UNLV vs North Carolina
Las Vegas Invite Final Round
Spread: North Car -7.5
Moneyline: UNC -330, UNLV +280
Tip off: 10:30 PM EST
UNC returns their frontcourt of Harrison Barnes, John Henson, andd Tyler Zeller, all of whom chose not to enter the 2011 NBA Draft. Because of that decision, UNC brings back their top seven scorers last year. That will give them some continuity and chemistry that isn’t seen often in top tier programs, whose players tend to be one or two season players before making the leap to the pros.
Roy Williams realizes how special that is:
“I’ve had five or six teams that I thought had a chance if they (got) lucky…to win a national championship…That’s the same kind of things I think (will happen) with this team…but you never know…”
Indeed, never knowing is what makes college basketball the interesting gambit that it is. Many will choose to back UNC in pre-season futures bets, but the fact remains, nothing is guaranteed when it takes only one loss to derail a team in March.
UNC’s frontcourt figures to be their main strength. All three of the aforementioned front court players will contend for All-ACC honors and the trio combined for 43.1 points per game last season. Harrison Barnes solidified his role as a clutch big time scorer. After an off season in which he worked a lot on his ball handling, we can expect more versatility from Barnes this year, who figures to be among the top – if not the top – pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. Henson, meanwhile, looks to be one of the best defenders in the college ranks. His long reach and springs enable him to be a great shot blocker (3.2 per game last year) and he also finished third in rebounding last year, as only a sophomore. Zeller remained healthy for once last year and the senior is strong in transition, as an excellent court runner with some decent post moves. Roy Williams said Zeller is “as good a runner as (he’s) ever coached,” which should suit him well when things go up-tempo. Newcomer James McAdoo will serve as the team’s third big and sophomore Reggie Bullock will back up Barnes. Justin Watts, a senior, is a bit on the undersized side, but his athleticism makes up for it.
In the backcourt, UNC will start Kendall Marshall at the point. With Marshall at the helm last year, UNC went 17-3 down the stretch. After Larry Drew quit the team last year, it cleared the way for the dynamic Marshall to run the team. He’s only a sophmore so inexperience could be a worry, but not to the point that it will handicap UNC. Their leadership lies in the frontcourt, while Marshall will simply provide the offensive engine needed to satiate the high scoring forwards. Dexter Strickland had a rough year shooting last year but proved himself to be an excellent defender. He will both start at shooting guard and serve as a stop-gap point guard when Marshall needs to rest.
The Tarheels must improve their three point shooting to offset their interior presences. Last season, they hit only 32.8% of their threes and to solidify themselves as the top team in the NCAA they are going to have to get steady outside shooting to open things up inside, where they are at their best.
So far, UNC is red hot. They have jumped out of the gates 5-0 and have already punished Michigan State on the aircraft carrier game we covered here at Maddux, in addition to winning no other game by less than 16 points. UNLV tonight will actually represent arguably their biggest test so far. However, after tonight’s game they will face #11 ranked Wisconsin and #2 Ranked Kentucky. The trio of Harrison Barnes, John Henson, and Tyler Zeller are all averaging a combined 49.8 points, 53% of UNC’s total offensive output. None of the trio are playing any more than 27 minutes per game and all three are shooting well above 50% from the floor. Certainly, you can expect the Heels to ride Barnes all the way through March as he continues to solidify his status a the best player in the country.
The Running Rebels are off to a blazing 6-0 start and currently rank in the top 35 in all major statistical categories, and save a 4 point win over Nevada and GRC all of their wins have come by 17 points or more. The success is not a huge surprise. UNLV finished 24-9 last season wtih a 11-5 in conference record. They lost in the opening round of the NCAA tournament to Illinois, and it was their defense that got them to the Big Dance. The Rebels had the 2nd best in conference defense, and surrendered only 0.96 points per possession in conference play.
Coach David Rice is a former player of Jerry Tarkanian’s Final four teams from the early 90s and he has shown it with his run ‘n’ gun style. Rice has the Rebels pushing the tempo every night, and they have scored 83.2 points per game this season, good for 27th best in the nation.
The Runnin’ Rebels have all five starters averaging in double figures so far, as might be expected given their dominance early on. UCLA transfer Mike Moser is averaging 16.0 points to go along with an amazing 13.0 rebounds per game. Despite weighing less than 200 pounds at 6’8″ he had 20 rebounds in an opening night win over Grand Canyon and 17 boards in the blowout victory over Morgan State, a game in which he was only 4 assists shy of a triple double. He’s also blocked six shots so far, and scored in double figures in all but the Nevada game.
Third team all conference player Chace Stanback has been impressive, too. Despite playing the least minutes of any starter with only 25.5 minutes per game, he is still averaging 25.5 points per game and 5.8 boards, while shooting 51.3% from the floor. He has also drilled half of his three opoint shots (9 of 18).
Quintrell Thomas is a great rebounder, but has been a non-factor so far and is only seeing 14.6 minutes per game. Last season, he would have been in the top 50 nationally for rebounding percentage, but he didn’t play enough minutes to qualify for the stat. That was mostly due to foul troubles. In his 12 minutes per game this season, he is still averaging 4.8 rebounds per game, but last season he picked up more fouls than he absorbed and as a junior he is going to have to make bigger strides to solidify what should already be a strong Rebels’ frontline. They have the potential and scoring ability to win the Mountain West Conference. Their up tempo game and outstanding athleticism will make it tough for a lot of opponents to keep pace and score with the Rebels, just as the old Tark teams of the 90s.
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