The Runnin' Rebels will face by far their biggest challenge of the early season Tuesday night at the Thomas and Mack Center as they set to take on the 3-0 Arizona State Sun Devils.
Before the season began, most would've looked at this game on paper and saw a fairly evenly matched game, with both teams appearing to have their own strengths and weaknesses. Three games in however, these teams couldn't appear more different. The Sun Devils have looked very impressive for the most part. Taking care of their first 3 opponents by at least 28 points. While the Rebels on the other hand, have struggled mightily in their past two games. After beating Portland State in their home opener, UNLV was blown out by UC Santa Barbara 86-65 and barely managed to come away with a narrow victory over a weak Nebraska-Omaha squad 73-70.
Offensively, ASU definitely has the advantage. They run an extremely efficient fast paced offense, averaging 91.3 PPG and shooting over 50% from the field. The Rebels have struggled with shot selection all season and similar to ASU, but more often, they will resort to taking long threes, when they are pressured defensively and can't find anything inside. Even if the Rebels play solid defense and force ASU to take several tough shots, the high tempo offense gives the Sun Devils an edge over UNLV.
When opposing teams have gotten a step ahead of the Rebels, they have continually struggled to recover on the opposite end of the court. With sophomore guard Jahii Carson (18.7 PPG, 5 Ast) leading the way for the Sun Devils, it's hard to not see them taking advantage of the Rebels lack of chemistry and getting the best of them on the fast break.
With forward Roscoe Smith, coming off the best game of his career (17 points, 22 rebounds) the Rebels will try to get him going early on and turn to him more if they find themselves in a hole. With the size match-ups favoring the Sun Devils, I wouldn't expect Smith to come up with a similar rebound total.
Khem Birch, the 6-9 center, will have a tough task in matching up against Omaha on Friday facing the likes of 7-2 center Jordan Bachynski, who has recorded three double-doubles this season. Bryce Dejean-Jones who bounced back pretty well after a bad performance in his season debut against UCSB, will also have to have to provide solid production if UNLV wants to have a chance Tuesday night.
UNLV's best chance to win this game comes if they are able to slow down the tempo and force ASU into difficult shots, taking advantage on the opposite end as well. Even then, with the way ASU has looked so far, it's hard to see them not finding a way to win Tuesday night. I can see the Runnin' Rebels keeping it close early on, but I expect Arizona State to pull away late in the first half and never look back.
Final Score: ASU 79 UNLV 62.
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