Two Mountain West contenders will square off in the last game of New Year's Eve tripleheader of college basketball action on CBS as UNLV plays host to San Diego State. The matchup highlights the first weekend of conference play for the MWC, a league that is jockeying for national prestige with several teams hoping to compete for multiple at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament. The Mountain West boasts five teams in the top 65 of the NET, including the Runnin' Rebels at No. 61 and the Aztecs at No. 36. That means that -- as things stand now -- this is a Quad 1 opportunity for both sides that could have major implications come Selection Sunday.
San Diego State navigated a tough non conference schedule with some ups and downs. The high points included wins over BYU, Stanford and Ohio State. Though the Aztecs lost to Arizona, Arkansas and Saint Mary's, those contests against high-quality foes only served to prepare them for the league grind. In their conference opener against Air Force on Wednesday, the Aztecs drilled 11 of 23 attempts from 3-point range on their way to a 71-55 victory.
UNLV's non conference schedule brought plenty of challenges, too, and the Rebels picked up big wins over Dayton, Minnesota, Washington State and Southern Miss to highlight their resume entering league play. But the Rebels stumbled out of the gate in Mountain West play with a 75-72 loss at San Jose State on Wednesday night as they were doubled up on the offensive glass, 16-8, by the Spartans.
Oklahoma transfer EJ Harkless leads UNLV with 15.8 points per game while Keshon Gilbert and Luis Rodriguez also average double figures. Seattle transfer Darrion Trammell averaged 12.6 points per game to lead San Diego State while Matt Bradley contributes 12.2 points.
Defense is the strength of both teams with the Aztecs continuing to rate highly in most defensive metrics even while playing at a faster pace this season under sixth-year coach Brian Dutcher. UNLV is particularly adept at forcing turnovers, ranking fourth nationally with 20.64 turnovers caused per game.
Both teams finished finished in the top half of the Mountain West last season though San Diego State won both meetings. Given the prestige of both squads within the league and their similarly tenacious approaches to defense, it would be no surprise for this one to take on a postseason feel as UNLV seeks to avenge its losses to the Aztecs from a year ago.
How to watch San Diego State vs. UNLV live
San Diego State vs. UNLV prediction, picks
These teams both pride themselves on defensive tenacity. UNLV forces more than 20 turnovers per game on average, and San Diego State ranks as the Mountain West's top team in terms of overall defensive efficiency, per KenPom.com. Points and possessions will be at a premium. Expect a particular sense of urgency from the Rebels after they dropped their league opener at San Jose State earlier this week. The desire to avoid an 0-2 start to league play will fuel UNLV, who should either keep it close or win straight up in front of their home fans. Prediction: UNLV +3.5
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