Ask hard-core UNLV basketball fans to vote for the biggest underachiever so far this season, and the majority would point the finger at two individuals: the injured Mike Moser (a preseason All-American candidate who in the month of February has scored three more points than you and me) and Dave Rice (who somehow was a two-time winner of UNLV’s Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award despite not knowing the definition of “adjustment”). With all due respect to Moser and Rice—both worthy candidates—I’d cast my vote for a third party: those who have wagered consistently on the Rebels.
Through February 12, UNLV’s 9-14 record against the spread ranked 298th out of 319 teams, according to Covers.com. To give that some context, consider that the Rebels (18-6 straight-up) are one of just three teams that are more than 10 games over .500 overall but covering at a less-than-40 percent clip. The others: Virginia Commonwealth (19-5 SU, 6-11 ATS) and UCLA (18-6 SU, 9-14 ATS). What’s more, UNLV has the worst point-spread mark among the nine schools in the Mountain West Conference; in fact, the only two Mountain West squads under .500 from a betting perspective hail from the Silver State (UNR is 9-11-2 ATS).
All of which brings me to the Rebels’ showdown against archrival San Diego State on February 16 at the Thomas & Mack Center. Interestingly, one of UNLV’s few point-spread successes in the last six weeks—the team is 3-9 ATS since a 79-73 loss at North Carolina on December 29—came in San Diego a month ago, when it upset the Aztecs 82-75 as a 3½-point underdog. Of course, this time around, the Rebels will be favored—probably in that same 3½-point range—which is a problem, in that they enjoy this role about as much as Bryce Dejean-Jones enjoys passing the rock (UNLV has cashed just twice in its last eight games as a chalk).
Another problem: The Thomas & Mack in recent years has been a home away from home for San Diego State; in their last seven games in Vegas against the Rebels, the Aztecs have cashed six times—including the last four—and walked off with five outright wins.
So given all this data, the wise play would be to take the points with San Diego State, right? Not so fast. UNLV is 4-0 in conference play at home (winning the last three by nine, 12 and 12 points). And while the Aztecs have won four of five since consecutive losses to the Rebels and Wyoming, they’ve only split their four league road games (1-3 ATS). And those trips were to Fresno State, Wyoming, Reno and Air Force—not exactly as intense as UNLV, New Mexico or Colorado State (which, by the way, is where SDSU was scheduled to play February 13).
But here’s the most important factor working in the Rebels’ favor: They’re simply a bad matchup for the Aztecs. That was quite clear in the first meeting January 16, when UNLV—playing in an extremely hostile environment—outshot SDSU 52 percent to 39 percent and had a commanding 41-28 rebounding advantage.
Put it this way: The Rebels were in control for much of that contest, even though their best player had an off night (Anthony Bennett had just nine points and two rebounds in 20 minutes), while SDSU’s best player was terrific (Jamaal Franklin had 27 points and seven rebounds). Also, the Aztecs that night had a big free-throw edge (20-for-27 vs. UNLV’s 12-for-17) and committed just five turnovers (the Rebels had 12) … and yet they still lost by seven at home. Now the scene shifts to Vegas, where you can logically infer that UNLV will own the turnover and foul-line advantages.
Add it all up and, even with my red-and-black glasses on, it’s difficult for this SDSU alum to see the Aztecs coming within three points. Give me $220 on UNLV -3½ as I go for a sixth straight winning week. (Although if anyone out there is willing to sell me some Moser and Rice insurance, I’ll buy it …)
Best of the Rest: Michigan State -10 at Nebraska ($66); Kansas -13½ vs. Texas ($55); Pittsburgh -2 at Marquette ($44); Colorado State -3½ at Air Force ($33); Indiana -19 vs. Purdue ($44); George Washington +12½ at Virginia Commonwealth ($44); Arizona State +7 at Colorado ($44); Oklahoma +9 at Oklahoma State ($33); San Francisco +12 vs. Gonzaga ($33); Oregon State +4½ at Washington ($33).