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Men’s basketball: This time, Lobos won’t catch Wolf Pack off guard

RENO, Nev. — A funny thing happened on the way to the perfection for the Nevada Wolf Pack.

On Jan. 5, the New Mexico Lobos, suffering through a disappointing up-and-down season, shocked the college basketball world, not only pulling off the upset that night against the undefeated, No. 6 Nevada Wolf Pack in Dreamstyle Arena — the Pit, but blowing them out by 27 points.

And all the head scratching over the past month has been unable to explain just how it happened, or why. In fact, in what is still considered by many to be the anomaly game of this college basketball season, the result didn’t really change much of anything.

Nevada (22-1, 9-1 Mountain West) went back to its dominating ways, winning all nine games since that night in Albuquerque, never dropping out of the Associated Press Top 25, and is clearly in the driver’s seat to win the league once again.

And the Lobos (10-12, 4-6) went right back to baffling their own fans from game to game with different ways to struggle, losing six of the eight games since the night they made national headlines.

The only major difference, it seems, from that game and today’s rematch in the Lawlor Events Center, is that there is very little chance the Wolf Pack, 20½-point favorites, will again appear to be so caught off guard by the Lobos.

“Come Saturday afternoon,” Nevada coach Eric Musselman said, “I would be shocked if it wasn’t the loudest that I’ve ever heard Lawlor.”

And while Wolf Pack senior Tre’Shawn Thurman said earlier this week there wasn’t any literal circling on the calendar of the Lobo rematch — “Honestly, I don’t think anybody really knew when the next time we would play them, when they were on the schedule again.” — it is obvious there isn’t any need for extra motivation for the Wolf Pack.

“We’re playing New Mexico,” Thurman said. “There’s not really too much we have to talk about besides that’s the team that we lost to. And not only did we lose to them, we got killed by them. We already have that in our head.”

According to KenPom.com, the statistical analytics website used regularly by college basketball coaches and media, the Jan. 5 game in Albuquerque qualifies as the No. 3 biggest “bust” of the season. KenPom defines such games as those with the largest disparity between the projected scoring outcome predicted by his computer program, the same system that is aligned with most Las Vegas sports betting point spreads, and the final outcome of the game.

The Jan. 5 prediction, according to KenPom.com was Nevada 86, New Mexico 70. The final score of New Mexico 85, Nevada 58 had a 43-point differential.

While two other games, out of the thousands played this season in Division I college basketball, have had larger differentials, the UNM-Nevada game was the only one that featured a team ranked even in the top 135 of the KenPom rankings and was between two teams so far apart in the rankings. Nevada was No. 6 for that game and UNM was No. 184.

SWEET CAROLINE: Jordan Caroline, the Nevada fifth-year senior wing who scored a Pit-opponent record 45 points against the Lobos in 2017, actually might be entering this Lobos rematch playing the best basketball of his college career.

He scored 40 points in Wednesday’s win at Colorado State, including 30 in the first half, and had 12 rebounds. That was his 14th double-double this season and the 41st double-double he’s posted in his career at Nevada, a new Mountain West record.

The previous co-holders of the MWC’s career double-double record were Kawhi Leonard and Andrew Bogut.

TURNOVERS: UNM averages 2.5 more turnovers per game in its wins this season than losses.

In 10 wins, the Lobos have had 159 turnovers (15.9 per game). In the team’s 12 losses, it’s 161 turnovers (13.4 per game).

In Mountain West play, it’s 15.5 turnovers in wins, 13.3 in losses.

The good news for the Lobos, it seems, is Nevada’s defense has been turning teams over at the highest rate in Mountain West games this season.

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