The Illini head to Vegas to play the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels of the Mountain West Conference on Saturday night. The Rebels are coached by Marvin Menzies. Menzies is in his second season at the helm of UNLV with a 18-23 record after leading the rebels to an 11-21 record in his first season.
The Rebels have started the season 7-2, already closing in on their win total of 11 from a year ago. The Rebels best win to date is a 27 point victory over Utah on a neutral floor. Like Illinois, UNLV has two overtime losses already this season. The Rebels suffered their first loss at Northern Iowa to a very good Panthers team with numerous quality wins already on their resume. Their second loss came in overtime came at home to Arizona. Arizona was a preseason Pac-12 favorite and top-5 team in the country. Illinois will be UNLV’s last chance to notch a quality non-conference win to add to their resume before heading into conference play.
Key Losses and Additions
The Rebels lose three double digit scores from a year ago. Guard Jalen Poysner elected to transfer and play his last two seasons at St. Bonaventure. Poysner averaged 10 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists per game last season. UNLV also loses senior forwards Tyrell Green and Christian Jones to graduation. Green averaged 11 points and 5 rebounds per game and Jones averaged 10 points and 6 rebounds per game. All three players started over 20 games for the Runnin’ Rebels.
The Rebels also lose six-foot-four senior guard Uche Ofoegbu who scored seven points per game and started 30 of the Rebels 32 games.
UNLV signed one of the strongest recruiting classes of 2017. The class is headlined by 5-star center Brandon McCoy. They have also added freshmen Tervell Beck and Amauri Hardy who have been the Rebels two most productive bench players in the early season.
The player to watch on Saturday night is the aforementioned five-star recruit, Brandon McCoy. McCoy is a seven-foot freshmen center from California who chose UNLV over Arizona and Oregon. The prized recruit has averaged 20 points per game and 12 rebounds per game on the young season.Not only is McCoy clearly the best player on the Rebels, but he is also the biggest matchup problem for the Illini. Illinois doesn’t have anyone on the roster who can defend McCoy on their own. Containing McCoy will be a team effort, and Illinois will try to get him in foul trouble early on. Illinois will have to bring double teams when McCoy get’s the ball in the post, and work extremely hard to contain him on the offensive glass. Keeping McCoy under his season averages will take a Herculean effort from the Illinois frontline.
Both teams have played in (and lost) two overtime games this season, but I am not even going to joke about predicting another Illinois overtime loss because I don’t want to risk talking it into existence. With that said, I see Illinois struggling Saturday. The team has to take a long flight out to the desert, and play at 11PM CST. That’s not a good start right off the bat. Long road trips and weird tip times can throw young teams off, and i don’t think this is one of those concoctions where mixing the two makes it better. More importantly, I think Brandon McCoy is going to give the Illini fits all night and Jovan Mooring and Jordan Johnson will provide a scoring punch from the guard position as they look to enact revenge on their home-state school.
Illinois 78, UNLV 84.