Here we go. After four days of waiting (and hype), it’s finally game day. In the eyes of most, UNLV needs at least one NCAA tournament victory to validate their season, and it’s a familiar opponent that stands in the way.
The No. 5 Rebels were somewhat surprised to be matched up with No. 12 Cal in the first round of the tournament, but now all that matters for Dave Rice’s crew is playing their best basketball of the season.
So will the Rebels advance? Let’s take a look at their chances with an Over/Under column.
Over/Under: 28.5 combined points for Bryce Dejean-Jones and Katin Reinhardt
When both of the Rebels’ wing men are scoring effectively, UNLV wins. I feel fully confident in saying that. But while Dejean-Jones and Reinhardt have played more consistently in the second half of the season, there are still times when one or both of them can shoot the Rebels into a hole. If the 3-pointers aren’t falling early, it’s up to BDJ and Reinhardt to read the situation and work even harder to get high-quality shots. I think this number will be very attainable against Cal, and I expect Dejean-Jones and Reinhardt to go OVER.
Over/Under: 15.5 combined points, rebounds, assists and steals for Tyrone Wallace
When we chatted with a Cal blogger earlier in the week, he pointed to Wallace, a freshman G/F, as a potential X-factor for the Golden Bears. I agree. At a long 6-foot-4, 186 pounds, Wallace has the size and perimeter skills to be a load in the open court. Bur more than his raw point total, his effectiveness is often measured by how many “little things” he does. Wallace is the type of player who can block a shot, make a couple steals, and come up with a key offensive putback, all during one 10-0 run. For the season, Wallace is averaging 7.2 points 4.5 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 28.1 minutes off the bench. The Rebels can’t let him roam free, but Wallace was a big-game player in high school, and I like him to go OVER here. But not by much.
Over/Under: 8.5 3-pointers for Cal
Cal is a good shooting team, but as we covered in this post, the Bears aren’t necessarily reliant on the 3-point shot. Their guards are among the best in the country when it comes to using screens and getting inside the defense for shorter jumpers, and Dave Rice will probably be content to chase Cal’s guards off the 3-point line and into the middle of the defense, where Khem Birch is waiting to challenge shots. Underdogs are especially dangerous in March when they can pile up 3-pointers, so holding Cal to the UNDER would definitely allow Rebels fans to rest a little easier.
Over/Under: 12.5 offensive rebounds for UNLV
This is where UNLV won the first meeting, as the Rebels out-rebounded Cal 36-26, and 13-4 on the offensive boards. And of course, the game-winner came off an offensive rebound by Quintrell Thomas. Cal hasn’t really improved inside since then, but the Rebels’ interior has undergone sever changes. Mike Moser missed most of the first game after injuring his elbow, but he’s back and starting at power forward, and Khem Birch has emerged as a potentially game-changing big man. But neither is the rebounder that Thomas is (Thomas has the highest total rebound percentage of the three, at 15.4). With Q in a reduced role, I don’t see the Rebels hitting the offensive glass quite as hard. Take the UNDER.
Over/Under: 73.5 points for UNLV
The Rebels are 14-1 this season when scoring at least 74 points, 11-8 when they fall short. In the first Cal game, they went over and won, 76-75. Can they hit the magic number again on Thursday? Well, I already told you that I think Dejean-Jones and Reinhardt will have good offensive games, so we’re halfway there. If Anthony Bennett shows up in A.Beast mode, like he did in the first Cal game, I like the Rebels’ chances. Cal doesn’t really have a guy who can match up with Bennett (who does?). Junior forward Richard Solomon has size (6-foot-10, 235 pounds), but he’s not quick enough to contain Bennett’s face-up game, and junior forward David Kravish has decent quickness, but Bennett is too physical for him. I think Bennett goes off, the shooters hit shots, UNLV goes OVER 73.5 points and the Rebels advance.
Final score: UNLV 75, Cal 68
Player of the Game: Anthony Bennett — 25 points, 10 rebounds, one block