#22 San Diego State vs. #12 UNLV: Saturday's Preview

    
January 13th, 2012

The Mountain West, similar to the Ivy League and Great West, had to start conference play later than other conferences due to the fact that they've got just eight members. Saturday marks the beginning of conference play and there are two key games to keep an eye on, most notably #22 San Diego State (14-2) hosting #12 UNLV (16-2) in the day's lone matchup of ranked teams.

Both teams have some quality wins on their schedules but the extra week to schedule non-conference games hurt the strength of schedule numbers for both teams, so getting into league play should give the Runnin' Rebels and Aztecs the boost they need to ensure good seeds in the NCAA Tournament provided they take care of business. 

Steve Fisher's team was thought to be a clear third option to win the Mountain West behind UNLV and New Mexico due to the four starters lost from last year's Sweet 16 team. But thanks in large part to their backcourt the Aztecs have exceeded expectations thus far. Chase Tapley (17.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg), San Diego State's lone returning starter, has adjusted well to being the primary scoring option as he's shooting 52.6% from the field and 50.0% from three.

In addition to Tapley there's Jamaal Franklin (15.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg), Xavier Thames (11.4 ppg, 5.5 apg, 3.7 rpg) and James Rahon (10.1 ppg, 2.8 rpg) to contend with, and these guards for the most part are good at creating their own offense (SDSU assists on just 49.4% of their made baskets). 

UNLV's got some very good perimeter players as well, with Anthony Marshall (10.6 ppg, 4.9 apg, 4.3 rpg) and Oscar Bellfield (9.6 ppg, 5.3 apg) being the players most likely to initiate the offense for Dave Rice. In addition to their offensive skills both are good defenders and Marshall is also a prolific athlete who can finish above the rim.

And sixth man Justin Hawkins (9.8 ppg, 2.7 rpg) doesn't receive the pub that the majority of the other Rebels do but he's a good basketball player who would start for many teams. And on the wing the Rebels have senior Chace Stanback (14.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg), who has raised his scoring average and shooting percentages in his final campaign.

Both teams boast a great deal of talent on the perimeter, but the outcome may depend on what the interior players provide. UNLV's got the advantage with regards to size but San Diego State's big men have done a good job of simply doing what's needed instead of trying to do what Kawhi Leonard, Billy White and Malcolm Thomas did last year.

Tim Shelton (4.1 rpg) has been around for quite some time and his savvy makes him a valuable defender despite knees that have been an issue throughout his collegiate career. LSU transfer Garrett Green (7.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg) leads the team in rebounding while Deshawn Stephens (6.3 rpg, 5.9 rpg) isn't far behind.  

UNLV also works as a committee inside, with Brice Massamba (5.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg) being the starter while Quintrell Thomas (5.5 ppg, 3.9 rpg) and Carlos Lopez (7.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg) come off the bench. Those three are called on for rebounding and defense, while at the "4" the Rebels have one of the nation's most productive transfers in Mike Moser.

Moser (14.2 ppg, 11.1 rpg) was outstanding early in the season as teams failed to come up with an answer for the versatile UCLA transfer, and he's remained a solid bet for a double-double as the year's worn on. With both teams having rebounding margins around a plus-3, Moser may be the difference on the glass in spite of SDSU's ability to hit the offensive boards. 

With rebounding about even, the way in which UNLV scores their points will be something to watch on Saturday afternoon. UNLV averages 18.8 assists per game, assisting on 65% of their made baskets. The Rebels have players who can create on their own, but the offense runs better when they're able to create for each other. If SDSU can limit the drive and kick situations that result in UNLV scoring 31% of their points from beyond the arc, "The Show" and the other fans at Viejas Arena have a good chance of going home happy. 

Also in the Mountain West on Saturday is New Mexico's trip to Laramie to take on a Wyoming squad that's surprised folks in Larry Shyatt's first season (second stint) at the helm. Drew Gordon and Kendall Williams have played much better over the last month than they did at the beginning of the year, and sophomore Tony Snell hasn't received as much credit as he should for his play throughout the year. Senior Adam Waddell has been a good frontcourt option for the Cowboys, who have improved a great deal on the defensive end since last season. 

Florida State has a great opportunity to boost their profile on the heels of a win over Virginia Tech as they host #3 North Carolina. The Seminoles aren't a terrible shooting team as many would lead you to believe. The problem for Leonard Hamilton's team is that they don't take care of the basketball, boasting a turnover rate of around 26%. Giving up too many opportunities to Kendall Marshall and company could result in a blowout if FSU isn't smart with the ball. 

