Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011 | noon
When in doubt, kick it out: As I discussed in the preview this morning, UNLV likes to shoot 3-pointers while UTEP doesn’t like to defend them (or at least isn’t good at it). And while taking every open look from deep isn’t going to prepare the Rebels for upcoming opponents, the most important thing is to win this game. Ideally, I think the Rebels get out to a comfortable lead, be it from 3-pointers or transition layups, and then try to slow the game down. Right now UNLV looks about as comfortable playing slow as a right-handed shooter does while shooting with his left. Obviously this team wants to run and has the personnel to do it, but to win big games you have to be versatile, and this could be a chance to work on that.
Youth movement: UTEP coach Tim Floyd didn’t have to wait long to bring his own players into El Paso. Floyd, the former Iowa State, USC and Chicago Bulls coach, is in his second season with the Miners, and his 2011-12 roster is half freshmen. Only one of his seven freshmen hasn’t played this season, and another — forward Julian Washburn — is the leading scorer. While the most important player is likely senior Gabriel McCulley, the bulk of the work is done by youth, which means a lot of hope for the future and a lot of headaches along the way.
Imaginary Reggie Smith: This is likely the last game the Rebels will play without Smith, a transfer guard from Marquette. Smith’s grades need to be posted before the team boards its flight for Chicago on Friday in order for him to play Saturday in his hometown against Illinois. It’s speculated to be a 50-50 chance that it happens in time. Smith said his grades are good enough to qualify, it’s just a matter of his teachers getting them inputted. And if that’s the case, I don’t see any way that the athletics department doesn’t work with his professors to get it done. With that said, I’ll be watching the UTEP game, specifically the UNLV guards, to see where I think Smith will fit in to this lineup. Anthony Marshall and Oscar Bellfield have logged a ton of minutes this year, so I’m going to keep an eye out for any lulls in their energy/game and picture how the next few possessions would be different with Smith coming off the bench.
Conference game? Nothing is certain with the Mountain West’s position amid conference realignment, but one possible — and likely — outcome is that it joins forces with Conference USA. That means in a couple of seasons, this could be a conference tilt. Whether you think that’s good or bad for UNLV down the road, it’s fun to imagine this game laying the foundation for future matchups, especially with all of those Miner freshmen.
Irrelevant information: Via the UTEP media guide, junior Jacques Streeter is cousins with disgraced track athlete Marion Jones, and McCulley is second cousins with former Chicago Bull (and 90s breakfast commercial star) B.J. Armstrong.