After a 1-5 start in conference play, UNLV is slowly getting itself back into the picture in the Mountain West standings. Although the regular season title is just about out of the question, the Runnin’ Rebels can certainly get a top six seed – and a bye – in the Mountain West Tournament.
"Our philosophy is just to concentrate on the next game. So it is all about Colorado State this week," Dave Rice said. "But certainly we have the league standings up in our team room. Our guys see it, and they see our position. They see even though we are not, in terms of standings, where we want to be what a fine line there is between where we are and where we need to be."
Currently, UNLV sits at 4-5 in Mountain West play, good for eighth. But three straight wins have UNLV just 1.5 games behind a three-way tie for fourth. Among that fourth-place cluster is UNLV’s opponent on Saturday, Colorado State.
The Rams have lost two of their last three games (at Boise State and at Wyoming) and sit at 19-4 (6-4 Mountain West). Colorado State has ridden an efficient offense to 19 wins, but in the latest loss to Wyoming, the Cowboys stifled the Rams.
In the six games leading up to Wednesday’s game in Laramie, Colorado State had scored at least 1.11 points per possession. But Wyoming held Colorado State to a season-low .77 points per possession; the Rams had just 15 points at halftime.
It is one of the few deficiencies Colorado State has shown on offense this year. J.J. Avila is averaging over 15 points per game, and leads one of the nation’s most efficient post up offenses. The Rams are 25th in the country and second in the Mountain West in post up efficiency, per Synergy Sports.
UNLV has handled post ups pretty well this season, ranking in the top 100 in post up defense. But UNLV has struggled with the better big men in the Mountain West. Nevada’s AJ West dropped 15 points and 15 rebounds twice on UNLV this season. David Collette of Utah State had 24 points on 12 of 16 shooting in Las Vegas. Larry Nance crushed the Rebels front line for 29 points on 11 of 17 shooting.
The Rebels have handled lesser front lines this season, mainly by blocking or contesting everything inside. But competent big men have crushed UNLV multiple times this season, and Avila is with Collette and Nance as the three most efficient post scorers in the Mountain West.
The other area that Avila could hurt UNLV is on the offensive glass. Avila is seventh in the Mountain West in offensive rebounding percentage, while UNLV ranks seventh as a team in conference in defensive rebounding percentage.
"The number one key for us down the stretch is going to have to be defensive rebounding," Rice said.
It isn’t just Avila grabbing offensive boards, the Rams are third in the Mountain West in offensive rebounding percentage grabbing over 34 percent of their own misses. It’ll be up to Christian Wood and Goodluck Okonoboh to keep Avila from sinking the Rebel winning streak.
Okonoboh, who returned to UNLV’s starting lineup on Saturday, is expected to start again this Saturday. The freshman big man suffered from plantar fasciitis in his right foot after UNLV’s loss at San Diego State. He missed UNLV’s next game against New Mexico, but has played in every game since. Okonoboh has been UNLV’s second best rebounder in terms of rebounding percentage.
In conference play, Rashad Vaughn has actually been UNLV’s second best rebounder behind Wood. Vaughn is grabbing 16.4 percent of opponents’ misses while he is on the court.
The game will tip at 1:00 p.m. PST on Saturday from Fort Collins and will be televised on CBS Sports Network. KenPom.com has Colorado State winning 74-67.