Tuesday night marks what at least should have been the first real test for both Arizona State and UNLV. Turns out, The Mack will host two teams that have started this year going in very different directions as the Sun Devils have looked great in their first three games while the Runnin’ Rebels have stumbled off the blocks. The early season indications have significantly shifted the line in this matchup from where oddsmakers would have projected it to be prior to the season starting. The home sides opens up getting five points – a rare occurrence for the Rebels to get points at The Mack.
It’s been very tough swimming for UNLV through three games this season. After taking care of Presbyterian in its first game, Nevada-Las Vegas fell at home to the Gauchos of California Santa Barbara and then eked out a win against Nebraska-Omaha. The Rebels lost a lot of their production from last season with Anthony Bennett going to the NBA, Mike Moser transferring to Oregon and Anthony Marshall and Reinhardt graduating. That said, UNLV returns a strong interior presence with Roscoe Smith and Khem Birch in addition to prolific outside scorer Bryce Dejean-Jones. I believe Dejean-Jones is the key here as he returns to form after missing the first game of the season. and then struggling in his first game back. Against Omaha, BDJ was able to find a bit of a groove for 19 points on 17 shots. He isn’t always the most selective shooter or most efficient scorer but Dejean-Jones gives UNLV shot-making ability on the outside, which it lacks badly at its current state. Birch and Smith are great in the interior at both defending the rim and grabbing rebounds. They will give Arizona State’s perimeter penetrators a bunch of problem. Their problem? They can’t make free throws! UNLV is shooting exactly 50% as a team through three games, which is a big concern with the added emphasis on fouls this year.
Arizona State returns its star freshman from a year ago, Jahii Carson who looks to take the next step ahead of a potential move to the NBA. Carson finds himself right where he left off last season – leading the Sun Devils in scoring. The 5’10” guard is an incredible scorer that UNLV will struggle mightily to contain on the perimeter. Carson should have his way with whoever matches up with him one-on-one but UNLV has strong enough interior defending to limit Carson if he can’t effectively pull up for the jumper or dish off to open teammates once he gets into the lane.
There is a ton of uncertainty in this game mainly because of what UNLV has proven to look like thus far. I wouldn’t bet this game early on in the year but I do lean UNLV with the points because of what will is very possibly an overreaction in Vegas. The Runnin’ Rebels are still very talented with a very strong home court advantage. The Rebs will come out hungry to avoid dropping a second game at home before the calendars even flip to December.
Free Pick: UNLV +5