Wisconsin got back to winning at the Kohl Center in emphatic fashion on Wednesday by beating Green Bay 70-42. The Badgers will put there 7-2 record and #16 ranking on the line in an early afternoon contest on Saturday against UNLV.
The Runnin' Rebels come in just outside the Top 25 in both the AP and Coaches poll (#26) and sit at 9-1 after a 94-50 win over Division II Cal State - San Marcos on Wednesday. There lone loss on the year was on the road to Wichita State in the Mountain West/Missouri Valley Challenge, going down 89-70 in overtime. It must be mentioned that this is also the team that took down then #1 ranked UNC, 90-80, in the finals of the Las Vegas Invitational just 2 weeks ago.
Overall these two teams have met 5 times in the past with UNLV holding a 4 to 1 edge. Neither team has won a game on the road in this series and it's only the 2nd time Wisconsin will have played UNLV at home. The last meeting between these schools was last year, a stunning 65-68 loss by Wisconsin.
UNLV comes into this game truly living up to it's Runnin' Rebels moniker under 1st year Head Coach Dave Rice. They are currently averaging 83 points a game, while also playing some solid defense, giving them a +16 scoring margin for the season to date.
Not only are the Runnin' Rebels a fast paced team, but they are the exact opposite of the Badgers in terms of experience as well, starting 3 seniors. However they are lead by sophomore Mike Moser in terms of scoring (15.8ppg) and rebounding (12.5rpg). The biggest named player on this team and the player that will provide the toughest match up for Wisconsin is swingman Chase Stanback. He's 2nd on the team in scoring with 15.1ppg, and rebounding at 5.7rpg. UNLV also has 2 other players averaging in double figures in senior guard Oscar Bellfield (11.6ppg) and junior guard Justin Hawkins (11.2ppg).
When you think of running teams you think of sloppy basketball and poor shooting, well that's not the case with this UNLV team. The Runnin' Rebels are shooting a very sound 47.2% from the field while also only turning the ball over 12.9 times a game. They are also assisting on over 67% of their field goals on the year, a very good indication of a team that is sharing the ball when in an offensive set.
Defensively UNLV is pretty sound for a very uptempo team, allowing only 67.2 points a game, while forcing 16.1 turnovers a game. Additionally they are getting 8.7 steals a game and are averaging nearly a +7 rebounding margin per game. All things that will be tested against a very patient and though Wisconsin offense.
Matching up against the two biggest players for UNLV will be an improving group of big men for the Badgers, lead by Jared Berggren and Ryan Evans. Berggren will no doubt take on Moser down low on the defensive end and is coming off a dominating game against Green Bay's 7'1" Alec Brown where he went for 13 points while also getting 3 blocks and 4 steals on the defensive side of the ball.
Ryan Evans continues to improve offensively while turning in his usually good defensive performances and will most likely draw the match up against Stanback. For the year Evans is averaging 9.9ppg, a team high 6.4rpg, and is 3rd on the team in assists with 16. He's also tied with Berggren with 15 blocks on the year and has 12 steals on the defensive end of the floor, good for 2nd on the team behind Berggren (17).
What is a bit troublesome coming off the blowout win over Green Bay is that the offense wasn't exactly clicking on all cylinders. During the last three games Wisconsin is only shooting 37.9% from the field and the hot three point shooting has also gone away, averaging only 24.1% over those same three games.
The recipe for Wisconsin to win against this experienced and fast UNLV team is very clear. The Badgers need to dictate pace, slowing the game down and keeping the score in the 60's while also shooting well on the offensive end of things. Look for preseason all-American Jordan Taylor to be a key to both parts after his 15 point, 10 assists night against Green Bay on Wednesday.
I see Wisconsin in general and guards Josh Gasser and Ben Brust coming out of their shooting funks as Wisconsin wins this one, but in too close for comfort fashion, 68-63. Don't forget to tune into this one at 1pm Central on BTN.