Who they are
UNLV (The University of Nevada-Las Vegas) is a public university located in the Sin City. It is a large university with over 30,000 students, and the basketball team competes in the Mountain West Conference. UNLV’s mascot is the Runnin’ Rebels.
What they did last year
UNLV had a pretty average season last year. They were a middle-of-the-road team in conference with an 8-10 record, but did win 20 games overall and finished the year 20-13. The Runnin’ Rebels did not make the NCAA Tournament or any postseason tournament.
Other than the win against Illinois at the MGM Garden Arena, which you most certainly remember, UNLV did not have many impressive wins to speak of. They defeated the likes of Colorado State, Air Force, San Jose State and Wyoming, but the best win of the year was against no. 23 Nevada. As you remember, Nevada had an outstanding run in the NCAA Tournament with Champaign native Jordan Caroline. The Wolfpack are still really good this season.
Overall, UNLV fans probably felt last year was a disappointment. Imagine how Illini fans felt after Mark Smith nearly sank enough threes in the final few minutes to put Illinois on top. Now Smith is gone, and it’s a new year.
Players to watch
UNLV lost its five-star recruit, seven-footer Javon McCoy — who played his freshman year for the Rebels last year — to the NBA Draft. McCoy went undrafter, but I don’t think Brad Underwood will mind that.
UNLV has three guys who Underwood will really need to pay attention to. Kris Clyburn (11.7 PPG), Shakur Juiston (11.0), and Amuri Hardy (10.3) all notch double digits per game. Hardy is just 6-foot-2, but Clyburn stands at 6-foot-6 and Juiston at 6-foot-7. Underwood will need to plan how he will attack these three guys at the defensive end of the floor. Kipper will probably take on one of these guys when he is on the floor, but I also expect Underwood to rotate different guys such as Aaron Jordan and Giorgi on the other.
As a team, UNLV is only shooting 27.7% from beyond the arc this year, so this may be something Underwood can plan to exploit. Additionally, they only shoot 64.7% from the free throw line.
On the year, UNLV is 4-3 with losses to Loyola Marymount, Valparaiso, and Cincinnati.
Unlike last year, this contest will be in Champaign, which is a big advantage for the Illini. Last year’s game was a great example of a near miss that the Illini had due to lack of familiarity of the system and youth.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure either problem has been fixed this year. This year’s team is even younger, albeit they will probably have a better chance at making Underwood’s system work the way it is designed to. There are two guys who really need to make an impact in this game for the Illini to come out on top: Giorgi and Adonis De La Rosa. UNLV has five (5!) guys over 6’9”. That is a disadvantage for Illinois, but if Trent, Ayo and Andres can get going on offense, and Da’Monte and Aaron Jordan fill their roles properly, there’s a good shot they come away with a win. I think they do.
Brad needs this one and it would be a great boost going into the rest of the non-con (let’s not forget Braggin’ Rights is coming up).
Illinois 78, UNLV 72
For vintage inspired, high quality, and well-designed University of Illinois apparel, check out Fourth and Kirby, and look for the TCR Collection while you’re at it!