Utah and UNLV. Both are well known names to anyone who has followed the NCAA Tournament in the past 20 years. UNLV won the National Championship in 1990 and lost to Duke in the Final Four the following season. Utah got all the way to the National Championship in 1998, only to lose to Kentucky.
Since that time, both teams have gone through many ups and downs. Right now, Utah is going through a tough time in their program. During the off-season, almost the entire starting five transferred and the Utes are currently 10-13 (3-4). UNLV went through a similar period in the early 2000's before Lon Kruger was hired in 2004. Kruger has returned the Rebels to respectability since then, going to the NCAA Tournament 3 times in the past 4 seasons.
Although Utah is a struggling team with a bad record, their RPI rating isn't entirely bad. At 136, their chances of making the NCAA Tournament are about slim to none. On the other hand, another win over a Top 150 RPI team would be a decent resume booster for UNLV, especially since this Utah team has the same build that the Rebels struggled so mightily to beat last season.
If any of you think that tonight will be an easy win for UNLV, think again. The Rebels have traditionally had trouble with Utah's amazing presence inside and that doesn't change this season.
UNLV lost Matt Shaw, a shooting power forward who could stretch the floor and force the Utah big men to come out and guard him. Of course, what UNLV really could have used in their 2 losses to the Utes last season was someone to challenge their 7'3" center. They just may have gotten that with Carlos Lopez, a 6'11" redshirt freshman, and Quintrell Thomas, 6'8" junior. Both have shown to be a big improvement in post defense, but they haven't faced anyone with the size that Utah's center has.
The simplest way for UNLV to win would be to keep the pace up. Utah's advantage is in the post and if they can't set up a post defense or offense, then this could be a blowout for the Rebels.
For Utah, it's just the opposite. Their three starting guards all transferred and it has shown. Utah's backcourt simply is no longer anywhere where it was before. The Utes are going to have to slow the pace down and work the ball inside 60% or more of the time. If they get caught in a track meet, they will get torn to pieces by UNLV's deep guard play.
Game time is 7:30 P.M. PT.
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