REBELS BASKETBALL:

Take Five: A closer look at UNLV vs. No. 11 Kansas State

Hoping recent struggles are behind them, Rebels out for marquee win over Wildcats in Kansas City

Image

Justin M. Bowen

Kansas State guard Jacob Pullen, left, scrambles for a loose ball against UNLV’s Derrick Jasper during K-State’s 95-80 victory over the Rebels at the Orleans Arena on Dec. 12, 2009. Pullen led all scorers with 28 points, including a 7-of-10 showing from 3-point range.

UNLV vs. Kansas State

  • UNLV Rebels (10-2) vs. Kansas State Wildcats (9-2)

  • Where: Sprint Center (cap. 18,555)

  • When: 6 p.m.

  • Coaches: Lon Kruger is 147-64 in his seven seasons at UNLV and 465-297 in 25 overall seasons; Frank Martin is 81-34 in his four seasons at K-State, which is his first head coaching job.

  • Series:UNLV leads 3-2

  • Last time: K-State won, 95-80, in Las Vegas on Dec. 12, 2009.

  • Line: N/A

  • TV/Radio:ESPN2/ESPN Radio 1100 AM/98.9 FM

  • THE REBELS

  • G Oscar Bellfield (6-2, 185, Jr.) 11.8 ppg, 4.3 apg, 2.9 rpg.

  • G Tre'Von Willis (6-4, 195, Sr.) 10.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.9 apg.

  • G Derrick Jasper (6-6, 215, Sr.) 9.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2.4 apg.

  • F Chace Stanback (6-8, 210, Jr.) 13.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg.

  • F Quintrell Thomas (6-8, 245, So.) 5.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg.

  • Bench: G Anthony Marshall (6-3, 200, So.) 9.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.8 apg; F Brice Massamba (6-10, 240, Jr.) 4.8 ppg, 2.2 rpg; G Justin Hawkins (6-3, 190, So.) 5.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg; F Carlos Lopez (6-11, 215, Fr.) 5.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg; G-F Karam Mashour (6-6, 200, Fr.) 3.4 ppg.

  • What to watch: UNLV's backcourt was overwhelmed last year by K-State's physicality and experience. Now, the Rebels can turn the tables against a struggling group of Wildcat guards. Anthony Marshall played up to his potential against Southern Utah while starting in place of Derrick Jasper. With Jasper back, can Marshall be the same again off of the bench? UNLV needs him to play like the reserve he was last year to keep the pressure on K-State.

  • THE WILDCATS

  • G Jacob Pullen (6-0, 200, Sr.) 16.5 ppg, 3.8 apg, 3.7 rpg.

  • G Will Spradling (6-3, 170, Fr.) 4.6 ppg, 2.1 apg.

  • F Rodney McGruder (6-4, 205, So.) 10.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg.

  • F Curtis Kelly (6-8, 239, Sr.) 10.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg.

  • F Freddy Asprilla (6-10, 280, Jr.) 5.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg.

  • Bench: F Jamar Samuels (6-7, 220, Jr.) 8.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg; F Wally Judge (6-9, 248, So.) 3.8 ppg, 2.1 rpg; F Jordan Henriquez-Roberts (7-0, 245, So.) 4.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg; G Shane Southwell (6-6, 220, Fr.) 1.0 ppg, 1.2 rpg; G Martavious Irving (6-1, 209, So.) 6.7 ppg, 1.5 rpg; G Nick Russell (6-4, 200, So.) 3.9 ppg, 1.2 rpg.

  • What to watch: Jacob Pullen has struggled some in the lead guard role this year, but UNLV knows what he's capable of after he went 7-of-10 from three in last year's meeting. Still, he's going to almost always get his. Can youngsters Rodney McGruder and Will Spradling step up against the Rebels' pressure defense around him? They might hold the key to K_State's success in this one.

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It was a sentimental lead-in to last season's game between UNLV and Kansas State at the Orleans Arena, as Lon Kruger was taking on the program that he starred with as both a player and coach.

The game itself was nothing memorable for Kruger and his staff, which is also rife with K-State ties.

The Rebels were run out of the Orleans in 95-80 fashion in a game that wasn't even as close as the final score even indicated.

K-State went on to make a magical postseason run that ended in the Elite Eight, and that was parlayed into higher-than-ever expectations and a preseason Top-5 ranking this winter.

It's been a bit of a struggle out of the gates for the 11th-ranked Wildcats, despite the shine of a strong 9-2 start.

Meanwhile, UNLV (10-2) is hoping that its brief struggles from last week struggles are officially in the past, as a 72-50 drubbing of over-matched Southern Utah on Saturday night snapped a two-game skid.

The two will meet on Tuesday night at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., playing in front of a national audience. Here is what you need to know about both sides heading into the Rebels' biggest game of the non-conference season.

1) Offensive inconsistency plaguing Wildcats

K-State played its worst offensive half of the season in the second stanza of Saturday's 57-44 loss to Florida. After leading 23-20 at the break, the Wildcats fell apart. In the end, they shot an awful 27.3 percent (15-of-55) from the floor and were 3-of-19 from deep.

