#7 UNLV Runnin' Rebels (18-14) vs. #2 Fresno State Bulldogs (22-9)
Game time: Thursday, March 10 -- 6:00 PM PT/7:00 PM MT
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: The game will be broadcast in Fresno and throughout the Central Valley on the local ESPN affiliate, 940 AM. It will also be broadcast in and around Las Vegas on 1100 AM and 100.9 FM.
2015-16 results: On December 30, 2015, the Bulldogs scored a rare win over UNLV at Thomas & Mack, opening Mountain West Conference play with a 69-66 victory. In the rematch on February 6, Fresno State held off the Rebels in a wild double-overtime affair at the Save Mart Center, 111-104.
UNLV has certainly had an interesting season, hasn't it?
Despite being arguably the biggest disappointment in the Mountain West this year, the Rebels are still breathing. They provided the conference's most stark example of "survive and advance" in years with their epic triple-overtime win over Air Force on Wednesday afternoon, and it seems only natural that their just reward is a rematch with the one team in the MWC they've hotly contested to no avail.
Fresno State comes into their first game of the tournament riding a six-game winning streak, and though they have an argument as the hottest team in the conference, there is a question of whether the 'Dogs can hold their own on the road. Their 16-2 record at home was the best in the MWC, but their record away from the Save Mart Center was just 6-7. For every substantial win like their December victory at Thomas and Mack, there's a puzzling loss like the one in February at San Jose State.
That might go a long way in explaining why Fresno State received 8-to-1 odds to cut down the nets before the opening tipoffs on Wednesday. It might also explain why UNLV opened as slight favorites in spite of their war of attrition with the Falcons.
What to watch - UNLV: The Rebels will want to avoid the foul trouble that nearly derailed them in the opener against AFA. Stephen Zimmerman, in particular, had a game to forget after leaving the game with just under 9 minutes left in the second half, after just 17 minutes on the floor. If he's closer to the Zimmerman who put up a double-double in Fresno's first trip to Vegas this season, it could make UNLV very difficult to stop.
They'll also need to take care of the ball, since Fresno State led the conference by a substantial margin in turnover ratio (+5.11 turnovers per game in-conference vs. -0.39). The Rebels had 23 turnovers in 55 minutes yesterday, a rate above what they averaged during the regular season (13.9 TOs per game).
What to watch - Fresno State: Which Bulldogs team will show up on Thursday, the one which trailed by as many as 18 at Utah State in the season finale or the one which shot the lights out in the second half of that same game? Neither team is particularly adept at shooting from behind the arc -- Fresno hit 34.9% of three-point attempts in 18 MWC games, UNLV 32% -- but there's a line of thinking which argues that while the Bulldogs own an outstanding turnover margin (as mentioned above), some of that is driven by subpar shot selection.
That reared its head early in Logan last weekend, where the 'Dogs were just 2-of-11 on threes in the first half. In two games vs. UNLV, the 'Dogs were just 13-of-40 (32.5%) on those same shots. Avoiding the urge to hoist them up again could go a long way toward dictating how the game plays out.
Additionally, while Marvelle Harris will certainly receive plenty of attention from the Rebels, junior forward Cullen Russo could play a critical role for the Bulldogs. Front court injuries to Karachi Edo and Torren Jones forced Russo into a bigger role down the stretch, but he has certainly answered the bell: Russo led the team in rebounding during MWC action, with 6.9 boards per game, and he's averaged 12.8 points in the last nine games dating back to the two-OT win against the Rebels.