SMU at UNLV: Game Preview, TV, Radio, Live Stream, Odds, More
Rebels hoping to exorcise some early-season demons
UNLV needs a win to turn things around
WHO: SMU (4-0, 0-0 American) at UNLV (2-4, 0-0 MWC)
WHEN: Saturday, November 23 — 7:30 P.M. PT / 8:30 P.M. MT
WHERE: Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas, Nev.
ALL-TIME RECORD: Series tied, 3-3
ODDS: SMU -2, per KenPom
PREVIEW: It’s been a rocky road so far for UNLV, but they’ve got a chance to get things back on track at home against undefeated SMU.
Three straight losses to Power 5 teams was one thing, but the Rebels’ loss to Texas State at home was an unexpected speedbump. The Bobcats are a good team, to be sure, but they also lost to Air Force, who has struggled themselves.
But this is all part of the early season, teams ebbing and flowing.
UNLV is definitely ebbing at the moment.
The biggest problem for the Rebels is turnovers. They have already committed 95 turnovers, averaging just shy of 16 per game. That number puts UNLV right around the bottom 20 in the country, per Sports-Reference. The blame can be shared among the entire roster, really. Four players are averaging at least two giveaways per game, while three more are averaging at least one.
The sloppiness has also extended to the shooting game. The Rebels have connected on just 43.6% of their shots over the first six games. Bryce Hamilton’s sub-30% mark isn’t helping.
And though things haven’t clicked as instantly as TJ Otzelberger would have hoped, the roles in his lineup are becoming well-defined.
Amauri Hardy is the primary scorer. Donnie Tillman is the first option in the frontcourt. Elijah Mitrou-Long is playing the part of the veteran floor general. Chiekh Mbacke Diong is a liability on offense, but a monster on the glass. Hamilton and Jonah Antonio are auxiliary scorers. Nick Blair and Vitaly Shibel provide some extra size.
It all sounds good on paper. But can they all perform at the same time?
SMU, on the other hand, has had success in their first few games. Their most recent victory came against Evansville, the same team that knocked off Kentucky last week. The Mustangs also have wins against some decent clubs in Jacksonville State, New Orleans, and Jackson State.
Head coach Tim Jankovic must be enjoying the early success of recent transfers into the program.
Isiaha Mike, a junior forward who transferred from Duquesne, started 32 games last year. Mike is averaging over 17 points and eight rebounds per game in year two at SMU. Tyson Jolly, who played at Baylor in 2017-18, is scoring 18 points per game and shooting a blistering 60% from the field in his first year with the Mustangs.
This two-pronged attack is bolstered by fellow starters Feron Hunt and Ethan Chargois. Hunt is averaging nearly a double-double, with 11 points and 9.5 rebounds. Chargois is also near double digits in scoring, but hasn’t really gotten hot yet.
If these four players can maintain their early chemistry, SMU could suddenly become a dark horse contender in the AAC.
They aren’t without their weaknesses, though. The Mustangs are a little shaky in terms of depth. Their bench players—as well as fifth starter Emmanuel Bandoumel—haven’t had much impact in the scoring column. But Jankovich teaches a slow brand of basketball, it stands to reason that there wouldn’t be too much to go around for anyone outside their top four players.
Actually, both teams play at a slow tempo, so expect this game to be a slugfest. The Rebels have been on the wrong side of these knock-down-drag-out fights so far this season. They are taking on a tough Mustangs team, but those early wins might not hold up against tougher opponents.
It’s too early to start throwing around the phrase “must-win”, but UNLV does need to start steering the ship in the right direction. A win here would provide some positive momentum, which the Rebels can really use in their upcoming games against Cincinnati and BYU—not to mention an early conference game against Fresno State.
Andrew is a current USBWA member, covering college basketball for multiple outlets, including Mountain West Wire of the USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Busting Brackets of the FanSided Network. He also runs the Dieckhoff Power Index, a college basketball analytics system, and provides bracketology predictions throughout the season.