After a year on the sideline, Khem Birch is set to make his UNLV debut Monday at UTEP, and it’s hard to say who the wait has been harder on — Birch himself, or the Rebels fans who have been anticipating this day ever since he transferred from Pitt.
The 6-foot-9 center comes with high expectations. A former McDonald’s All-American, Birch has elite shot-blocking ability and could transform the UNLV defense. And his arrival comes at an opportune time, as the Rebels frontcourt has been thinned by Mike Moser’s elbow injury.
But how effective will Birch be in his first game action in 12 months? Let’s examine that, plus some other key numbers, in this edition of “Over/Under.”
Over/Under: 1.5 blocks for Khem Birch
Coach Dave Rice said Birch will come off the bench and probably play between 15-20 minutes, with extended playing time in both halves. But UTEP plays at a slow, deliberate pace, which should depress the number of shot attempts in general. Add in the fact that Birch still has to work himself into game condition, and I think it’s safer to go with the UNDER here. Going forward, I’d jump on the over — but this is his first game.
Over/Under: 56.5 points for UTEP
Birch is expected to make his biggest impact on the defensive end, and UTEP is not an offensive team to begin with — the Miners average just 56.7 points per game, which is… wait for it… 335th in the nation. That’s better than Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Presbyterian, but just behind Liberty and Siena. I think the Rebels would have matched up well even without Birch. But add in the big man and there’s no way I’m taking the over. UNDER all the way.
Over/Under: 2.5 assists for Daquan Cook
Speaking of debuts, it was just one game ago that Cook was the new kid on the block, handing out three assists in 17 minutes. But that was against Division III La Verne, in a game the Rebels won by 47 points. Will he see that kind of playing time if UNLV is actually being challenged by a legitimate opponent? If UTEP is able to succeed in turning this into a slowed down walkathon, I’m not sure Cook will be on the floor in the second half. I’ll go UNDER.
Over/Under: 47.5 percent shooting for UNLV
Opponents shoot 45.5 percent against UTEP, ranking the Miners 290th in the nation in that category. They’re particularly vulnerable in the middle, so look for UNLV to lean heavily on Anthony Bennett (as if that game plan changes based on the opponent). But I think the backcourt will play a big role in the Rebels going OVER 47.5 percent. Bryce Dejean-Jones has hit his stride, and Katin Reinhardt broke out of his shooting slump aginst La Verne. They should get plenty of open looks at UTEP, and they’re both getting hot at the same time.
Over/Under: 27.5 points for Anthony Bennett
The freshman phenom has topped his career high in points in each of the last two games, topping out at 27 against La Verne. Can Bennett outdo himself again against UTEP? The Miners do have some height to throw at A.B., as three starters stand 6-foot-7 or taller. UTEP’s leading scorer, junior center John Bohannon (11.6 points, 5.6 rebounds per game), goes 6-foot-10. They won’t be able to stop Bennett, but A.B. won’t feast like he did against La Verne’s undersized front line. Put him down for 23 or so, aka UNDER.
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