The UNLV Rebels, are finishing out their regular season and gearing up for tournament play. Sitting at 20-6 overall and 7-5 in conference play, they have four regular season games left and the MWC tournament, to help their seeding for March Madness.
The Rebels last four games are against Wyoming, Nevada, Boise State, and Fresno State. The Rebels just faced these four teams in this same order and went 2-2. They need to finish strong, to secure the third seed, and possibly, move into the second seed in the MWC tournament.
They should be a lock for the NCAA tournament, but a stumble now could cost them valuable seeding or worse, an invitation altogether to the dance. With wins over their ranked opponents, San Diego State, New Mexico, and Colorado State in the last six weeks, they have added prestige to their resume. Having an early season win over Iowa State (18-8), doesn’t hurt either. They also had a couple narrow losses, verse marquee opponents. On Now. 23 they lost 83-79 to Oregon who is now 21-6 and second in the Pac-12. The following month, they went into Chapel Hill on Dec. 29 and lost 79-73 to the Tar Heels. These aren’t one of the best Tar Heel teams in recent years, but they’re still talented and 18-8 on the season. To go into Carolina and compete says a lot about these Rebels.
As it has been all season as freshman Anthony Bennett goes, so go the Rebels. Bennett is ranked at the third best freshman in the country by the ESPN analyst, Jay Bilas. The Brampton, On native is averaging 17.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. He has ten double doubles on the season, eight of those coming in victories. The only losses for UNLV when Bennett has managed a double-double, is that Nov. 23 game against Oregon, and that visit to Chapel Hill. Along with his scoring ability, his highest output has been 28 points against CS Bakersfield, Bennett is a defensive threat. He has blocked 3 or more shots, eight times this year.
Along with Bennett deflecting shots, is Khem Birch. Birch, a sophomore, is averaging 2.6 blocks per game. He has nine games with 3 or more blocks, hitting 6 blocks in a game twice. To add to that incredible stat, Birch didn’t play in UNLV’s first nine games. Compare that to Bennett’s, 1.3 blocks per game and the Rebels, have two threats to opposing offenses. Having these two explosive shot blockers, redirects offenses from attacking the basket to settling for jump shots.
With an RPI of 17, with six victories, over the top 50 RPI teams. Add to that a scheduled strength of 12, the Rebels dance card, should be punched unless a complete collapse takes place. Their opponents, SOS, is 40, which also helps the Rebels chances, even if they have a poor finish to the season.
With the regular season ending and the MWC tournament beginning, March 12, the Rebels hope to make the right moves, to move up their seed on Selection Sunday. The Rebels seed, could be as low as nine, and as high as a five, possibly a four, if other teams stumble. Come tournament time, if Bennett is hot and Birch keeps up his, mini Anthony Davis impersonation, no one will be looking forward to seeing that UNLV name, in their bracket.
By Steve Kish @SteveKGuardian