UNLV team capsule
COACH: Lon Kruger, six years at UNLV, three years in NCAA Tournament
HOW THEY GOT IN: At-large bid
MATCHUP BREAKDOWN: First team to 50 wins? UNLV can play shut-down defense and allowed teams to shoot less 40 percent. Its first-round opponent, No. 9 Northern Iowa, lets teams make just 40.3 percent and ranks second national by allowing just 54.3 points per game. The biggest question for UNLV will be how to handle the Panthers’ starting senior frontcourt of Jordan Eglseder (7-0, 280) and Adam Koch (6-8, 255), who was the Missouri Valley Player of the Year. The Rebels’ guards will have to hound point guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe, who has slightly more turnovers (94) than assists (86).
GO-TO GUYS: Junior guard Tre’Von Willis, who began his career at Memphis, is UNLV’s go-to scorer and best overall player. He is second to BYU’s Jimmer Fredette in scoring in the Mountain West, averaging 17.3 points, and he shot 85.6 percent from the free throw line, 48.4 percent from the field, averaging 3.4 assists and 3.9 rebounds. Willis had three games with at least 30 points this season. He also was selected to the MWC’s All-Defensive team, usually asked to shut down the opponent’s best backcourt scorer. "His game’s matured so much, his leadership ability has matured so much," said UNLV coach Lon Kruger. Sophomore point guard Oscar Bellfield has an enviable assist-to-turnover ratio (157 assists, 65 rebounds) and averages 9.2 points. Sophomore forward Chace Stanback (10.7 points per game) is a streaky scorer.
THEY’LL KEEP WINNING IF: They don’t come up against a team with a tall, active front line. That right there helps explains why UNLV lost its last two meetings against San Diego State, including in the Mountain West tournament championship, getting out-rebounded by a combined 20 boards in those two games. Brice Massamba, a 6-10, 240-pound sophomore, is the tallest player in the rotation, but he averages just 14 minutes. He fouled out in 18 minutes in the league title game, grabbing two rebounds and failing to score.
STRENGTHS: The Rebels have speed and quickness and a desire to really get after it on defense. With everybody healthy (which was not the case late in the season), UNLV typically plays 11 players, pressuring the ball and posting the best turnover margin in the Mountain West (plus-4.0 per game). Opponents are shooting just 39.8 percent. In a four-game winning streak to end the regular season, UNLV allowed an average of only 51 points. Colorado State shot 22 percent (11 of 50) during that stretch. Earlier in the season, Wyoming managed to make only 28.6 percent against the Rebels.
WEAKNESSES: Post player Matt Shaw returned during the conference tournament, but he missed five games because of an ankle injury and still has to shake off some rust. Starting guard Derrick Jasper, a transfer from Kentucky who started the first 21 games, has been sidelined since Jan. 26 because of knee injury. He has been practicing and appeared ready to return in the league tourney, although he was still held out. Getting something from either, or both, could be important in the NCAAs as the Rebels like to use a lot of bodies. UNLV doesn’t have a shot-blocker, but Shaw (6-8, 240) at least gives UNLV some bulk. Point guard Oscar Bellfield also has been battling knee pain and isn’t as explosive as he was early in the season.