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A Brief Look at the UNLV Runnin' Rebels

After their Thursday afternoon victory over the Kent State Golden Flashes, we will face the UNLV Runnin' Rebels in the second round on Saturday afternoon. The best way to preview for the game is to check out Fooch's preview of the UNLV Rebels. He is, after all, a Runnin' Rebel fan, and has seen countless more hours of their game than I have this season. Mainly because I have seen them all of thrice, both for a limited amount of time.

I saw the final minute or so of their close loss to the Arizona Wildcats, a game that actually had big bubble implications unforeseen at the time. Way back when, UNLV was supposed to be the time fighting to earn a high-quality win to boost their hopes of reaching the NCAA as an at-large while Arizona was merely strenghtening their already lock of a resume. Instead, UNLV had their at-large hopes all but wrapped up with two weeks to go before Selection Sunday, and it was the Wildcats that were sitting on the edge of their seats on Selection Sunday. I also saw them face the New Mexico Lobos for a small stretch, a game which they ended up losing. And lastly, and most importantly, I watched a solid portion of their MWC Championship contest between them and the Brigham Young University Cougars. In that contest, they looked very good, beating the Tournament-bound Cougars by 15 points, led by 23 by Wink Adams and 20 by Chris Terry.

With all of that said, here is what I have been able to gather from glancing at their KenPom page.

  • While their raw defensive efficiency jumps off the page (at #29), they benefited from facing a very easy schedule as far as facing opposing offenses. Of course, the flip side of that was they played an abnormally difficult schedule of opposing defenses, so it all basically evens itself out. That said, they are clearly a much better defensive team and will try and use that intensity to keep up with the Jayhawks. They definitely won't be able to run up-and-down the court with the 'Hawks tomorrow.
  • While their offense is a below-average unit for the NCAA Tournament, their one big advantage is that they don't turn the ball over. Like, at all. They rank 7th in the country in TO%, which is simply TOs divided by overall possessions. It will be interesting to see if our ball-hawking guards, Mario Chalmers and Russel Robinson, will be able to sneak their hands in and snatch some balls, or the UNLV's ball security to win out. They have an even better steal %, ranking third in the entire country at least steals allowed. So, yea, this will be the toughest test we have seen all year as far as takeaways are concerned.
  • A couple more notes on their offense. First off, they can't shoot the three at all, and that is backed up by their player-by-player statistics. Terry is shooting 37% from beyond the arc to lead his team while, conversely, three regular players (Brandon, Mario and Sherron) who shoot better. However, they do make a very high percentage of free throws, 76% to be exact, which is good enough for 26th in the country. So, if they are forced to win the game late at the line, expect them to rise to the occasion.
  • Moving on to the defense, they are especially adept at shutting down the very shot they struggle to make on offense. The long-range bomb. In the grand scheme of things, I am thrilled we are running into a great perimeter defensive club, as long as we can emerge alive. Frankly, while I think Whitlock takes it too far in his article, I agree with his premise. however, I will add a caveat: As long as the three is in the flow of our offense, and it is Brandon or Mario or Sherron shooting it (in that order), I'm fine with it. However, as much as I love our team pushing the envelope and being aggressive, it isn't smart basketball to run down the court and fire a shot up. We aren't Tennessee. So, maybe a cold shooting night, virtue of the stellar outside defense of UNLV, will reinforce the importance of pounding the ball inside, a point we need drilled into our skulls if we are to really win this whole shebang.
  • However, as good as their perimeter defense is led by Curtis Terry, their post D is sorely lacking. Most likely because their tallest player in the rotation is 6'7" Joe Darger, they are painfully low in block %. In the rebounding game, they are actually led by Renee Rougeau, who stands at 6'6". Which, for these Runnin' Rebs, is like a giant. Look for us to pound the ball inside to Darrell Arthur and Darnell Jackson all afternoon long, or at least until they decide to start doubling. And then we start knocking down some treys. Seriously, I should be an offensive game-planner.
  • Finally, let's take a look at pace. You probably could have interpreted the data, awesome defensively and a fairly poor offensive team usually leads to a preferred slow tempo, and if you interpreted the data like that you were correct. The Runnin' Rebs, despite the play their name would suggest, walk the ball up the court and are actually comparable to watching paint dry in terms of speed. They rank 214th in tempo, and that is out of 340 Division 1 teams. According to those tempo numbers, we play a pretty slow game ourselves, ranking only 111th. In case you were interested, the highest tempo of a team that made the Tourney is North Carolina, ranking third. The slowest is Washington State, ranking 336th. An average game for North Carolina has nearly 17 more posessions per team than a typical game featuring Wazzu. And to make all of this more exciting, they could meet each other in the Sweet 16, if they both win their next game. That would be a clash of styles, if there ever was one.
The Rebels have also been very lucky this season, the 25th luckiest in the nation according to KenPom, and have earned an extra 2.5 wins on the year because of it. Maybe they should take some of that luck to the casinos.

I will take a close look at each starter and the bench, just like against Portland State, later on tonight or tomorrow morning before tomorrow's 6:50 ET tipoff.