Mountain West Basketball: UNLV vs. Washington State--Preview, Odds, Prediction

Mountain West Basketball: UNLV vs. Washington State--Preview, Odds, Prediction

Mountain West Basketball

Mountain West Basketball: UNLV vs. Washington State--Preview, Odds, Prediction


Mountain West Basketball: UNLV vs. Washington State–Preview, Odds, Prediction

Runnin’ Rebels, Cougars meet as part of a doubleheader at MGM Grand & MWCwire

Game 9: UNLV Runnin’ Rebels (9-0) vs. Washington State Cougars (4-4)
When: Saturday, December 10th – 1:30 PT
Where: MGM Grand Garden Arena; Las Vegas, NV
How To Watch: FS1
Odds: UNLV -2 Over/Under 133

On a huge day for College Basketball across the country, UNLV will take center stage out west as part of a doubleheader at the Garden Arena inside the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. If conference play in December is your thing, the ACC and Big Ten have plenty of options on Saturday. If regional rivalries tickle your fancy, you have Cincinnati-Xavier or Kansas-Missouri to tune in to, among others. But no arena will offer two games the quality of which will take place in Vegas, where the undefeated Rebels will take on Washington State, and then Indiana will lock horns with Arizona in a top 15 matchup.

For UNLV, the beat goes on, as they handled their business Wednesday against Hawaii, to remain unbeaten. The defense was its usual stingy self, holding the Rainbow Warriors to 35% shooting and 20% from three-point land. UH only crossed the 60 point threshold with the help of a few late meaningless 3’s when the game was already decided. The offense cooled off a bit from their time in San Diego last weekend, but was able to break down an aggressive man-to-man effort by Hawaii enough to attempt 28 free throws, a huge number.

The Rebels put together an outstanding first half, taking a 19 point lead into the break. Though they maintained a double-figure margin for much of the final 20 minutes, there was a roughly five minute stretch of careless play that will have the coaches’ attention. The Bows took advantage of a few quick shots and several other poor UNLV decisions to whittle the deficit down to 8 at one point, before a Kevin Kruger timeout. The lead quickly went back up to 12 and the Rebs were never seriously threatened again, but lapses in concentration like that against better competition will not go without consequences.

Luis Rodriguez led four Runnin’ Rebels in double figures, which also included Justin Webster, who stayed hot off the bench with 13, and burned his former team in the process. The inside duo of David Muoka and Victor Iwuakor combined for 11 points and 12 rebounds in an even 40 minutes patrolling the paint. Rebounding as a whole though, may start to develop into a problem area if Wednesday night is any indication. Hawaii was relentless on the offensive glass, collecting a remarkable 17 offensive rebounds. To be fair, the Rebels grabbed 16 themselves, but far more athletic teams await on the schedule, and the 22 second chance points allowed to the Bows, has the potential to become 30 against a future MWC foe.

As has been a recurring theme, the defensive pressure caused a plethora of turnovers, 18 this time (including 8 steals, and 6 blocks for good measure), and the Rebs scored 21 points off those turnovers. It’s nice to know that even on a night your shots might not be falling, you have other ways to supplement your offense.

Let’s turn to the opponent in this one – Washington State. The Cougars were picked near the middle-bottom of the preseason rankings in the Pac-12, and have been a little uneven to begin 2022, yet they still have a higher KenPom ranking then the Rebels do. That speaks to the consistency of the program recently under Kyle Smith, who took last year’s squad to the NIT semifinals. They did lose their top four scorers from that team, so some rebuilding was needed. As all coaches do these days, Smith hit the transfer portal to replace two starters in the backcourt, bringing in Justin Powell from Tennessee, and Jabe Mullins from St. Mary’s.

They are two of four Cougars averaging in double figures so far, though it is unlikely that Mullins will play. The 6’6” sniper played spot minutes for the Gaels the last two years, before exploding onto the scene for Wazzu in the preseason, where Smith estimates Mullins shot 60% from behind the three-point line in scrimmages. If that sounds like a coach over-inflating his players numbers, all you need to do is check his stats from the five games he has played in; 17-30 from behind the arc, an astonishing 56.7%, good for top 5 nationally at that point. The junior has missed the last three games with a knee injury, and the Cougs offense has suffered. Smith does not expect him back for this one either.

Washington State is also minus the services of projected starting center Dishon Jackson, who is out indefinitely with an undisclosed injury. Jackson was expected to team with power forward Mouhamed Gueye to form an imposing frontcourt. And while Gueye has been as advertised, averaging 14 and 8 per night, the absence of Jackson has forced Smith to use unproven, inexperienced bigs in his rotation. Yet another anticipated contributor, 6’8” forward Andrej Jakimovski, is sidelined with a leg injury. Even Pac-12 schools will see a drop in production with three of their top eight out of the lineup.

There is still plenty of firepower, as Gueye, Powell, and TJ Bamba are averaging 14, 12, and 16 points per game respectively. Bamba might not quite be near Mullins pace, but the junior guard is hitting 46% from deep, still a super high number. Not to be outdone, Powell knocks down 40% of his 3-balls. As a team, the Cougars rank highly in 3-point percentage, and 43% of their shots from the field this season have come from behind the arc. Wazzu is not a run and gun team though, they play at a very deliberate pace.

Don’t let the records fool you, this will not be an easy game for the Runnin’ Rebels. Washington State is well coached and athletic, and an outstanding rebounding team. UNLV will need to keep the Cougs, and primarily Gueye, from keeping possessions alive with offensive rebounds. Those often lead to kickouts, and open threes, and we’ve documented their proficiency from downtown. This is where the unavailability of Mullins is huge. With him, this one may tilt in the Cougars direction. Without him, they are probably down one too many bodies. The Rebs relentless defensive intensity should generate enough turnovers, and wear WSU down. Smith will try to shorten the game with a smaller bench, so points may be tough to come by. But it says here, UNLV hits 10 wins in a row to start the season.

Prediction: UNLV 66 Washington State 60



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