2021 Mountain West Tournament: Utah State vs. UNLV Preview, TV Schedule, Livestream, and More
A lot at stake for Utah State in this one.
Quarterfinals is underway
THE GAME: UTAH STATE & UNLV meeting in the semi-finals of the Mountain West tournament in Las Vegas.
TIP TIME: 6:00 PM PST
TV: CBS SPORTS NETWORK
ODDS: Utah State is favored by 10 per KenPom.com
There hasn’t been a team that’s enjoyed more success in Vegas recently than Utah State. The last two seasons, USU was able to cut down the nets in the Thomas & Mack center. Two seasons ago, it was a 4-seeded San Diego State team, led by Jaden McDaniels that got picked off by Utah State.
Last season was a game to remember in the championship for Utah State. Knocking off a one-loss San Diego State team, on a shot by Sam Merrill, that’ll go down in Mountain West tournament lore. It was a shot that’ll always be remembered for how cold-blooded it was by Merrill to knock-off a SDSU that would’ve been a 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
UNLV shockingly hasn’t gotten past the quarterfinals of the conference tournament since 2013-14, after a rough-patch in the program, going through multiple coaching staff’, getting to the semi-finals is a turning point for the program. It’ll take time to return back to the Stacey Augmon, Larry Johnson & Greg Anthony days in the 90’s, but starting to show you can win conference tournament games is a start.
There’s A lot at stake for both Utah State and UNLV entering this pivotal matchup to get into the conference tournament semifinals. For USU, this holds more weight than just continuing in the Mountain West tournament but trying to get into the NCAA tournament.
It’s a different Aggies team, but it has one common denominator, HC Craig Smith.
Utah State switched their philosophy, focusing more on the defensive end, with how the personnel is set up, flipping the switch to a defensive-focused team makes sense.
Neemias Queta turned into a different player this season; you could attribute some of that to finally being healthy, averaging nearly a double-double at 14.7 PPG, 9.9 RPG while adding three-blocks per-game.
The biggest strides Queta’s taken are on the defensive end; sports-reference.com has Queta tied with Cameron Krutwig from Loyola-Chicago for the most defensive win-shares in the country & tied with Michigan’s Franz Wagner in defensive box-plus-minus (dBPM) for best in the country. Impressive the way Queta’s become a scary defender.
An often asked question is can USU’s guards hold up to win games in the MW tournament? I say yes, getting Rollie Worster back controlling the point is a sneaky player to have back, a smooth combo-guard. While both Brock Miller & Steven Ashworth let-it-fly from deep and at a robust clip.
Craig Smith’s Aggies only lost four conference games this year, but one came to these UNLV Runnin Rebels. Can it be repeated?
UNLV dropped 13 triples, while Utah State only had five, a significant reason UNLV could win.
David Jenkins Jr.performing always is essential for what T.J. Otzelberger wants to do with how Jenkins shoots it when he’s getting warm. In the first-round win over Air Force, Jenkins had 21 points while raining in five threes. When Jenkins is going, he’s one of the more lethal players in the conference.
Bryce Hamilton, who earned first-team ALL-MW honors, showed why in-game on, dropping 18 points on 8-13 shooting, along with seven rebounds & four assists. Despite some inconsistencies on offense, Hamilton is ultra-valuable and integral to UNLV’s potential victory here.
KEYS TO THE GAME:
UNLV found a way to force Utah State to shoot, not letting Neemias Queta clear space inside, getting an easy basket, or foul is something to consider. It’s tough stopping Queta without a doubt, but if Cheick Mbacke-Diong can hold his own, things change for the Rebs.
In all four of Utah State’s four conference losses, there’s a notable similarity in each of those losses. What is it? Utah State didn’t shoot above 28% from three in any of those four losses. The best shooting performance in those losses is when the Aggies went 8-31 from three against Colorado State.
It’s clear, hitting three’s despite not taking many makes Utah State a more versatile team, not relying too much on their interior offense.
It’s a must-win for the Aggies trying to keep their hopes alive of playing in the NCAA Tournament. They could snag their third consecutive conference tournament title, but it starts here.
PREDICTION: UTAH STATE 79, UNLV 66