NCAA Sunday Night Basketball: Nevada/UNLV Preview

by Big Al Staff

The Sunday night college basketball card concludes with UNLV visiting Nevada in Reno on FS1 at 9:30 PM ET.

The Runnin’ Rebels had been on a five-game winning before playing their rematch with Utah State on Wednesday. UNLV was defeated by the Aggies, 83-74, as a 7-point underdog after defeating Utah State on Monday, 59-56.

Second-year head coach T.J. Otzelberger only returned three rotation players from the team last year that finished 17-15. The former South Dakota State head coach had his team on a five of six winning streak to end the season, headlined by them handing San Diego State their first loss of the year. Otzelberger relied on transfers and freshmen to fill-out the team this year.

Bryce Hamilton was an All-Mountain West Conference player last season. This year, the junior leads the Runnin’ Rebels with an 18.2 points-per-game scoring average while adding 5.5 rebounds-per-game and 4.0 assists-per-game. Hamilton scored only 2 points on Wednesday, missing 11 of his 12 shots from the field, including all five of his three-point attempts. He is questionable for tonight’s game with an ankle injury.

If Hamilton cannot play, UNLV will have to rely on the supporting cast. David Jenkins, a transfer from South Dakota State, is the second-leading scorer with a 15.8 points-per-game clip. He is hitting 42.2% of his 3-pointers. Caleb Grill, a sophomore guard who transferred from Iowa State, is scoring 9.6 points-per-game. Senior forward Cheikh Mbacke Diong is adding 8.5 points-per-game.

UNLV opened the season with an upset loss at home to Montana State before embarking to Maui Invitational relocated to Asheville, North Carolina, this year. They got crushed against North Carolina by 27 points before losing to Alabama by eight points and then Davidson by four points. Otzelberger’s team earned their first win of the season with a 10-point win against Kansas State before getting swept on the road against Colorado State. A four-game winning streak started with a win against Division II St. Katherine before a sweep at home against a struggling New Mexico and then a win against Division II Benedictine, AZ, before their upset win against the Aggies. After playing six straight games at home at the Thomas & Mack Center, this is the Runnin’ Rebels' first game on the road since their loss at Colorado State on January 9th.

The Runnin’ Rebels are 3-3 in conference play to go along with their 6-7 overall record. They rank fourth in the Mountain West Conference in adjusted defensive efficiency. Their opponent’s effective field goal percentage of 49.1 is also fourth in the conference. They are forcing turnovers at a 21.1% rate, which is third-best in the Mountain West.

Nevada was 9-5 going into a two-game road trip in Laramie against Wyoming last weekend. The Cowboys upset the Wolf Pack twice by 71-64 and 93-88 scores as a 3.5 and 4.5-point underdog in those Friday and Sunday contests.

Alford oversaw a Nevada team that finished 19-12 last season, including a surprising 12-6 in Mountain West Conference play, which was good for second place. Yet five of the top six scorers from that team departed, leaving Alford to rebuild this team nearly from scratch from bench players, freshmen, and transfer players. Grant Sherfield leads the team with an 18.5 points-per-game scoring average while adding 5.5 assists-per-game. The Wichita State transfer was granted eligibility in the fall from the NCAA’s blanket transfer exception policy this year due to COVID. Desmond Cambridge, a former transfer from Brown, is second on the team with a 15.2 points-per-game average.

The Wolf Pack are 5-5 in conference play. They are fifth in adjusted offensive efficiency while having the top free throw rate in the conference. Nevada is sixth in adjusted defensive efficiency in the MWC while ranking third with an opponent’s effective field goal percentage of 48.7%. They have a bad loss to Air Force on their resume while playing two close games against San Diego State in 2-point and 5-point losses. A victory at home against UNLV would represent their biggest win so far this season for Alford.

BookMaker lists Nevada as a 4-point favorite with the total set at 142.5.

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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