by Shawn Cunningham ( @vegasrebelfan )
Day 2 and the MW quarter finals are completed. With 6 seeded Boise advancing it can’t be called chalk anymore, but in reality there have been no upsets in the Mountain West tournament to date. 7 total games in two days. 7 favorites have won (though not all covered). New Mexico handled Fresno as expected, UNLV played a fairly predictable contest vs Wyoming (collapse included) and SDSU hammered Utah State (albeit by an unexpected margin).
I expect the trend of no upsets to continue for the rest of the tournament – culminating with a favored New Mexico beating SDSU on Saturday.
What about UNLV?! I am by no means writing off tomorrow, but it’s just hard to find any backing for an argument in favor of a Runnin’ Rebel win. Historically SDSU has dominated UNLV in this event (four game win streak), the Rebels were swept by the Aztecs this season, SDSU is a better team than UNLV in most statistical categories, and SDSU has proven it can win away from home while UNLV struggles to win at the Mack. UNLV’s guards have struggle mightily against SDSU’s size and length to out the ball in the basket.
Another issue for the Rebels is the “it” factor or “x” factor, or whatever you want to call it. Some teams simply can rise to the occasion and win the games they absolutely have to. UNLV this year is just the opposite of that. Outside the UNM road win, every critical game on UNLV’s schedule was a loss, regardless of where it was played. It’s this habit that has most sucked the wind out of the sails of Rebel fans (culminating in a small home crowd today for a critical game).
Guys like Roscoe Smith, Kevin Olekaibe and Bryce Dejean-Jones have to play like this is their last game in college for the Rebels to advance (because it might be). Really UNLV needs at least one guard to have a big game in my opinion, and we all know Bryce Dejean-Jones is most capable of doing so. He was excellent against Wyoming – always at his best when he’s as a playmaker instead of shot taker. I will maintain my feeling from last week’s game – BDJ needs to score his average 14+ points but more importantly needs to get 5+ assists and 5+ rebounds for the Rebs to win. He had 4 assists today but made a few other great plays that a teammate couldn’t finish with a bucket. Can we get today’s BDJ for a second straight game? However likely or unlikely that is in your judgment – those are UNLV’s chances
Khem Birch is a warrior – he will find a way to hold his own as long as he can walk, but this year’s SDSU-UNLV series is all about the guards. UNLV’s guards must take the responsibility of boxing out, especially if the Rebels zone. Protect the ball, move the ball with the pass, space the floor, and perhaps most importantly, make open shots. SDSU guards so hard that teams rush open shots too. UNLV’s guards have to be poised in this one. I would love for these Rebels to prove me wrong – buck the trends, break the cycle, rise up …. and win.
– UNLV reached the 20 win mark for the 8th consecutive season
– Some history to not repeat … The last time UNLV missed the NCAA tournament – the Rebels were beaten three times by SDSU including twice in a week to end the season
– Dave Rice is now 4-2 in the Mountain West tournament
– 4 seeds are 5-4 all time in the MWC semi finals, and UNLV is 7-4 with any seed in the final four of the event.
– 2 of the first 4 games of the MW tourney set records for largest blowouts ever in the event
– If Friday’s semi finals sell out as expected, it will mark the fourth time in five years the league sold out the Friday night games (18,500 tickets)