USA TODAY Sports
In what will be Khem Birch's first game as a Runnin' Rebel, UNLV takes on UTEP, looking to continue their win streak on the road in El Paso.
Tonight's game against UTEP is a big game. Not because of the ranking of the UTEP team they face, but because of who is going to be playing tonight. Pitt transfer Khem Birch is finally eligible after a year off and will be making his UNLV debut. Fans are ecstatic to see the 6'9" sophomore play along side freshman star Anthony Bennett, and rightfully so. Bennett has been playing great post defense and has been spectacular on offense, but that has been without Birch, a notably good shot-blocker.
Birch was compared to Quintrell Thomas's former teammate Cole Aldrich by Thomas, saying that Birch and Aldrich were the only two players to ever make him worry about getting his shot blocked.
That doesn't necessarily mean that Birch is going to be blocking shots left and right tonight against UTEP, it simply means that he's going to have a considerable presence and alter many of the shots inside the paint that have come so easy for teams in the past few games. With Birch in the lineup, you won't see near as many open lanes to the basket.
The bottom line is that Birch is expected to make a splash against a struggling UTEP team, who is 3-4 so far on the season. The Miners lost four straight games to Arizona, Oklahoma, Clemson, and Vanderbilt, all in blowout fashion, before righting the ship against New Mexico State and Idaho in close victories. UTEP will most likely be looking to continue that trend and keep things looking up by pulling of the upset against the Runnin' Rebels at 5:00 P.M. PT.
But with Birch in the lineup, beating the Rebels are going to be tougher than all season long. Birch will most likely take Bennett's spot at the five and have the freshman phenom move over to the four position to replace injured Mike Moser, who will be ready to play near the beginning of conference season. It's scary thinking about how good the Rebels' frontcourt will be with Moser, Bennett and Birch in the lineup, but that's another discussion for another time.
In the meantime, let's all see how Khem Birch does.