First off, a quick introduction. I'm Fooch and having grown up in Las Vegas, I've been a UNLV fan my whole life. I actually run the 49ers SB Nation site Niners Nation. When I got a chance to check out MWC Connection I knew I wanted to be a part of it. And so here I am to provide a few thoughts and a little analysis about my beloved Runnin Rebels.
UNLV takes on the Southern Methodist Mustangs in their opening game at the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu. The Classic, hosted by Hawaii, is in its inaugural year and includes, aside from UNLV, SMU and Hawaii, College of Charleston, Northeastern, USC, St. Mary's, and Western Michigan. Although it is not the biggest collection of names in a preseason tournament, all the schools will get to play three games with at least two for each school being on television (ESPNU and ESPN2).
UNLV is arguably the favorite to win this tournament (with St. Mary's also in the conversation). The Rebels have had a mostly successful non-conference schedule that saw them beat Louisville and Arizona, while getting thumped by #12/#15 Kansas State. UNLV is a guard heavy team that likes to jack up threes, but they're still trying to figure out where they're most comfortable. On the defensive end they're generally a tough, scrappy team that will make their opponents work to score points. The Kansas State game exposed UNLV as a team that still has a lot of work to do, but they're on the right path.
This tournament represents the end of the non-conference season for UNLV, as they will be opening MWC play a tough 2-game road trip at BYU and New Mexico, arguably the two best teams in the Mountain West. While this tournament doesn't include a lot of name-brand action, three wins would give the Rebels a solid amount of confidence heading into conference play. After the K-State loss, UNLV had a 3-game stretch against some less than stellar opposition, so a step back up in competition is necessary.
The "step up" in competition would not seem to be starting in the first round. SMU stands at 4-3, although 2 of their wins came against lower division teams. SMU hasn't beaten anybody of significance to date and sit with an RPI ranked 282, so it's safe to say that this game won't really help UNLV's RPI. The Rebels are currently 10 point favorites on the Mustangs and will basically be looking to contain Derek Williams and Mouhammad Faye (averaging a combined 27.4 points per game, good for 38% of their scoring).
UNLV is a guard heavy roster and they have struggled in the rebounding department. With no player averaging more than 5.3 rebounds, even relatively small teams can have success on the boards against the Rebels. SMU goes with 2 guards, 1 guard/forward and 2 traditional forwards (both 6'9). At this point I don't know much about SMU's style of play, aside from the fact that they don't chuck up 3s anywhere near the rate of UNLV. If they bang it down low, they could make things interesting with UNLV.
The winner of this game faces the winner of Charleston-Hawaii on Wednesday at 11:30pm eastern time on ESPN2. The loser gets the loser of that game at 2:00am eastern on ESPNU.