Mountain West Basketball: UNLV vs. San Diego–Preview, Odds, Prediction
Runnin’ Rebels look to stay undefeated in tough road challenge
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Game 8: UNLV Runnin’ Rebels (7-0) @ San Diego Toreros (5-3)
When: Saturday, December 3rd – 7:00 PT
Where: Jenny Craig Pavilion; San Diego, CA
How To Watch: Livestream on WCC Network – http://www.wccsports.com
Odds: UNLV -4 Over/Under 139
UNLV puts its undefeated record on the line Saturday night, when they travel to southern California to face off with San Diego. The Runnin’ Rebels have flown under the radar for a few reasons, primarily because with the exception of last Saturday’s wipeout of NAIA Life Pacific, which resembled more of an intrasquad scrimmage, the Rebs have been out of action since before Thanksgiving.
The schedule also has not been super daunting thus far. Dayton seemed to be a good win at the time, but the Flyers were a bit shorthanded in that game, and proceeded to go 0-3 in the Battle for Atlantis to fall below .500 on the season. Minnesota is a Big Ten scalp that UNLV caught, but unfortunately the Gophers seem to be the worst of the 14 teams in that conference at this point.
This is not to take anything away from what the Rebels have done on the court through seven games. You play who is on your schedule and make no apologies for it. UNLV had a subpar 2021-22 season, and to start 7-0 should not be disregarded. There are also many areas in which they are excelling, and they have the look of a team that is bought in as a cohesive unit. It’s simply to point out that things will get tougher, and they’re likely to get tougher as soon as Saturday night.
San Diego’s resumé is not going to wow anyone either right now. They have already suffered three losses, and have no top-shelf wins to speak of. What they do have, is a very talented roster that was cobbled together in the offseason by new coach Steve Lavin. The veteran coach, turned broadcaster, has returned to the bench after educating viewers with his knowledge as a color analyst for multiple networks over the last six years. Lavin has a reputation among some as an under achiever as a head coach, but he did reach four Sweet Sixteens and one Elite Eight while at UCLA.
He has taken on the challenge of rebuilding San Diego in a top heavy WCC, and has assembled the talent to do so. Two impact transfers out of the Pac-12 – Eric Williams from Oregon, and Jaiden Delaire from Stanford are the headliners. There are others, and combined with the return of leading scorer Marcellus Earlington, there are scorers galore in the starting five. That can sometimes resemble a ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ type of scenario, but that’s for Lavin and his staff to figure out.
Amazingly, The Toreros have five players averaging double figures. It represents almost 90% of their scoring, as they only go about 6 deep. Beyond that it’s out of necessity for an injury and/or foul trouble. Some of the numbers though, are impressive. Jase Townsend is the leader at 16.5 per game, and is shooting an insane 51% from 3-point land. Williams is next at 15 points a night, and he also averages 10 boards per outing, incredible for a 6’6 guard/forward. Earlington likes to attack the rim and has taken a very high number of free throws to date, a statistic that will be challenged tonight, as the Rebels are excellent at keeping their opponents off the foul line.
For UNLV, the calling card of course has been the defense. There is length, athleticism, and discipline to stick to the scheme. It has resulted in outstanding numbers in most defensive categories, including ranking number one in the entire nation in forcing turnovers. Every player has been willing to sacrifice his body to take a charge, or dive on the floor for a loose ball. The metrics will be put to the test, as this is certainly the most prolific offense the Rebels have faced in 2022.
The offense is still a work in progress, but they may have some breathing room tonight as San Diego is not known as a lock-down defensive stalwart. Keshon Gilbert and EJ Harkless have been the two providing the scoring punch to this point. Gilbert has been scorching hot from deep, while Harkless has gotten it done in transition and attacking the basket. As per usual, they will need some help, even if it is a different third choice each night. 11 Rebels average double figure minutes, a really high number.
This should be an entertaining chess match between Lavin and his counterpart, Kevin Kruger. It’s strength vs. strength; the USD offense against the UNLV defense. The lesser units of each team then seem to cancel each other out. As noted above, nobody is turning teams over at a higher rate than the Rebels. The Toreros however, have been very good at protecting the ball, so that major edge the Rebs usually count on could be negated. An area of weakness for San Diego has been their poor job defending the 3-point line. UNLV may not be able to exploit this, as Gilbert aside, it has not been a strength through seven games.
There are a few other factors at play too. This is the first true road game of the season for the Runnin’ Rebels, often a time when teams get rattled and tend to play unlike they have previously played. As for San Diego, they are super experienced, starting five seniors. While they have laid an egg or two already this season, they are the type of team that gets up for certain games, and Lavin has made his money in this spot throughout his career. Their best effort of the year came when Utah State visited, and a back-and-forth affair ended with the Aggies taking a 91-89 overtime victory. With an undefeated team coming to town, you can bet the Toreros will be raring to go. It may take the Rebs a bit to shake off the rust from the layoff, and the jitters that come with your first road trip. This has the feeling of a game that just gets away from UNLV down the stretch, when one of Lavin’s horses gets hot.
Prediction: San Diego 71 UNLV 69