NCAA Wednesday Night Basketball: Utah State/UNLV Preview

by Big Al Staff

A college basketball triple-header on FS1 concludes at 11 PM ET in the rematch of UNLV’s 59-56 upset victory at home against Utah State on Monday.

The Runnin’ Rebels were 6.5-point underdogs in that game but held the Aggies to 32.8% shooting to pull off the victory. UNLV only made 32.8% of their shots themselves, but they made 13 of their 30 shots from 3-point land to eke out the win.

Second-year head coach T.J. Otzelberger only returned three rotation players from last year’s team 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 this year’s team.

Bryce Hamilton was an All-Mountain West Conference player last season. This year, the junior leads the Runnin’ Rebels with a 19.7 points-per-game scoring average while adding 5.4 rebounds-per-game and 4.0 assists-per-game. David Jenkins followed Otzelberger to Las Vegas in the offseason as a transfer from South Dakota State to be the team’s second-leading scorer with a 14.4 points-per-game clip. Jenkins is hitting 39.8% of his 3-pointers.

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.

The Runnin’ Rebels rank third in the Mountain West Conference in adjusted defensive efficiency. Their opponent’s effective field goal percentage of 47.0 is also third in the conference. They are forcing turnovers at a 21.7% rate, which is third-best in the Mountain West.

Utah State was upset by Colorado State, 84-76, as a 7.5-point underdog before getting upset again by UNLV on Monday. Those are the only two losses the Aggies have suffered in their 11 Mountain West Conference games. They have won two games this season against San Diego State, which gives their 12-5 record plenty of caches.

Head coach Craig Smith’s team defeated the Aztecs in the MWC Tournament en route to winning that automatic qualifier for the NCAA Tournament before the season was canceled. The Aggies lost leading scorer, Sam Merrill, from that 26-8 team. Plenty of talent returned.

Seven-footer Neemias Queta is scoring 12.4 points-per-game while pulling down 9.4 rebounds-per-game. Justin Bean is adding 10.2 points-per-gam along with another 7.4 rebounds-per-game. Virginia transfer, Marco Anthony, adds 11.4 points-per-game. Utah State ranks 19th in the nation by rebounding 35.2% of their missed shots. They rank sixth in the country by limiting their opponents to rebounding 20.0 of their misses. The Aggies also rank sixth in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency according to the metrics by kenpom. Their opponents make only 41.5% of their shots inside the arc, 6th in the nation.

Yet the weakness of this Utah State team could be their lack of a traditional point guard. That is the role Merrill embraced while scoring 19.7 points-per-game. Queta is second on the team with a 3.0 assists-per-game mark. Anthony leads the team with 3.2 assists-per-game despite being more of a traditional shooting guard.

BetAnySports lists Utah State as a 7-point road favorite with a total of 136.5 in this rematch from Monday.

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

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