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UNLV vs. Boise State preview: Broncos need a conference win

Derrick Marks and Boise State have yet to claim a conference win this season. The Broncos will look to end their four-game slide when UNLV heads to town.

Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

The Runnin’ Rebels dispatched of San Jose State on Saturday in a battle of winless Mountain West teams. Now UNLV (10-6, 1-2 MW) is on the road to take on the other Mountain West team yet to grab a conference win, Boise State (10-6, 0-3 MW).

The Broncos have dropped two road games to a couple of the best teams in the conference, Wyoming and Colorado State. But Boise State was upset by Utah State thanks to a three at the buzzer. Throw in a 48-45 loss to Loyola Chicago just before Christmas, and Boise State is riding a four-game losing streak.

The Broncos lost one of their top players, Anthony Drmic, to ankle surgery in late December. Drmic, who missed some time with a back injury, hasn’t played since December 6.

The senior forward was averaging 15 points and five rebounds before getting hurt. Drmic has been tough for UNLV the past couple of seasons. In the last four Boise State-UNLV matchups, Drmic has averaged 17.5 points and has scored over 20 three times.

Matchup to Watch: Derrick Marks on the pick and roll against UNLV’s ice defense

The player UNLV has to fear is Derrick Marks. The senior guard is one of the top players in the country on the pick and roll, as Boise State is averaging 1.25 points per possession when Marks comes off a ball screen, per Synergy Sports.

Marks is averaging 17.1 points per game, and what makes him dangerous off the ball screen is his ability to shoot. Marks is at 54.4 percent from three and isn’t afraid to pull the trigger from deep behind a ball screen.

For UNLV, they can’t go under screens on Marks. Boise likes to run side pick and rolls, which UNLV should be able to guard, as the Rebels ice side ball screens. (Icing a side pick and roll means the on-ball defender forces the ball handler to the baseline, while the screener’s defender gets into position to cut off any drive on the baseline.)

Jelan Kendrick is likely to draw the assignment of Marks at the start of the game. But once Pat McCaw checks in, he’ll likely be expected to handle the load of guarding Marks.

Dwayne Morgan’s Shooting

With the 34-point steamrolling of San Jose State, UNLV got to see the ball go in the basket. That may be most important for Dwayne Morgan, who went 4 of 5 from the field and 2 of 2 from three.

Morgan has been an offensive bust so far this season. He’s at 38.5 percent from the field and has struggled with jump shots. But he got to watch two threes fall in against San Jose State, plus showed off his ability to get to the rim off the dribble. If Morgan can become a consistent offensive threat off the bench, UNLV’s offensive problems will start to fade.

"Coming out of high school that’s how I played. I slashed to the rim. I think I got away from that. I started settling for my jumper," Morgan said. "I feel as though on the offensive end I can get by any four man that’s guarding me."

Where Morgan has been great is on the defensive end. Plus he’s been a major factor in most of UNLV’s best lineups. Offensively, he helps spacing. The lane is clogged up when Chris Wood and Goodluck Okonoboh are in the game together. But with Morgan on the floor there is more room for Rashad Vaughn, Cody Doolin or Wood to attack the paint.

Notes

  • UNLV has struggled on the defensive glass recently. In the last three games UNLV has grabbed just 59.9 percent of opponents’ misses, which would rank Dave Rice’s team as one of the worst five defensive rebounding teams in the country.
  • Even though the Rebels haven’t blocked out well, opponents’ aren’t shooting well after grabbing an offensive board. Per Synergy, UNLV is allowing opponents’ to shoot 34.2 percent on putbacks, second lowest in the country.
  • Boise State shouldn’t pose a threat on the offensive glass. The Broncos are 320th (out of 351) in offensive rebounding percentage, grabbing 25.7 percent of them.
  • There should be no expectation for a high turnover game. Both teams are better than the national average in turnover percentage; Boise State is 19th in turnover percentage.
  • Plus defensively, both teams are outside the top 250 in opponents’ turnover percentage.
  • Boise State started the season 10-2, but they only have one possible quality win, an 82-71 win over Saint Mary’s.
  • UNLV is ranked 120th by KenPom.com; Boise State is 1-5 against the Ken Pom top 120.
  • Boise State is ranked 103rd by KenPom.com; UNLV is 3-5 against the Ken Pom top 105.

The game will be televised by ESPNU at 8:00 p.m. PST. The announcers will not be in Boise, instead they’ll be calling the game from Bristol, CT. Boise State opened as a four-point favorite, and Ken Pom has Boise State winning 66-61.