This is a rebuilding year for the UNLV Basketball program. Under Marvin Menzies, the Runnin’ Rebels are a constant work in progress. With a respectable but unimpressive 5-3 record thus far, the non-conference path does not get any easier over the weekend. Rather, UNLV and Duke square off in what was once considered a classic hoops match-up in the early 1990s.
Unfortunately for UNLV in present-day, Saturday’s 2:15 pm tip time appears to be just a blip on the schedule for the Blue Devils. Duke (9-1) comes in as the heavy favorites and nationally ranked #4 and #5 respectively. Saturday’s showdown will likely be a forgettable one for the Sin City home town fans.
Instead, Saturday’s match-up is more of a throwback which comes at an inopportune time for the Rebels. If this game would have been on last year’s non-conference slate, the Rebs could have used stars like Patrick McCaw and Stephen Zimmerman. Instead, the Rebels have 12 new players in the program and there are no immediate “stars” among the few returners.
The game benefits Coaches vs. Cancer and it is a part of the MGM Grand Showcase. It is being held at the new T-Mobile arena, a shining, gold epicenter of entertainment and sports in the heart of Las Vegas (just a few blocks away from UNLV). Indeed, proximity may be the only advantage the Rebels have over Duke.
What to watch for?
For Duke, despite the return of All-American Grayson Allen who may light up the court from distance on Saturday afternoon all on his own, the Blue Devils have another scoring threat in Luke Kennard. Kennard is leading all other Blue Devils - even Allen - with over 20 points per game (including a 5 for 7 performance from 3 point-range in a recent win over Florida).
For UNLV, they cannot keep up with the shooting finesse of Duke, but they can prove themselves inside the paint. This will be a critical game for returner Dwayne Morgan to show off his front court skills on a national scale. If the Rebels have any chance, they must pound Duke on the boards and utilize their length whenever possible.
The game will be televised with the great Dick Vitale calling the action with Dave O’Brien on ESPN.
Prediction: Duke 97, UNLV 82