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

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

Boise State

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


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

Broncos, Rebels meet in Vegas & @MWCwire

What: Boise State Broncos (12-4, 2-1) @ UNLV Runnin’ Rebels (12-3, 1-2)
When: Wednesday, January 11th – 8:00 PT
Where: Thomas & Mack Center; Las Vegas, NV
How To Watch: CBS Sports Network
Odds: UNLV -2 Over/Under 135

After a full Tuesday night slate, Boise State and UNLV get the Wednesday night stage to themselves in the Mountain West Conference, and it’s a worthy matchup. The Broncos are fresh off a curb stomping of rival Utah State on Saturday. The result was not as much of a surprise as the margin and the thorough domination Leon Rice’s team put on a very good Aggies squad. The Runnin’ Rebels meanwhile, were equally impressive – heading to New Mexico and defeating the ranked Lobos in a sold out Pit.

The first two weeks of league play has proven what many around the MWC thought to be the case in the preseason. Not only are there not going to be any nights off, but teams are going to have brutal 3, 4, even 5 game stretches. UNLV went from hosting league favorite San Diego State, to the visit to then 14-1 New Mexico, and now back home for the defending league champ Broncos. BSU had Utah State, now at UNLV, then at Wyoming (notoriously one of the most difficult places to play in the conference), back home to host Nevada in a revenge matchup, and then to the Pit to face the Lobos. Yikes. They are not alone, there are other teams with similar gauntlets in progress or ahead. Every game is magnified, and you’ve got to take care of your home court. Can the Rebels do that Wednesday? Let’s break it down.

UNLV for the most part has been carried by its defense. It’s an uber aggressive style that applies some pressure in the back court, but really flies around in the half court. The perimeter defenders are often scrambling and rotating to help on another offensive player, with posts David Muoka or Victor Iwuakor holding the fort down in the paint. It puts a tremendous amount of stress on the offense and has been super effective in forcing turnovers, as the Rebels still average forcing 20 per game, second in the country. There is a good amount of length with most of the guard/forward defenders and they have shown a willingness to lay their bodies on the line in the form of charges/diving on the floor/etc…

To succeed against this unconventional defense requires heady, experienced ball handlers, good spacing, unselfishness, and the ability to knock down open shots. If you fall short in a couple of these areas, it can be a long night offensively. Because the scrambling often results in players being out of position, UNLV has a very poor defensive rebounding rate. They have given up 16, 14, and 17 offensive boards in their three conference games. Boise State is not a giant on the offensive glass, but neither were the other recent opponents of the Rebels. This could be a factor on Wednesday night.

Something else surely to be a factor is the play of EJ Harkless. The 5th year senior guard is averaging 20 ppg over his last six outings. His percentages from the floor are not great, but that’s due to too many attempts from behind the line. He overcomes that by getting to the foul line a bunch, and he’s been filling up the stat sheet, chipping in 5 boards and 5 assists a night over that six game stretch, including 8 dimes against San Diego State. Luis Rodriguez has done a solid job of picking up the slack for the slumping Keshon Gilbert, who did record 14 points against the Lobos Saturday, after four consecutive single-digit tallies. Getting Gilbert back to his early season form will be key moving forward for the Runnin’ Rebs. They have received some positive bench minutes recently from Jordan McCabe, who kept them afloat in the first half vs. UNM on Saturday, until Harkless took over in half number two.

The first thing you need to do as a coach against UNLV is make sure you have a game plan in place to handle the pressure. Fortunately Rice has an experienced and high-IQ backcourt, in Marcus Shaver, and his son Max. The two seniors are good decision makers and will need to continue that against the inevitable pressure. Though Tyson Degenhart is just a sophomore, he plays like a seasoned vet at this point, and Naje Smith is another who has been in the Broncos program for multiple years. Boise State has good metrics in terms of taking care of the basketball, averaging just 11 turnovers a game. This is probably the key statistic to watch for as this game unfolds. If the Runnin’ Rebs can force 15 or more turnovers and get some easy baskets in transition, their odds of winning greatly increase. Should BSU keep that number closer to their yearly average, they may be leaving Vegas with a well earned W.

Getting shots up at the basket is only half the battle against the Rebels defense, since many of the looks are heavily contested. Teams are shooting a paltry 40% from the field and 32% from 3. Degenhart has not shot the ball well, but did go a modest 2-2 from deep against Utah State, and either he, or Chibuzo Agbo will need to hit some open threes to combat the UNLV scramble D. As for the Broncos defense, their metrics are actually better than the Rebels, primarily because they don’t force the number of turnovers that UNLV does; they simply make you take difficult shots, and the %’s are even lower – 38% from the field allowed, and a meager 28% from behind the line. Downhill aggressive drivers of the basketball have given Boise State some problems, mainly Kenan Blackshear of Nevada and Omari Moore of San Jose State. Harkless seems to fit the mold, provided he doesn’t settle for too many three pointers.

How is this one going to unfold? We could be in store for a physical, bruising, low-scoring game. Though they go about it differently, the two best units on the floor are the respective defenses. One glaring difference on that end of the floor however, is the way they finish possessions. We’ve already looked at UNLV’s deficiency in rebounding the ball. Boise State on the other hand is elite at grabbing misses, so expect a wide disparity on the glass. Harkless will likely get his, but the rest of the Rebels may find points hard to come by. The hunch here is that the poise of the veteran Broncos squad handles the rowdy crowd, and the frenetic pace of the Runnin’ Rebels just enough to eke out a victory.

Prediction: Boise State 64 UNLV 62



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