As the countdown to 2023 begins, the SDSU mens’ basketball team travels to Sin City for a New Years Eve showdown with the UNLV Running Rebels. The Aztecs are eager to continue their dominance of UNLV in the “Vacation Home” also known as the Thomas & Mack Center.
The game is scheduled to tip off on Saturday at 1pm and will be televised nationally on CBS.
Join us at AleSmith Brewery this Saturday at 12:30pm for NYE SDSU Basketball vs UNLV, a Live DJ, kid & dog friendly fun and $5 State Ales during the game. I hope to see you and talk some basketball with you all.
SDSU disposed of Air Force on Wednesday night 71-55 at Viejas Arena on the opening night of conference play. Matt Bradley broke out of his shooting slump by scoring 27 points on 9-12 shooting including 6-7 from deep.
Bradley raised his 3 point percentage for the season from 26% to 34% with the performance. He also proved a valuable point that the offense still runs through him first and foremost.
Meanwhile, UNLV traveled to San Jose State as 5 point favorites, only to go to down to the Spartans in overtime 75-72. It was the 2nd loss on the season for the Running Rebels who are looking to bounce back from the disappointment.
Getting revenge on a San Diego State team who has owned them for the better part of a decade would more than make up for their brief hiccup. SDSU and UNLV used to be sort of a rivalry game after all.
Despite the surprising loss to San Jose State, UNLV remains a dangerous team. Head coach Kevin Kruger in his 2nd season has struck gold in the transfer portal landing several players from power 5 programs.
EJ Harkless is a transfer from Oklahoma who leads UNLV in scoring at 15 points per game. Luis Rodriguez is a 6’6 guard transfer from Ole Miss who averages 12 points and leads the Rebels in rebounding at 6 per game. Keshon Gilbert scores 13 a game to go along with almost 4 assists.
UNLV has made the biggest improvement from last season on the defensive end. UNLV plays exceptional “No Middle” Defense and is ranked 2nd in Division 1 in turnover percentage at 28% of their defensive possessions.
The “No Middle” concept has been successfully used by perennial top defensive teams such as Baylor and Texas Tech. It forces offensive players to drive away from the paint toward the baseline.
Once at the baseline, the defense traps the offensive player using the baseline as an extra defender. Off ball defenders attempt to jump passing lanes as the offensive player tries to pass out of the trap.
San Jose State used perimeter ball movement and quick decisive passes to get catch and shoot opportunities from deep. They also attacked the basket from the wings off of passes while UNLV players were collapsing to prevent penetration into the paint.
Despite this strategy, the Spartans still only shot 37% from the field and 26% from deep. What saved them was the fact that San Jose State got to the free throw line 30 times.
Where the game was lost for UNLV was on the boards. The Rebels are not a good rebounding team and they rank 247th out of 352 teams in rebounding margin. San Jose State out-rebounded UNLV by 14.
According to KenPom, the Aztecs are favored to win 71-68. If they pass the basketball along the perimeter and flank the “No Middle” defense from the wings while UNLV players rotate, Aztecs like Darrion Trammell, Lamont Butler and Bradley can use their superior quickness to get to the hoop for a layup.
Players such as Adam Seiko and Micah Parrish should get open shots from deep if the ball handlers can swing the ball out to them as Rebel players crash down on the paint.
One thing the Aztecs can’t do is hesitate with the basketball. Like Maverick said in the movie “Top Gun” “if you think, you’re dead”.
The Aztecs’ offense will be dead in the water if they think too much and don’t make the necessary, quick decisions with the basketball.
Nathan Mensah, Jaedon LeDee, Keshad Johnson and Aguek Arop need to dominate the boards for extra offensive possessions. The Aztecs have the height advantage down low. and should be able to control the glass with their size and athleticism.
This will be a difficult challenge for the Aztecs and they need to come in to the “Vacation Home” with a swagger that UNLV’s rent is due on January 1st.
Attack the Rebels on offense, smother them on defense, show no fear and outmuscle them in the paint is how SDSU is going to ring in the New Year with a win in Vegas.