Rebels wake up Sunday with top RPI

It’s early, Kruger says, and there’s still plenty to work on

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Steve Marcus

UNLV coach Lon Kruger talks with Oscar Bellfield, left, Tre’Von Willis (33), and Chace Stanback during a game against Southern Illinois at the Thomas & Mack Center Saturday. UNLV beat SIU, 78-69.

UNLV vs. Southern Illinois

UNLV's Anthony Marshall drives past Kendal Brown-Surles during the first half against Southern Illinois at the Thomas & Mack Center Saturday. Launch slideshow »
The Rebel Room

Willis leads charge in victory against Southern Illinois

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Las Vegas Sun reporters Rob Miech and Ray Brewer dissect the UNLV basketball team's 78-69 victory on Saturday against Southern Illinois. Tre'Von Willis had a career high 25 points and appears to be the Rebels' team leader.

Give it four more months, at least, and maybe UNLV basketball coach Lon Kruger will enjoy hearing such news … and believe it.

Before he and his staff met with their players in their usual Sunday night academic meetings and team meal, Kruger chuckled just a bit about the Rebels leading the nation in Ratings Percentage Index.

They were ahead of Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan State, Texas and North Carolina, and every other elite team in the land.

The RPI is one of about a dozen elements the NCAA tournament selection committee uses to pick about half, and place all, of its field of 65 teams in the middle of March.

After UNLV’s victory over Southern Illinois on Saturday night at the Thomas & Mack Center, the Rebels woke up Sunday knotted with DePaul at the top of the country’s RPI charts.

With matching strength of schedules rated at .8611, UNLV and DePaul both were 2-0 (against Division-I foes) and had an RPI of .8958 when the sun came up Sunday.

(The Rebels’ season-opening victory over D-II Pittsburg State doesn’t count in the statistic.)

LSU (3-0) was third at .8137, and Cal State Fullerton (1-0) and Duke (4-0) were tied at fourth at .8125.

“That’s a tidbit I wouldn’t have imagined,” Kruger said. “But it’s early in the year. Those don’t mean too much. Can’t think too much of it either way.”

UNLV vs. DePaul for it all come April 5 in the NCAA championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis?

Maybe that’s farfetched, because DePaul lost Sunday at No. 11 Tennessee. By the time you’re eating your bacon and eggs and reading this, UNLV could be alone in first.

For now, however, it’ll bring some attention to the Mountain West Conference, which has complained that is has deserved more NCAA teams in recent years.

As far as Kruger and his Rebels are concerned, there’s work to be done. Rankings and ratings don’t figure to affect how Kruger runs practice this afternoon.

“Those were great games for us, from the standpoint of getting in the right column and still learning a lot from each one,” Kruger said. “In each, I thought we made strides.

“(But) there are a lot good moments to improve on.”

The Rebels, who beat UNR on Wednesday, turned around a 12-point deficit to take a lead in the first half Saturday against the Salukis only to trail going into the half.

UNLV and SIU exchanged punches in the second half until junior guard Kendall Wallace gave the Rebels the lead for good, at 59-56, midway through the second half.

By the time sophomore forward Chace Stanback hit a jumper along the left baseline with 4 1/2 minutes left, the Rebels had a 72-60 advantage.

Then UNLV offered up a host of issues for Kruger to address.

The Rebels turned it over, Matt Shaw missed a 3-point shot, sloppy ball handling turned into scrums on the floor, and Stanback and Derrick Jasper missed the front ends of one-and-one free-throw situations.

SIU crept to within five points, at 74-69, inside the final 90 seconds and had the ball. But the young and inexperienced Salukis fell apart at the end.

Kruger’s message to his players Sunday was similar to the one he always preaches – make progress each day.

“That’s a huge focus for the next few weeks,” Kruger said. “We have to continue to think about being a more physical team, that’s why SIU was such a good matchup for us.

“They had big guys on the inside and their guards were quick. That was good for us.”

The final few minutes won’t make the UNLV season highlight tape.

“We talk about the significance of each possession late in the game,” Kruger said. “We didn’t handle that as well as we should, but it was our first time in that situation.

“It was a good opportunity to learn from that. Late-game situations are hard to simulate in practice. You can’t put that environment and atmosphere into practice. It was good to go through that and learn from it.”

