UNLV Runnin’ Rebels vs. New Mexico Lobos: Series Preview, How To Watch, Odds, More
Two winless teams in conference seeking their first win.
The Rebels dropped their two conference games by three points apiece.
Who: New Mexico Lobos (4-6, 0-6 Mountain West) vs. UNLV Runnin’ Rebels (2-6, 0-2 Mountain West)
When: Saturday, January 16 – 3:30 PM MST
Monday, January 18 – 7:30 PM MST
Where: Thomas & Mack Center – Las Vegas, NV
TV: Saturday – CBS Sports Network & Monday – FS1
Game 1 Odds via BetMGM: UNLV -10.5
The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels host the New Mexico Lobos at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada on Saturday at 3:30 PM MT. The once-proud programs each continue their push through a season wrought with challenges, trying to get back on track with a win on Saturday.
While neither team is likely to finish high enough to secure top 5-seed bye-game in the conference tournament (New Mexico and UNLV hold a combined record of 8-12 overall, with a turbulent an 0-8 start to conference), UNLV has an opportunity to finish the series against New Mexico with a .500 record in conference – certainly a welcome event for T.J. Otzelberger’s squad that faced perhaps the most challenging non-conference slate of any team in the Mountain West Conference.
The Rebels dropped their first four games this season, starting with a surprising loss to a decent Montana State team (still a quadrant 4 loss in the NCAA’s NET rankings system at the time of this writing), followed by losses to North Carolina, Alabama and Davidson at the Maui invitational. Victory finally came in a true road game against the Big 12’s Kansas State Wildcats, before falling by three points in two losses in their Mountain West opening series against Colorado State (both quadrant 1 losses at the time of writing).
New Mexico had quite the opposite start, playing a very soft schedule and maintaining undefeated status through three games before entering a difficult stretch of conference games against three of the conference’s current top five teams: Boise State, Utah State and Nevada. It’s the margin of defeat, though, that gives you the impression that New Mexico will once again struggle against a UNLV team that hasn’t had any cupcakes on the schedule.
The Lobos average margin of defeat against some of the conference’s best is 25.5 points, just 2.2 points better than the largest-in-conference margin of defeat (27.7) of the San Jose State Spartans.
Look for UNLV to use Cheikh Mbacke Diong (7.0 Pts, 8.4 Reb per game) as the anchor down low to shut down New Mexico’s interior game, forcing shots outside for a team that has connected on just 27.5% of its attempted threes this season. Offensively, three point shooting is likely to continue fueling Otzelberger’s offense, which hits on another pain point for the Lobos: three-point shooting defense. New Mexico is allowing opponents to net 8.6 threes per game on 35.4% shooting. The Rebels average a 35.6% three point field goal percentage and 10.0 made threes per game, including five that make it one out of every three tries: Caleb Grill (11.4 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.9 assists per game, 38.6 3PFG%), David Jenkins Jr. (15.4 points, 1.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists per game, 37.1 3PFG%), Moses Wood (4.0 points, 3.5 rebounds per game, 35.3 3PFG%), Bryce Hamilton (21.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.3 assists per game, 33.3 3PFG%) and Nicquel Blake (6.0 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists per game, 33.3 3PFG%).
New Mexico features just three such players since the opting out of the season for senior Keith McGee. Isaiah Marin (2.9 points, 2.2 rebounds, 1.0 assist per game, 45.5 3PFG%), Makuach Maluach (13.6 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.3 assists per game, 37.0 3PFG%) and Emmanuel Kuac (3.8 points, 3.2 rebounds per game, 35.0 3PFG%) have shown shooting ability, albeit inconsistently.
Still, with 14 games left in the conference season for each team, it’s not too late for any team, including the nomadic Lobos, to turn things around for the better.
But it would have to be a major turnaround for a team that is 11th in most offensive categories in the conference (New Mexico is 11th in three point, two point and therefore total field goal percentage and in free throw shooting).
If New Mexico can get comfortable making threes, they may be able to exploit UNLV’s own weakness in guarding the deep ball, which ranks even lower than New Mexico’s unenviable defensive percentage, allowing 9.6 threes per game and 38.1% of shots attempted. To dramatize things just a touch more, UNLV holds the conference’s worst three point defense in conference games, allowing 47.5% of attempted threes to find their way through the net.