UNLV is on the road this Saturday in their toughest test yet. Yes, they did beat Wisconsin, but that was at home with a raucous Thomas & Mack Center crowd behind them. On Saturday UNLV (9-0, ranked 19th) travels to the brand new KFC Yum! Center to take on No. 26 Louisville. The last time UNLV was in Louisville, Oscar Bellfield was making a name for himself, hitting the buzzer beater that won UNLV the game 56-55 over then No. 5 Louisville.
Last year Louisville came to the Thomas & Mack and got beat, again. Now We're back on their home turf and the power has shifted. Both times the Rebels have faced Louisville, Louisville has been ranked while the Rebels were not. Both times UNLV won and got into the rankings because of it. Now Louisville is sitting just outside the rankings at No. 26 and UNLV is ranked 19th, so which part of history will repeat itself?
UNLV and Louisville both play a similar style of basketball, pressure the ball in the backcourt, force turnovers or force the opponent to get into their sets later than usual, and capitlize off the turnovers and rebounds with easy points. The only real difference between UNLV and Louisville's style of play is that Louisville likes a half-court game and getting into their sets off of turnovers and rebounds while UNLV wants to gun the ball. The team that is able to force their tempo will have the advantage, but I think UNLV isn't as bad in the half-court as they were last season.
Last season UNLV constantly relied on Tre'Von Willis to be their source of points. Here are two great examples, in both losses to Utah last season, Tre'Von Willis scored over 30 points, yet the team as a whole could not get any further than 65 points. That along with the fact that UNLV had no post presence really contributed to their demise in the MWC Championship and the NCAA Tournament.
What's different with this year's team is they have Quintrell Thomas and Carlos Lopez underneath now, Chace Stanback has turned out to be Tre'Von Willis 2.0 and the amazing depth for the Rebels is showing. Tre'Von Willis did not play in the first 4 games of the season, yet Chace Stanback picked up where Willis left off last season and scored an average of 17 points per game. When Willis returned against Wisconsin, he did not start, and with good reason. Willis only had 2 points, but Stanback picked up the slack and scored 25 points to help the Rebels win a thriller.
UNLV shouldn't have an issue in the half-court since their post presence has been solved and the ball is more evenly spread instead of every play being a pick and roll at the top of the key for Tre'Von Willis.
On the other side of the spectrum, Louisville's big win so far is over Butler - who is now unranked. Their pressure defense forced Butler to turn the ball over a ton of times in the first half, putting Louisville out to a huge lead. Louisville cruised the lead all the way to the end of the game and came out with the victory.
The real key to this game is going to be who can push their tempo for the most time. If Louisville is able to push a half-court offense style for most of the game, don't be surprised to see a blowout. If UNLV is able to force turnovers and get easy baskets in return for most of the game, expect a high-scoring blowout in favor of the Runnin' Rebels. But I don't think either of those will happen. Both teams will push their tempo back and forth throughout the game and it should be a close game through and through.
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