This Saturday, the conference season starts in the Mountain West and we have quite the opener as both the UNLV Runnin' Rebels and San Diego State Aztecs are ranked. This makes for the second straight year where a conference-opening matchup has featured two ranked teams. Both the Aztecs and Runnin' Rebels have had overachieving seasons to this point, as UNLV had a very fast start, defeating then-top-ranked North Carolina on their way to a 16-2 record. San Diego State also had a couple of important wins on their resume over Arizona and California as a part of their 14-2 start to the season.
Both teams come into the game on a hot streak, having defeated their last seven opponents. Both teams feature good offenses that make a good percentage of their shots. UNLV is shooting 48% from the field and scoring just over 81 points per game while the Aztecs are shooting 47% while scoring 75 points per game. Both of these teams have similar statistics, but when it comes to style of play the two squads are very different.
San Diego State's Steve Fisher preaches good defense and getting a good look at the bucket out of a set play, but first year UNLV head coach Dave Rice runs an up-tempo offense that feeds off of turnovers and missed buckets turned into easy transition points. This points to a game where it's all about tempo. The team who is able to impose their will on their opponent will most likely win this game.
For San Diego State to slow this game down, it is a simple game plan. The Aztecs need to limit their turnovers so that UNLV doesn't get very many opportunities in transition, but they also need to limit the amount of missed shots they have. UNLV has shown countless times this season that they can turn a missed shot into a transition bucket at the end by simply always having a man running down to the other end of the court as soon as a shot goes up.
UNLV's offense mainly feeds off of transition points and quick shots, as is shown by their high statistic of 18.8 assists per game, which is good enough for 5th in the NCAA. But what has made a big difference in this team from teams of the past couple of years, that have gotten off to a fast start in the season only to fade away in the latter part of the year, is that this team is rebounding well. In years past, UNLV was taken advantage of on the glass, unable to rip down rebounds on the defensive end.
This team is different in that matter and that may be the key against San Diego State for the Runnin' Rebels. In UNLV's struggles against the Aztecs last season, they had trouble keeping SDSU from getting second and third chances - chances San Diego State took advantage of. If UNLV can rebound well in this game, they should be able to get out in transition more often. For the Runnin' Rebels, getting out in transition more often also means easy points - something that UNLV could definitely use in a road game in a hostile environment at Viejas Arena in San Diego.