UNLV Runnin’ Rebels (1-0, 0-0 MWC) vs Kansas State Wildcats (1-0, 0-0 Big 12)
Location: Thomas and Mack Center, Las Vegas, Nevada
Date and Tipoff: Saturday, November 9th at 1:00pm PT
Where to Watch and Listen: ESPN 3 and ESPN Las Vegas 1100AM/100.9FM
Series History: UNLV and Kansas State will meet for the seventh time on Saturday. The Runnin’ Rebels lead the series 4-2, UNLV is 2-1 vs the Wildcats in Las Vegas. Kansas State won the most recent matchup in 2010 63-59, in Kansas City.
The Runnin’ Rebels kicked off the T.J. Otzelberger era with a 86-71 victory Tuesday night over Purdue-Fort Wayne. All five starters recorded double digit point totals, lead by Jonah Antonio and Mbacke Diong with 17 points. Diong added 17 rebounds and Antonio shot 5 of 9 from behind the arch.
UNLV will take another step up in competition when they face Kansas State Saturday afternoon. The Wildcats are only a 4.5 point favorite over the Runnin’ Rebels. The last time a team from a power-five conference played at the Thomas and Mack Center was Arizona in 2017, the Wildcats came out on top 91-88.
About the Opponent
The Wildcats are the reigning Big 12 co-regular season champs. The finished 25-9 and ranked 19th in the final AP rankings. However, their top three scorers from last season (Barry Brown 14.6, Dean Wade 12.9, Kamau Stokes 11) have graduated. In the preseason media poll, the Wildcats were picked to finish ninth out of 10 tens in the always challenging Big 12 Conference.
Kansas State won its opening game against North Dakota State at home 67-54. They were lead by 6-foot-4 junior Caetier Diarra with 23 points and 6-foot-9 senior Makol Mawien added 15 points and 10 rebounds. While Kansas State might be going through a mini rebuild and might not be competing for a conference championship, they will still provide a solid test for UNLV.
Three Keys to a UNLV Victory
In their win against the Bisons, Kansas State only had six turnovers. On the other hand, UNLV has 14 turnovers in their last game. Maybe you can chalk that up to first game jitters or to a new team playing its first game together, but UNLV needs to cut down on the turnovers if they want to upset Kansas State.
14 is not a high number, but in these big game matchups turnovers can be the difference. A minus-six turnover stat can be the difference in a game that is expected to be close, and UNLV will have a lot of them, especially in conference play. Turnovers result in lost offensive possessions and every offensive possession is important for UNLV.
Clean the Boards
A surprising stat in their win against Purdue-Fort Wayne were the rebounds. Specifically, UNLV controlled the defensive boards, as they only gave up two offensive rebounds to Purdue-Fort Wayne. Grabbing the defensive rebound is crucial to UNLV’s offense. If the Runnin’ Rebels can get the defensive rebound, then they can set up the transition offense and run down the court.
Diong snatched 17 board last game and he will have to win battles in the paint for UNLV. What was a great sign for UNLV was the whole team crashing the boards for the rebounds. It is important for UNLV to continue to crash the boards and keep possessions away from Kansas State.
A major question about UNLV this season is about their depth. Against Purdue-Fort Wayne only eight UNLV players played. Seven of them played 17 minutes or more. While that might not be a big problem early in the season, it will be a problem later in conference play. As we learn about this UNLV team, Otzelberger needs to find some more depth on the bench.
He does not need guys to play 20-plus minutes, just a couple guys he can trust to play a few minutes a game to give his main rotation some rest. Two guys UNLV might look to are guard Marvin Coleman and forward Vitaliy Shibel. Coleman is a local product that played a little last season and Shibel is a 6-foot-9 transfer from Arizona State that could also add to the shooting depth. We will not know a lot about players nine through 15 until the play, which could be Saturday afternoon.
This is a game UNLV can win. However, I still have some questions about the UNLV defense. The Runnin’ Rebels will have to play a complete game defensively and I am not sure UNLV can do that yet. Kansas State will try to slow down UNLV’s pace. Even though Kansas State’s players are averaging less than two years of playing experience, Bruce Weber will have a solid game plan against UNLV. My Prediction: Kansas State 78, UNLV 74.
For all UNLV fans I’ll be live tweeting and adding commentary on this story as a game tread. Follow along on my Twitter (@AlexWright1028) and feel free to comment on this story.