Monday afternoon, UNLV players can expect to see some action from Saturday night in their review with Kruger and his assistants. Don’t expect it to include much from the first 36 minutes.

“They’ll see the need to be stronger with the ball late,” Kruger said, “and to make good decisions.”

Free throws

Los Angeles Westchester forward Dwayne Polee, whose father Dwayne Sr. played for the Rebels in 1981-82, is close to securing an official visit to UNLV this weekend. The Rebels play Louisville on Saturday afternoon. Sources indicated that that likely will take place, but it wasn’t completely certain as of Sunday night … Louisville improved to 3-0 on Sunday with a 90-81 victory over Morgan State … Holy Cross, which plays at the Mack on Wednesday night, lost Sunday at Rhode Island, 92-75, dropping to 0-4. Devin Brown, a 6-foot-1 sophomore guard from Maryland, leads five Crusaders double-digit scorers with a 15-point average.

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  1. settl its allbout sat. no disrespect but we must put holy cross away first

  2. if we can win on wed and sat we carry it for another week...lol this could get serious

  3. Dwayne Polee Jr. I was reading about this kid last year, and then could've cared less because he was written in as a USC signee. Rob, I see 6-6, but anything else on him? Ball hawking defender, big time scorer? His father was a pretty good player. Remember seeing him play when I was a kid, wore number 3. He was a pretty good player, just don't remember the supporting cast he had.

  4. Vizbowl, Check Youtube he has some very athletic highlights.

  5. yeah dpt, shot blocker and dunker extraordinaire... much like Vic Rudd, if you saw him at Findlay last season. Seems like he could treat an 11-foot rim with impunity, much less 10. Mid-range game and other aspects? Not so sure. viz, when the USC situation imploded, he -- wisely -- set his sights elsewhere.
    The most interesting part about this is Cory Joseph, who is visiting next month. One scholarship, currently, available for 2010. Let the games begin.

  6. BTW, Rebels are now penciled in as a 1 seed in the Midwest Regional. Victories over HCross and Looville should improve their standing at getting the top seed here in the West, Bracketologists tell me. Ha, just kidding ... but you knew that.

  7. This will be a tough week for the Rebels.

  8. hey it looks like 1990 all over again,where's the fixer

  9. Good early season exposure for the program. Those two wins last week will be nice come March. SIU was a tough, tough team. That defense was intense, Dillard was quick and they had big bodies. Depth showed once again for UNLV. Go Rebels!

  10. Holy Cross should be a good game. We need to come out and get a good lead in the first half and in the 2nd do everything that we plan on doing against UL so we can be ready for em!! Pitino's boys are young and dont have much chemistry they are much more beatable than the ones we put down last year!

  11. It's way to early to get that excited about the r p i

  12. I guess I am not sure how UNLV is #1 in RPI when a team like Syracuse has beaten California and North Carolina both by large margins???? I never did understand that RPI. Oh well any positive exposure is a benefit. Can not wait until the Louisville game. Then we will really know how we measure up. Runnin' Rebels!

  13. that's part of the point, tomany ... it's early ... better than being No. 332 tho, right? unless certain people just love to dwell on negativity ... who does that sound like?

  14. Rofl Rob

  15. This just in ... (but don't hold the presses) ... DePaul loss to Tennessee plummets Blue Demons to #13 ... UNLV in first alone. Rebels' strength of sked is #2 ... LSU is second at .8137 and Duke is third at .8125 ... for what it's worth, 0-4 Holy Cross is #198 ... 3-0 Louisville, Sat's foe at the Mack, is #6 ... thx

  16. Saturday night's game against Southern Illinois was tough. The Salukis ran the floor well, played solid defense, and flustered us at times. However, the Rebels showed a lot of resilience down the stretch.

    Obviously, the RPI doesn't count for much this early in the season. But, I hope it motivates the Rebs in a positive way. This week should be very telling in terms of where we stand on the national stage.

    UNLV can't afford to look past Holy Cross, despite their record. Each game is a test, and although the Rebs haven't looked too pretty, they've found ways to win. Mental fortitude often trumps physical adversity.

    Go, Rebs!

  17. no doubt southern ... h cross hasn't win a game in four tries, but it has five double-digit scorers ... not too shabby ... (still, I think it'll be a 20-pointer for unlv)

  18. dodgerduck = Robert Maxson