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Crucial home stand for UNLV Basketball begins tonight

The Runnin’ Rebels begin a stretch of four home games in eight days. 

NCAA Basketball: UNLV at UCLA Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The start of the T.J. Otzelberger era has gone off to a rocky start. UNLV is 1-3 and they are in the midst of a three-game losing streak. What has been concerning is how UNLV is losing and the way they have played in those losses. The problems the Rebels face can all be fixed. If they are not resolved soon the problems could grow and the team could continue to have a hard time earning wins.

Two of UNLV’s losses, at home against Kansas State and on the road at Cal-Berkeley, have come in overtime. The Runnin’ Rebels held halftime leads in both games and at various times had significant leads with chances to take control of the game, but they could not finish. Against UCLA, the Rebels got into a deep hole and could not dig themselves out.

The glaring issue around this team is the depth. UNLV has only played eight players in its first four games. Eventually, guys who log long minutes like Amauri Hardy and Elijah Mitrou-Long, will be tired at the end of games and at games by the end of the season. Otzelberger needs to challenge and find guys on the bench to step up and play a few important minutes a night to give his key guys some rest.

Also, the offense has not been living up to early expectations. Otzelberger was bringing in a fast-paced, up-temp style of offense that would score a lot of points. That has not been the case so far this season, the offense has had plenty of up-and-down performances. The could not take advantage of a struggling Kansas State, or go for the kill against Cal. UNLV cites its defense, which has its own struggles, leads into its offense. Fixing up any defensive issues could fix an woes on offense, but the team has to become more confident in the new system.

Is it time to start pressing the panic button? No, there is plenty of time left in the season and all three of the losses have been against power conference teams. UNLV will have a lot of chances against quality non-conference opponents and the teams in conference. The purpose for UNLV playing this tough schedule was for them to learn and grow team chemistry.

This is also still year one under Otzelberger. Not all the players on the current roster fits what he wants to do with his offense. We should not be looking at this year as a “throw-away,” but a learning experience. Anybody thinking this team had to make the NCAA Tournament this year or win a lot of games and win the conference is delusional and clearly has not been paying too much attention to the program.

While it is not panic time yet, this is a crucial home stand for UNLV. There are a fair amount of games coming up that they have to win. There has to be improvement show this week to calm any frustration from the outside. Can UNLV apply what they have learned from these past few games for the rest of the season? Well, we will see and find out this week.

This Week in Runnin’ Rebel Basketball

Monday, November 18th vs Abilene Christian, 7pm

Wednesday, November 20th vs Texas State, 7pm

Saturday, November 23rd vs SMU, 7:30pm

Tuesday, November 26th vs Jackson State, 7pm

All games apart of the Southwestern Showdown Presented by Engage Telehealth

Keys to Wins

Move the Ball

In the last two games combined, UNLV has only 15 total assists. In the exhibition game, we saw what this offense can be at its full potential, a fluid offense with a lot of passing. There has been too much isolation basketball with Hardy, which was a problem (too much isolation) last season. UNLV cannot fall back into that same rut because we saw that it did not work.The Rebels have moved away from its offensive identity these past few games. This upcoming home stand will be a great chance for the Rebels to get back to the basics of their offense.

All hands on deck

It cannot be a one man show on offense for UNLV, they need others to step up. Two players with disappointing early starts are Bryce Hamilton and Jonah Antonio. Hamilton is only shooting 31% from the field and is averaging under ten shot attempts a game. Otzelberger needs to help Hamilton and get him comfortable with the system he is still learning. Antonio did not play the entire second half against UCLA. Against Kansas State and UCLA, he was inefficient from the three-point line. The coaches need to get others involved and take the pressure off the other players.

Defensive Focus

Against Cal, UNLV had a nine point leads with under six minutes remaining and they squandered its lead. Leading up to the start of the season, all we heard about was defense. We heard that UNLV’s defense would lead to offense and that the Rebels spent most of its time in practice working on defense. Early on, UNLV’s defense has been average, but there is still room for improvement. UNLV is being out shot by its opponents 46% to 43%, what is even more frightening for UNLV is opponents are shooting 56% from two-point range, which is eight percentage points higher than UNLV. We have seen already this year, if UNLV’s defense plays well, they have a chance to win.

Predictions

UNLV should go 3-1 in these next four games. There are plenty of games they should win with ease. At the time of posting, Abilene Christian is 1-2, Texas State is 2-2, and Jackson State is 0-4. Not only must UNLV win these games, they need to have a dominant showing in each game. SMU is the team that can give UNLV a rough time. The Mustangs are undefeated and we have already seen UNLV this season struggle against quality opponents. UNLV has a chance to win all these games, but they have to fix up their problems from the past few days.