Northwestern finds themselves in a similar position as they host red-hot #7 Michigan State and Iowa State visits #10 Kansas with forwards Royce White (ISU) and Thomas Robinson (Kansas) being the marquee attractions. In the Big East, Pittsburgh needs a win at #24 Marquette to avoid their first 0-5 start in conference play since the 1999-2000 season. Tray Woodall's still out due to injury, meaning that players such as John Johnson and Lamar Patterson need to step up and help out Ashton Gibbs. 

#16 Connecticut will be without the services of freshman guard Ryan Boatright, who is being held out due to the NCAA looking into possible extra benefits received in high school, as they look to beat Notre Dame in South Bend. The Fighting Irish, led by sophomore point guard Eric Atkins, has won the last three games in the series and have the ability to make it four if the Huskies aren't ready to go from the start. 

And even with the great number of games on television a contest that will only be available online will rank among the best games out west. Montana visits Weber State in the first meeting of the two favorites to win the Big Sky this season, and the Grizzlies have the talent to make things tough on the Wildcats despite the presence of Damian Lillard. Kareem Jamar is one of Montana's key players on the perimeter while Derek Selvig is an important piece inside. And there's also a meeting of contenders in the MAC as Ohio visits Akron, with two POY candidates (Ohio guard D.J. Cooper and Akron center Zeke Marshall) on display.  

Top 25 Games
6:00 PM Providence at (1) Syracuse (ESPN3)
12:00 PM (2) Kentucky at Tennessee (ESPN)
2:00 PM (3) North Carolina at Florida State (ESPN)
3:00 PM Oklahoma State at (4) Baylor (ESPN2)
3:00 PM (7) Michigan State at Northwestern (BTN)
1:00 PM Texas at (9) Missouri (ESPN2)
4:00 PM Iowa State at (10) Kansas (ESPN3)
4:00 PM (12) UNLV at (22) San Diego State (NBC SN)
1:00 PM (13) Michigan at Iowa (BTN)
6:00 PM Tennessee Tech at (14) Murray State (ESPNU)
4:00 PM DePaul at (15) Louisville (ESPN3)
11:00 AM (16) Connecticut at Notre Dame (ESPN2)
1:30 PM (18) Kansas State at Oklahoma (ESPN3)
7:00 PM (19) Florida at South Carolina (ESPN3)
4:00 PM Alabama at (20) Mississippi State (ESPN3)
8:00 PM (23) Gonzaga at Loyola Marymount (ROOT NW)
2:00 PM Pittsburgh at (24) Marquette (ESPNU)
2:00 PM George Washington at (25) Harvard

