Game Preview: UNLV


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Remember how we said the Texas game would be a litmus test for the Tar Heels’ season? Yeah, Carolina failed that one. They have a chance to redeem themselves however against a very good UNLV team. I’m sure you remember these guys. A team that stunned the 2011-2012 squad in Las Vegas on an undecidedly “neutral” court for the first loss of that season. In that game it was Mike Moser, Chace Stanback and Oscar Bellfield that led the charge, making UNC’s stellar front court look weak while also knocking down shots from outside. That was one of those games UNC never seemed to have a chance at winning.

This year’s Runnin’ Rebel squad has a very different look. Stanback and Bellfield are gone, and even though Moser is back this year and had a great start, he dislocated his shoulder at the beginning of the month and will most likely not be playing Saturday. Has that slowed UNLV? Nah. They reloaded with arguably the best freshman in the country and potential All-American Anthony Bennett and are getting serious minutes and quality output from a whole crew of freshmen and sophomores that were not even in the game last year.

Sure the game on the road against the Longhorns would have gone a long way, but now UNC needs a win in the Dean Dome against a top 25 team to seemingly keep pace.

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  • This is a big game for UNC, but it actually might be bigger for UNLV. While the Rebels have some wins against some big six schools and have fewer visible flaws than UNC, they also don’t have any marquee wins — they’re basically UNC with a better record. UNLV lost to unranked Oregon, pulled off a last second victory against unranked Cal and beat UTEP by 2 and Portland by only 8. In other words, they have yet to face an Indiana or even a Butler, but have beaten a few Texases.
  • Anthony Bennett is the stud to watch from Vegas. The 6’8″, 240-pound frosh has been dominant at times, averaging 19.5 pts and 8.5 boards – not to mention shooting 55 percent from the field, including 35 percent from three. He’ll be a huge matchup problem as UNC doesn’t have a big body outside of Joel James that can match Bennett physically, let alone someone that big that can step out and guard the trey. Personally, we think Roy should just sic James on Bennett, fouls be damned, just to frustrate him.
  • Khem Birch, who transferred from Pitt mid-season last year is not well-known yet, but could be. He put up 20 points, 8 rebounds and 6 blocks in UNLV’s last game. Yeah it was Canisius, but still. When he was recruited he was the highest rated recruit to come to Pitt in a long time.
  • UNC is currently 3rd in the country in scoring at 84 points per game. UNLV is no slouch at 79 points per, good for 20th in the nation. Of course the story that’s surrounded this Tar Heels team is its sub-par defense. In the three loses on the season, UNC has surrendered an average of 83 points including 85 to a Texas team that had trouble getting to 60 prior to the matchup.
  • As much as we rag on the UNC bigs, the team as a whole is still ranked 3rd in the NCAA in rebound per game with 45.8. UNLV is again not far behind with only three less per and a no. 13 national rank. They can thank Bennett and Birch of course. Another interesting stat, despite Marcus Paige’s growing pains at PG, UNC is still no. 1 in the country in assists per. I guess we can thank Dexter Strickland for keeping that number high.
  • Last season P.J. Hairston was one of the high points for UNC scoring 15 off the bench in 14 minutes, including 3-5 from 3 and getting to the FT line four times and converting on all attempts. We could use another one of those.
  • The Rafters began operation during the ’09-’10 post championship season. Half The Rafters (Benn) was still a senior at UNC that year with the other half (Sam) having graduated from Chapel Hill in 2008. Benn of course got to go to a ton of games as a student that first season, but since our collective graduations we’re extremely lucky to make it to more than one game a season. Really we’re lucky to even make it to the one. We mentioned on this week’s pod that both halves of The Rafters will be at the UNLV this Saturday. In our post graduation years , UNC is 3-2 in games in which at least one of us attends the game (3-1 during The Rafters era). The wins have come both at home and away (Kentucky ’10-’11, Monmouth ’11-’12, at Virginia ’11-’12) and both losses have been on the road (at Maryland ’08-’09, at Georgia Tech ’10-’11). Those two losses were awful too. Maryland beat the Heels in OT with Greivis Vasquez and GT was the 20 point loss that ushered out the Larry Drew II starting era. Let’s hope we keep the in-attendance record above .500.

After maybe too much confidence going into Texas and being shamed, we’re curbing our expectations. What we would really like to see is some defensive stops. Or maybe consistent scoring (not dropping 95 one game to follow up with 65). Benn has sworn off predictions because he’s always wrong. Maybe we’ll try the reverse jinx with a Benn prediction.

Prediction: UNC 70, UNLV 85