With tip-off just over 12 hours away for the Buffaloes first NCAA Tournament since 2003 we thought it might be nice to learn a bit more about the UNLV Runnin' Rebels. For that we turned to the resident UNLV expert on SB Nation's fantastic Mountain West blog, MWCConnection, to pick his brain about tonight opponents.
Huge thanks to Jacob for helping us out.
What were UNLV fan expectations for the team going into the season and were they met? What are the fan expectations going into the tournament?
Fan expectations were not too far above where they had been in previous seasons, with us hoping that UNLV would get into the NCAA Tournament with a higher seed than the 8 or 9 seed we had been stuck with in the past couple of years. But as the season went on and we jumped higher and higher in the polls, the expectations increased. Unfortunately, those expectations weren't met, as we dropped some games at the end of the season that we definitely shouldn't have, but the preseason expectations were met. As for the expectations going into the tournament, the fans (including myself) know just how talented this team is and where their potential is. The problem is that if we manage to make it past CU, we have to play Baylor in order to make it to the Sweet 16. That's a very tall order, but most fans truly believe it's possible for us to get to the Sweet 16, but I think it would be very difficult.
After losing only 3 of their first 24 games, the Runnin' Rebels are 5-5 over the last 10 games. What happened over that stretch?
Over the last 10 games, this team has been characteristic of building big early leads, only to allow them to disintegrate over the course of the rest of the game. The Runnin' Rebels would come out with tons of intensity, and the results showed in the first 7-8 minutes, but that intensity didn't show up for pretty much the rest of the game. That, with the combination of poor offensive execution in the final 10 minutes of each game, has completely destroyed this team.
What has changed with the team after Lon Kruger left to go to Oklahoma? Has much changed under Dave Rice?
Almost the entire style of the team has changed under Dave Rice's new regime. Lon Kruger's teams were based on good defense, not any sort of great offense. The tempo was kept as slow as possible in order to keep the amount of possessions to a minimum, something that has completely changed under Dave Rice. Rice still preaches an intense man to man defense, but wants his team to push the ball every opportunity they get. This really has allowed for UNLV to flex alot of the athleticism Kruger had recruited in his tenure.
We have talked a lot about Mike Moser on the site this week. Who else should Buff fans look out for?
Honestly, there isn't really a clear number two guy behind Mike Moser. It seems to be a different person every game, but pretty much anyone on the starting five has the ability to have a big game and score 20+ points.
Are many UNLV fans expected to take the trip to New Mexico? Anything Buffs' fans should know about The Pit or ABQ?
There are definitely a lot of UNLV fans expected to travel compared to the numbers in the past five years or so, mainly because the city of Las Vegas has really gotten behind the Runnin' Rebels this season. There's not much to say about The Pit since the name pretty much says it all. The arena is almost literally a big hole with a roof built on top of it, something you don't regularly see. As for ABQ, I can't really comment on it since I've never made the trip out there.
What do you think of Colorado and how they match-up up with UNLV? Prediction for the game?
Colorado seems like they would be a decent match with UNLV, but there truly aren't many teams that can matchup man-for-man with this squad. Both Chace Stanback and Mike Moser are tall, extremely athletic, and can shoot very well. Oscar Bellfield and Anthony Marshall have shown time and again that they can get their own shot with ease. What makes this team do hard to matchup with is the problem that UNLV has such depth on the bench. The Runnin' Rebels can go 10 or sometimes even 11 players deep and still barely miss a beat. That's normally where UNLV has the advantage against other teams and it looks like it could be a problem for Colorado. I'm gonna predict that UNLV wins (surprise, surprise) with the final score coming in somewhere in the range of 80-70.