If you listened to me on the SBN Sports Report on Sunday, you know that Fooch, who is the SBN 49ers blogger over at Niners Nation, also happens to be a huge UNLV fan. He has done us the pleasure of giving us a nice scouting report on the Runnin' Rebels that will serve as our first look:
After a 16-year absence, the Rebels return to the Sweet 16 with a record of 30-6 and victories over Georgia Tech in the first round and Wisconsin in the second round. The only similarity between this UNLV squad and the dominant UNLV teams of the late 80s and early 90s is the name. Whereas the Tarkanian Rebels were run and gun with flash, this team is a grind-it-out tough defensive team.
The biggest strength of this team is the steady presence brought by the coach and the senior leadership. In both the Tech and Wisconsin games, the Rebels blew a double-digit lead and fell beyond late in the 2nd half. However, the calm nature of this team in the face of adversity allowed them to succeed. Down 5 to Wisconsin, UNLV responded with a 13-2 run to take the lead for good (all 13 points coming from their seniors). This is largely a reflection of the calm demeanor of Lon Kruger. While the team has no tourney experience, Lon Kruger guided Kansas State to the Elite 8 and Florida to the Final 4.
The other strength to this team is defense. The team creates much of its offense from its defensive pressure in the half court. While they're not a very big team, they led their conference in blocks thanks largely to Joel Anthony. Anthony has hands of stone on offense, but defensively he finished 10th in the nation in blocks, highlighted by a 13 block effort against TCU. The Rebels are 15-0 in games in which they hold teams under 60 points and they are 23-1 in games they lead at halftime, thus showing their ability to close games out.
Finally, the team has enough balance to keep a team from keying on a single player. Wendell White, Jo'van "Wink" Adams and Kevin Kruger are the big-3 scorers. Kruger is almost entirely a beyond the arc and free throw scorer. White is an undersized power forward who plays with his back to the basket, but is money from 18 feet in. Wink Adams is the most athletic player on the team who can slash the lane, or pull up from beyond the arc. All 3 have had their moments in the first two games. White has carried the scoring load, Adams will need to recover from a nasty fall in the 2nd half of the Wisconsin game and after struggling the first game and a half, Kevin Kruger seems to be getting his shot back.
UNLV's biggest problems come when their offense struggles. While they finished 26th in the nation in 3-pointers made, they also finished outside the top 100 in 3-pt %. They shot 10-20 from 3-point range against Wisconsin, but were 8-30 against Georgia Tech. They held on against the Yellow Jackets primarily because Tech couldn't hit the broad side of a barn on offense. If UNLV's offense is struggling, it creates that much more of a strain on the defense.
This UNLV team is simply not as talented as most of the other teams remaining. They play team ball because they don't have one guy who can totally take over the game. If Oregon is hitting their shots, UNLV will have a hard time staying in the game.
After two Big-10 style games so far, in which they were trying to speed things up, UNLV will need to slow this game down if they want to have a chance at moving onto the Elite 8. It comes down to UNLV's big 3. Wendell White is playing his best basketball of the year, Wink Adams needs to recover from his fall and Kevin Kruger has to hope his shots continue to fall after his big trio of 3-pointers against Wisconsin. If UNLV continues to play the grinding style, they have a chance to spring the upset on a more talented Oregon team. Either way, it's going to be a fun game to watch.
Many thanks to Fooch for that scouting report. And if you are a 49ers fan, be sure to check out Niners Nation. Should be a great game on Friday.