Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Saddle Up: UNLV, K-State on the rebound
By Eamonn Brennan
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.