Saturday, Nov. 21, 2009 | 2:05 a.m.
UNLV vs. Southern Illinois
Southern Illinois Salukis (2-0) at UNLV Rebels (2-0)
Where: Thomas & Mack Center
When: 7 p.m.
Coaches: Lon Kruger is 114-53 in six seasons at UNLV and 432-286 in 24 overall seasons; Chris Lowery is 111-59 in six seasons at Southern Illinois and overall.
Series: UNLV leads, 2-1
Last time: The Rebels won, 91-68, in Las Vegas on Dec. 23, 1983
Line: Rebels by 7
TV/Radio: None/ESPN Radio 1100-AM
G Justin Bocot (6-4, 170) 8.5 ppg
G Tony Freeman (6-1, 195) 10.5 ppg, 3 rpg
G Kevin Dillard (6-0, 170) 15 ppg, 7 apg
F Anthony Booker (6-8, 230) 10.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg
C Nick Evans (6-11, 245) 7.5 ppg, 7.5 apg
Bench: F Carlton Fay (6-8, 225) 14.5 ppg, 4 rpg; G Kendal Brown-Surles (5-10, 175) 9 ppg; G Jack Crowder (6-4, 210) 6.5 ppg, 3 rpg; G John Freeman (6-5, 190) 3.5 ppg.
What to watch: Dillard was Mr. Basketball in Illinois two years ago and the freshman of the year in the Mo Valley last season. He, Tony Freeman, Brown-Surles and Bocot are all hitting at least 50% from 3-point land. Booker is prone to foul trouble. Bocot, a lefty, is prone to turnovers.
G Tre’Von Willis (6-4, 195) 12.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg
G Oscar Bellfield (6-2, 180) 11.5 ppg, 4.5 apg
G Derrick Jasper (6-6, 215) 6 ppg, 3 rpg
F Chace Stanback (6-8, 210) 7.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg
C Brice Massamba (6-10, 240) 8.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg
Bench: G Kendall Wallace (6-4, 190) 9.5 ppg; F Darris Santee (6-8, 225) 6 ppg, 6.5 rpg; G Justin Hawkins (6-3, 190) 12 ppg, 4 rpg; G Anthony Marshall (6-3, 200) 6 ppg, 4 apg; G Steve Jones (6-1, 220) 6.5 ppg.
What to watch: It’s early, sure. Way early. But Massamba is showing that his off-season regimen is paying off. A 51.4% shooter last season, he’s now at 66.7%. Bellfield, Jasper, Hawkins and Marshall have a combined assists-to-turnovers ratio of 22-to-5.
Like it was for UNLV, 2006-07 was a very good season for Southern Illinois, which earned the Missouri Valley Conference’s highest NCAA tournament seed (No. 4) since 1979.
The Salukis defeated Holy Cross and Virginia Tech, then lost to Kansas to finish that season 29-7.
The Rebels, who also reached the Sweet 16 three seasons ago, play the Salukis tonight at the Thomas & Mack Center in the first year of the four-year Mountain West-Missouri Valley Challenge.
At 13-18 last season, Southern Illinois experienced its first losing record since 1998. However, Rebels assistant coach Greg Grensing, who scouted the Salukis, said UNLV’s foe is dangerous.
This Southern Illinois team, Grensing said, is as talented as, or more talented than, any Salukis squad over the past 10 seasons – including that ’06-07 version.
“But,” he clarified, “they’re like us … they have a lot of guys who have been in their program one year, a couple have been in it for more than a year, and a lot of guys are in their first year.
“I would expect they will grow and get a lot better as the year goes on.”
UNLV brass is thinking the same thing about its squad, so tonight’s game will provide some valuable insight for both teams against an opponent that is as deep as them.
For starters, both teams can go at least six deep at guard.
“That’s their strength,” Salukis coach Chris Lowery told media before Thursday’s practice about UNLV’s backcourt depth. “We know that their guards were phenomenal in a win versus Nevada.”
Jasper, Bellfield and Willis combined to shoot 13-for-24, finishing with 36 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists and 2 turnovers in a big comeback victory over UNR. Jones, Wallace, Hawkins and Marshall provided 27 points, 12 rebounds, 7 assists and no turnovers.
“I think it is a challenge for us,” Lowery said, “but I think our team’s up to it.”
Lowery starts the 6-foot Kevin Dillard, Mr. Basketball in Illinois two seasons ago and the Mo Valley freshman of the year in 2008-09, at the point.
He leads the team with averages of 15 points and 7 assists, he shoots 60 percent from the field, 57 percent from the arc and 80 percent at the line, and he’s only turned it over twice in two games.
“He’s certainly explosive, and a capable scorer and playmaker,” Grensing said. “Anytime the ball is in someone’s hands as much as it will be in his, you have to give him proper attention.”
Tony Freeman, a 6-1 senior, and 6-4 junior Justin Bocot are also among the Southern Illinois first five. Kendal Brown-Surles, Jack Crowder and John Freeman are reserves for Lowery.
Southern Illinois guards defending UNLV’s backcourt players might decide the game.
In Division-I statistics against D-I opponents – remember, the Rebels beat D-II Pittsburg State in their opener – UNLV leads the country in turning it over only nine percent of the time.
The Rebels committed only seven turnovers, usually the mark of a Kruger team playing well, against the Wolf Pack.
None of the other 337 D-I programs that had played a game through Thursday were in single digits in turnover percentage.
Bowling Green was second at 10.1 percent. Presbyterian was last, or 338th, at 36.6 percent. Southern Illinois is 205th at 22.2 percent.
However, the Salukis force opponents to turn it over 30 percent of the time – that’s the 14th-best defensive figure.
“They’ll come in here with a mindset reflecting Chris … tough and physical,” Grensing said. “They’ll get after it from the get-go. That comes through in double ball screens, and they screen really hard and crash the boards. Defensively, they’ll keep the ball out of the paint and disrupt the other team’s offense a lot.”
With their vast Midwestern roots, the Southern Illinois and UNLV staffs are quite familiar with each other.
Lowery played point guard at Southern Illinois and was a Salukis assistant, with Matt Painter, under Bruce Weber.
After a stint under Weber at Illinois, Lowery returned to Carbondale, Ill., to coach his alma mater when Painter, the Salukis’ boss in 2003-04, left to run Purdue.
“Coach Kruger is a good coach,” Lowery said. “He’s a Final Four coach. He’s taken three different teams to Sweet 16s, so he understands how to win on every level.”
Kruger spoke highly of Lowery.
“Chris has always done a great job,” Kruger said. “His teams are solid. They just play good basketball in general. They’ll bring a club that will be sound and very well prepared.”