NCAA Division I Games
12:00 PM Stony Brook at Boston University (ESPN3)
12:00 PM Hofstra at Old Dominion (MSG)
12:00 PM Villanova at Cincinnati (ESPN3)
12:00 PM St. Bonaventure at Xavier (ESPNU)
1:00 PM William & Mary at Northeastern
1:00 PM Bryant University at Mount St. Mary's
1:00 PM Tulsa at East Carolina
1:00 PM NC State at Wake Forest (ESPN3)
1:00 PM Bucknell at Lafayette
1:00 PM Gardner-Webb at Campbell
1:30 PM Ole Miss at Auburn (ESPN3)
1:45 PM Texas Tech at Texas A&M (ESPN3)
2:00 PM Brown at Yale
2:00 PM Holy Cross at American
2:00 PM Longwood at Dartmouth
2:00 PM Duquesne at Rhode Island
2:00 PM Rutgers at West Virginia (ESPN3)
2:00 PM Davidson at Appalachian State
2:00 PM Eastern Michigan at Ball State
2:00 PM Lehigh at Colgate
2:00 PM Towson at Georgia State
2:00 PM Saint Louis at Charlotte (CBS SN)
2:00 PM Sam Houston State at Nicholls State
2:00 PM Central Arkansas at Northwestern State
2:00 PM UAB at Southern Miss (FSN)
2:00 PM Toledo at Western Michigan
2:00 PM Furman at Western Carolina
2:00 PM Wright State at Green Bay (ESPN3)
2:00 PM SUNY-Cobleskill at NJIT
2:30 PM Army at Navy (CBS SN)
3:00 PM Virginia Tech at Boston College (ESPN3)
3:00 PM Vermont at New Hampshire
3:00 PM Texas-Arlington at Lamar
3:00 PM Howard at North Carolina A&T
3:00 PM Chattanooga at Samford
3:30 PM Oregon at Arizona (CBS)
3:30 PM East Tennessee State at Jacksonville
3:30 PM New Mexico at Wyoming (The Mtn.)
4:00 PM Colorado at Stanford (FSN)
4:00 PM VCU at Delaware (TCN)
4:00 PM Loyola (IL) at Illinois-Chicago (ESPN3)
4:00 PM Saint Joseph's at Massachusetts
4:00 PM Elon at Charleston (ESPN3)
4:00 PM Georgia at Vanderbilt (ESPN3)
4:00 PM Ohio at Akron (ESPNU)
4:00 PM Southern University at Arkansas-Pine Bluff
4:00 PM South Carolina State at Bethune-Cookman
4:00 PM Hampton at Coppin State
4:00 PM Norfolk State at Morgan State
4:00 PM Quinnipiac at Saint Francis (PA)
4:30 PM Presbyterian at Coastal Carolina
4:30 PM Monmouth at LIU Brooklyn
4:30 PM Central Michigan at Northern Illinois
4:30 PM Pepperdine at San Francisco (CSN CA)
4:30 PM Fairleigh Dickinson at St. Francis (NY)
5:00 PM McNeese State at Texas State
5:00 PM North Texas at Louisiana-Monroe
6:00 PM Air Force at Boise State (The Mtn.)
6:00 PM Buffalo at Miami (OH) (ESPN3)
6:00 PM Alcorn State at Mississippi Valley State
6:05 PM Eastern Washington at Northern Colorado (Altitude)
6:30 PM Savannah State at Florida A&M
6:30 PM Alabama A&M at Alabama State
6:30 PM Prairie View A&M at Jackson State
6:30 PM Texas Southern at Grambling State
7:00 PM Oral Roberts at IUPUI
7:00 PM Princeton at Columbia
7:00 PM Pennsylvania at Cornell
7:00 PM George Mason at James Madison (CSN)
7:00 PM Temple at Richmond (CBS SN)
7:00 PM UCF at Marshall
7:00 PM Drexel at UNC Wilmington
7:00 PM Maine at Albany
7:00 PM La Salle at Dayton
7:00 PM Middle Tennessee at Florida Atlantic
7:00 PM UNC-Asheville at High Point
7:00 PM Bowling Green at Kent State
7:00 PM Winthrop at Liberty (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Siena at Manhattan (ESPN3)
7:00 PM USC Upstate at North Florida
7:00 PM Sacred Heart at Robert Morris
7:00 PM Texas A&M-CC at Southeastern Louisiana
7:00 PM UTSA at Stephen F. Austin
7:00 PM Central Connecticut State at Wagner
7:00 PM Georgia Southern at Wofford
7:00 PM Oakland at IPFW
7:05 PM Pacific at Long Beach State (FSN PT)
7:05 PM UNC Greensboro at Citadel
7:30 PM Florida Gulf Coast at Lipscomb
7:30 PM Maryland-Eastern Shore at Delaware State
7:45 PM Eastern Kentucky at Morehead State
8:00 PM Oregon State at Arizona State (FSN AZ)
8:00 PM Santa Clara at BYU (ESPNU)
8:00 PM Detroit at Milwaukee (ESPN3)
8:00 PM Rice at Tulane (LHN)
8:00 PM Radford at VMI (MASN)
8:00 PM Southern Utah at Western Illinois
8:05 PM Arkansas-Little Rock at Arkansas State
8:15 PM Stetson at Belmont
8:30 PM Florida International at Louisiana-Lafayette
8:30 PM South Dakota at North Dakota State (ESPN3)
8:30 PM UMKC at South Dakota State
8:35 PM Montana State at Northern Arizona (NAU TV)
8:45 PM Jacksonville State at Austin Peay
9:00 PM LSU at Arkansas (ESPN3)
9:00 PM TCU at Colorado State (The Mtn.)
9:00 PM Idaho at New Mexico State (ESPN3)
9:00 PM Memphis at Houston (CBS SN)
9:00 PM Eastern Illinois at Southeast Missouri State
9:00 PM SIU-Edwardsville at Tennessee State
9:00 PM SMU at UTEP
9:00 PM South Alabama at Troy (ESPN3)
9:00 PM Montana at Weber State
9:30 PM Utah State at Louisiana Tech
10:00 PM Cal Poly at UC Riverside
10:00 PM San Jose State at Fresno State
10:00 PM Hawaii at Nevada
10:00 PM UC Irvine at UC Santa Barbara
10:00 PM Cal State Fullerton at Cal State Bakersfield
10:05 PM Idaho State at Sacramento State
10:05 PM UC Davis at Cal State Northridge
10:30 PM Utah at California (CSN CA)
11:00 PM Portland at Saint Mary's (CSN BAY)