dec. 21 at the Chase Center in San Francisco against St. Mary’s College. St. Mary’s will provide a real challenge for the Pack.

Guard Jordan Ford leads the Gaels in total points, with 145 points through their first seven games, followed by forward Malik Fitts, with 92. Both are players who can cause trouble offensively for Nevada. This is compared to Johnson’s 149 and Harris’ 113 points in seven games.

Defensively, guard Tanner Krebs has had six blocks in seven games, meaning that the Wolf Pack needs to be ready for the aggressive defender. Attacking the glass in this matchup may be the best idea for the Pack. 

Fitts has been a physical presence for the Gaels, as he’s had 35 defensive rebounds so far this season. If Nevada is to compete in this one, it will take a mixture of tough board play and great perimeter shooting from Johnson. Offensive support from Zouzoua and Meeks will also be key in this one.

Nevada’s all-time win-loss record versus the Gael’s is 3-3, the last time they played being a loss in November of 2016. 

Nevada @ Utah State – Jan. 11, 2020

Arguably the Pack’s toughest match-up of the season, Nevada will be tested early in the new year against Utah State.

Although Utah State just suffered their first loss at the hands of St. Mary’s, this Aggies squad should be fired up. The Aggies are the favorites to win the Mountain West and come Jan. they should be hitting their stride. 

If the Wolf Pack want a chance at an upset, they will have to contain senior guard Sam Merrill who leads the Aggies in total points with 116 and 33 assists through the first seven games of the season.

The Pack also need to be wary of junior guard Alphonso Anderson, who has 103 points and is averaging a .569 field goal percentage.

The most physically commanding force on the Aggies line up is 7-foot-2 Kuba Karwowski. The junior center leads the team in blocks with 12 and has had four steals. Height advantage is a common thread against Utah State, as most of the Utah State players are over 6-foot-5 and three players over seven feet tall.

UNLV @ Nevada – Jan. 22, 2020 

Nevada’s biggest rival, UNLV will be coming to Lawlor to play the Pack on Jan. 22. With a 14-16 win-loss record versus UNLV, Nevada is on a four-game win streak.

So far this season, the Rebels have lost to the likes of Kansas State, Cal-Berkeley and UCLA. Tough losses, but to talented teams in notable conferences.

On the Rebels lineup, junior guard Amauri Hardy is a player to watch out for. With 126 points and 22 assists in seven games, Hardy has the ability to be an offensive force against anybody the Rebels go against.

With support from senior guards Elijah Mitrou-Long and Cheikh Mbacke Diong, the Rebels could prove to be a problem early on. Diong has had 73 rebounds through seven games and the Pack would need to follow through on every play to keep rebounds to a minimum.

Defensively, Diong has 12 blocks and seven steals so far this season. For Nevada, Hymes could potentially be a key player if he is able to defend the basket and keep Hardy from getting many opportunities to shoot. Keeping the ball away from Hardy will be the deciding factor in this match-up.

Attacking from beyond the arc will be key against UNLV. Diong’s knack for guarding internally will force Nevada outside the paint.

Fresno State @ Nevada – Feb. 22, 2020

Besides Boise State, Fresno State is the Pack’s biggest out of state rival. Nevada’s win-loss record against Fresno State is 27-15 all-time. Currently, Nevada is on a five-game win streak, and the Pack’s ability to spread the ball will be key to defeating the Bulldogs and continuing that streak.

The last time the Bulldogs came to Lawlor was on Feb. 23 of this year, nearly a year to the date of the next time they’ll meet. Nevada won the game, 74-68. 

Senior forward Nate Grimes leads the team in total rebounds with 46-17 offensive and 29 defensively. Offensively, Nevada will probably rely on perimeter shooting and boxing out the paint down low. Meeks can use his 6-foot-9 frame to dominate in the paint and go toe to toe with Grimes. 

Fresno State’s Mustafa Lawrence may cause trouble with his ability to set up plays, as he has 17 assists so far this season. 

If Johnson and Harris can continue to command points from beyond the arc, the Wolf Pack may be able to walk away from this game with a win. With a win-loss record of 2-3 so far this season, the Bulldogs are obviously beatable, having lost to No. 11 Oregon and Saint Mary’s in November. This matchup will be the second to last before the Mountain West Championships.

Madeleine Chinery can be reached at rfreeberg@sagebrush.unr.edu or on Twitter @SagebrushSports.