UNLV vs. Kansas State Preview
The Runnin’ Rebels are still looking for their first win and hope to get one on the road come Saturday.
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UNLV heads out to Big 12 country to face Kansas State on the road this Saturday.
WHO: UNLV Runnin’ Rebels (0-4, 0-0 in MW) vs. Kansas State Wildats (1-2, 0-0 in Big 12)
WHEN: Saturday, December 5th-5:00 PM PT/6:00 PM MT/ 7:00 PM CT/ 8:00 PM EST
WHERE: Bramlage Coliseum-Manhattan, KS
STREAM: ESPN +
Line: KenPom, Wildcats favored by 2
SERIES RECORD: UNLV leads 4-3 all-time
UNLV will head back on the road this weekend to take on the Kansas State Wildcats in Manhattan. The Runnin’ Rebels could use a win, as it would be their first after a rough start to the season. To be fair, the competition has been top shelf, losing games to Montana State, North Carolina, Alabama and Davidson this pastWednesday.
But with no end to this high level competition in sight (next up is Eastern Washington and Pepperdine) before Mountain West play begins, this squad needs a win to spark the morale and confidence of this very young team (only one senior but six freshmen).
The last time these two programs met was last year in Las Vegas, when a scoring battle between Kansas State’s Xavier Sneed (19 points) and now Oregon Duck Amauri Hardy (27 points) resulted in a four-point loss for the Runnin’ Rebels at home.
Second-year head coach T.J. Otzelberger takes his squad on the road to fulfill this home-and-home agreement, which marks the fourth straight game UNLV has had to play away from home in this still young season.
Kansas State on the other hand is nearing the end of a five-game stretch to open the season, all at home in Manhattan. There in Bramlage Coliseum they suffered a 10-point loss to Drake, who was pegged to finish mid-table in the Missouri Valley this season. And followed up that loss with another two days later, this time against former conference mate and always challenging Colorado, this time by 18-points.
Bruce Weber and his squad should hope to extend their winning ways against UNLV, as they have one scheduled game next week against Milwaukee before beginning Big 12 play the following week.
Match up of the night: Bryce Hamilton Vs. Mike McGuirl
Last year’s match up in the backcourt was the main event, but Xavier Sneed and Amauri Hardy are now gone and Runnin’ Rebel leading scorer Bryce Hamilton was quite last time these two teams met (8 points on 3-12 shooting). But he has elevated his game since, averaging 21.5 PPG through four contests against some lofty competition.
UNLV is up 13-0 over UNC after this and-one slam by Bryce Hamilton 😳 pic.twitter.com/ef0nNlD2KI
— ESPN (@espn) December 1, 2020
The key detail here is that all four of those contests were all losses and this UNLV squad is quickly figuring out that Hamilton can’t do it alone.
His competition Mike McGuirl is a senior guard who leads the Wildcats in scoring (12.3 PPG) and tied at steals (1.0 SPG). This squad may not look super imposing on paper, but they are athletic and like any Big 12 school has size on the roster.
Prediction: UNLV 70, Kansas State 68
Per KenPom, the Runnin’ Rebels are two underdogs on the road tomorrow, but feel this squad is making progress and shrinking their margin of defeat each game. Defense has looked terrible this season, and the four guard lineups haven’t appeared to do the trick come tip-off, giving up 83.0 PPG so far this season.
But this UNLV team has capable players and a little more work on the defensive end in combination with a little more offensive contributions from the bench should do wonders. While UNLV has been unable to find their defensive footing to this point, Kansas State is trying to figure out how to score. The Wildcats are averaging just 63.3 PPG through three contests, while giving up 71.3 PPG.
A little evenly matched on paper, if UNLV’s scorers, which they apparently have more of, can knock shots down early on they should win this one. Because I just don’t see the scorers on the opposing roster sheet that can keep up.
The X-Factor: David Jenkins Jr.
I don’t think there was anyone not on the David Jenkins Jr. hype train in some fashion or another this offseason. The former South Dakota State Jackrabbit was known as the high scoring, three point shooting guard who played sort of a high powered Robin role ( to Mike Daum (Batman of course, 25.3 PPG & 11.7 RPG in 2018-2019) a couple of years ago under Runnin’ Rebel head coach T.J. Otzelberger.
But to say Jenkins Jr.’s performances in his first four games SINCE dawning the scarlet and gray were underwhelming, feels like an understatement. After going a combined 3-18 from the field for just 11 points combined in his first two games, things felt bleak for the preseason Mountain West newcomer of the year.
Now in the last two games, things aren’t great for the 6-2 junior out of Tacoma, WA, but they have certainly improved (15.0 PPG on 10-27 made FGs). Still, a tough transition period to a new school and conference with new teammates seemed taken care of for a sit-out transfer who has been in the program for over a year and played for the coach before. Still, Jenkins Jr. can score and a step up in scoring production for him could make this team’s defensive woes a little less concerning. If you can’t stop them, out score them, right?
UNLV like other Mountain West programs was expected to take a step up in production this season after a successful 2019-2020 campaign. But like some other Mountain West teams, is having some trouble out of the gate.
A win over Kansas State would be a great start, especially on the road.