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Saddle Up: UNLV, K-State on the rebound

12/21/2010

Saddle Up is our semi-daily preview of the night's best basketball action. It really needs to get a workout in before the holidays.

UNLV vs. No. 11 Kansas State, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2: At this point in the season, you probably didn't think we'd be debating which team, UNLV or Kansas State, is better. But it's a legitimate debate.

Both teams are impressive in some ways and deficient in others. Kansas State has its stifling defense and preseason All-American guard in Jacob Pullen, but the Wildcats have struggled on offense, scored just 44 points in Saturday's loss to Florida and were blown out the last time they played in the Sprint Center by a vastly superior Duke team. UNLV has its solid all-around play and the offensive brilliance of Chace Stanback, but the Rebels have lost two out of their past three, including a home loss to UC Santa Barbara last week. Both teams need a bit of a rebound from those disappointing recent results; both teams need to get their variously high aspirations back into the realm of the realistic.

For Kansas State, that means a few things. For one, the Wildcats have to find some offense; last season's No. 13-ranked offense (by adjusted efficiency, of course) is this season's No. 74. That's due in large part to the disappointing play of Pullen, who is missing from the perimeter more than he did last season and going to the foul line far less. As a team, Kansas State is the second-worst in the nation (!) at getting to the foul line, and a chunk of that blame rests on Pullen's shoulders.

For UNLV, it means finding a way to keep Kansas State off the glass. The Wildcats are good at one thing on offense so far this season: chasing down offensive boards. They're the 10th-best team in the nation at grabbing their own misses. UNLV is the 214th-best at preventing offensive rebounds. That smells like trouble for the Runnin' Rebels. Kansas State may not be shooting well or getting to the foul line, but if UNLV can't keep them off the glass, the first two factors might not matter all that much.

Either way, this should be a good one. Pomeroy's computers give Kansas State a 53 percent chance of winning, as good an indicator as any that tonight's lone marquee game will be hard-fought, tight, and full of intrigue until the very last drop. And no, I will not apologize for that mixed metaphor. It's been a long day.

Everywhere else: You can't see it on TV, but if recent results -- the Trojans taking Kansas to the wire; Tennessee losing to Oakland and Charlotte -- have anything to say, USC at Tennessee should be a lot closer than any Volunteers fan is constitutionally ready to handle. ... Coming off a loss to UCLA, BYU travels to Ogden for an in-state battle with capable Weber State. ... UNC-Asheville will be the latest team to visit Jared Sullinger's house. ... San Diego State welcomes San Fransisco to SoCal. ... The 7-2 IPFW Mastodons get a crack at Purdue in Mackey Arena. ... Texas A&M will look to keep its forward momentum rolling against Wagner. ... William & Mary goes to Chapel Hill. ... Unbeaten Cincinnati will have something of a challenge at Miami of Ohio, which took down Xavier earlier this season. ... Solid mid-major game alert: Valpo meets Oakland in the Lou Henson Award Tournament. ... and Wichita State will look to avoid a glaring disappointment in its home match up with Tulsa.