Before the season started San Diego State was the favorite to win the Mountain West title. Then the out of conference schedule began and San Diego State stumbled with losses to Arkansas-Little Rock, Grand Canyon, and San Diego. UNLV, on the other hand, picked up some big wins against Indiana and Oregon.
All of the sudden the Rebels were being touted as the team to beat in the Mountain West, while the Aztecs were a big question mark. Once the conference games began San Diego State jumped to an 8-0 start, while UNLV started 0-3, fired head coach Dave Rice, but now they are currently 4-1 with interim head coach Todd Simon.
Both teams are coming off big wins this week. The Aztecs pulled out a close victory over a tough Nevada team in Reno. While in Las Vegas the Rebels beat second place Boise State, 87-77. Now as the first half of the conference season draws to a close, both teams will look to get a win and make a run in the second half. San Diego State looks to finish the first half of conference play undefeated and UNLV hopes to get above .500 during conference play.
San Diego State comes into this game led by freshman guard Jeremy Hemsley (12.9 points per game). Hemsley has come to San Diego State and settled the point guard position for the Aztecs. He has brought stability and scoring to a position that sorely missed it last year.
A player that has begun to emerge during conference play has been Trey Kell. The shooting guard has led the team in scoring in three of the last five games and is currently second on the team in scoring with 10.7 per game. Senior Winston Shepard has also been an integral part of the Aztecs turnaround as the offense goes through him when the Aztecs are looking to create some baskets. Shepard is third on the team with 10.2 points and second with 6.2 rebounds per game.
UNLV also boasts three players scoring double-digit points per game in Patrick McCaw, Derrick Jones Jr., and Stephen Zimmerman. McCaw is leading the team with 12.9 points per contest and has a total of 63 steals in 21 total games.
Freshman Jones has been a pleasant surprise for the Rebels scoring 10.5 points per game while shooting nearly 60 percent for the season. Another freshman that has been rock solid for UNLV has been Zimmerman who is nearly averaging a double double with 10.5 points and 9.2 rebounds per game.
Saturday's game will be a test of defense versus offense. San Diego State is one of the best defensive teams in all the country allowing 59.9 points per game, while holding them to 36.1% shooting. On the other hand, UNLV is scoring 77.2 points per game while shooting 45.7 percent.
Something has to give. What will it be? If the Aztecs can hold the Rebels to season lows in scoring and shooting percentage then I'd expect the Aztecs to win this game no matter how difficult it is for them to score. However, if the Rebels can score over 70, I don't think the Aztecs can muster up the offense.
It will be two contrasting styles meeting at the Thomas & Mack on Saturday evening. As always the team that imposes their will and runs their game plan best will be victorious. A win for UNLV would be huge in terms of getting back into the Mountain West Conference race, while a victory for San Diego State will keep them on the path towards an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament. The rivalry is strong between these two teams and we can expect another exciting game when the Aztecs visit the Rebels.