But rough shooting patches have hardly been uncommon for Frank Martin's club this season.

As a team, they're shooting 43.7 percent from the floor in 11 games and just 54.5 percent at the free throw line.

A lot of the offensive instability comes following the loss of Denis Clemente, who last year as a senior was the Cats' offensive rock. It's put much more responsibility on the shoulders of senior Jacob Pullen, who is averaging a team-high 16.5 points per game, but is only shooting 40 percent on the year. He only shot 38 percent a year ago, but is now leaned on much more.

In other words, Pullen has struggled to adapt to the lead guard role.

If K-State is going to have balanced offensive success against UNLV — and, frankly, moving forward in Big 12 Conference play — its two most important players might be sophomore shooting guard Rodney McGruder and freshman combo guard Will Spradling.

McGruder is an outside specialist who is tied for second on the team with 10.3 points per contest, while Spradling, a one-time UNLV recruiting target, isn't piling numbers, but is gaining valuable experience after starting the team's last three games.

2) Struggling frontcourt still deep

Last season, Curtis Kelly averaged 13.7 points and 9.2 rebounds a game, while sixth man Jamar Samuels chipped in 8.3 and 4.7, respectively.

Kelly's numbers are down (10.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg), while Samuels is having all kinds of troubles staying out of foul trouble and, therefore, on the floor.

But, still, the sheer depth that K-State has up front has the potential to give UNLV's struggling bigs some fits.

Outside of Kelly — another former UNLV recruit — and Samuels, Martin will flex in 6-foot-10 Freddy Asprilla, 7-foot Jordan Henriquez-Roberts and 6-foot-9 Wally Judge.

3) UNLV ready to fight back?

Several UNLV coaches and players recall last year's game as a case of K-State punching the Rebels in the mouth early and assuming the upper hand.

The problem was that, physically, UNLV was never able to take it back.

The rebounding disparity between the two teams was small, and UNLV forced 20 K-State turnovers, but the general tempo and style of the game, at the time, favored the visitors.

It also didn't hurt that K-State was 14-of-23 from three, including a 7-of-10 performance by Pullen.

This time around, UNLV feels that with its backcourt depth and experience, combined with K-State's struggles with consistent guard play, the Rebels are capable of assuming that position.

The Rebels have forced 217 turnovers and have 107 steals in 12 games, and given the Wildcats' suspect free throw shooting, they won't hesitate to get a little aggressive.

4) Getting his swagger back

While Tre'Von Willis has rounded back into form of late for UNLV following his late start to the season, the Rebels need their other offensive centerpiece — junior forward Chace Stanback — to get back in the groove, too.

Stanback leads the Rebels this season with 13.7 points per game and is still shooting at a 53.4 percent clip, but hasn't quite been himself of late.

In the team's last three games, he's averaged a solid 11 points per game, but is just 11 of 30 from the floor and 4-of-14 from three.

To boot, he just hasn't appeared to have his same edge or swagger in that stretch.

UNLV needs him to find it in time for Tuesday night, as his length and ability to make opponents pay from three could help draw some of K-State's bigs out to the perimeter and open up lanes for Willis and the other wings.

5) UNLV's x-factor

At times this season, forward Quintrell Thomas has been great.

At other times, he's been invisible, mostly because he's tied to the bench in foul trouble.

To combat K-State's front line, the Rebels need the Thomas who, in the championship game of the 76 Classic on Nov. 28, went for 14 points, three rebounds and was a rugged overall presence against Virginia Tech.

If he gets into early foul trouble or is not a physical presence, it could be a landslide in the paint. Brice Massamba has struggled this season against big, physical forwards, while Carlos Lopez is still learning how to bang with them on defense and play with his back to the basket on the other end.

Thomas's abilities and 6-foot-8, 245-pound frame make him the most likely answer for K-State's group of big bodies.

The Kansas transfer, playing this game about 40 miles from his old school, has managed to stay on the floor for a total of 40 minutes in UNLV's last two games, totaling 10 points and 15 rebounds..

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  1. "At times this season, forward Quintrell Thomas has been great.

    At other times, he's been invincible, mostly because he's tied to the bench in foul trouble."

    I'm guessing you mean "invisible"?
    I think UNLV has a good shot tonight if they play more like the bginning of the year. One thing that kills me about this team though is that the defense collapses in the middle on the drive too frequently, leaving open looks from the outside. If the other team has a guy that's hot from 3 (Kuric and Knowles from L'ville come to mind), than I would rather take my chances with a single covered contested layup than a wide open 3 from a guy who is on fire.
    However I think the press could hurt this team without a strong PG presence.
    Go Rebs!

  2. Whoops, typo. Fixed. K-State doesn't appear to be a team that will settle for as many threes as Louisville did, but the Cats certainly have guys capable of getting hot from there. However, after K-State went 14-of-23 in last year's meeting, I'd think they have UNLV's attention from the outside, even w/o Clemente.

  3. K-State's make-up with their overall team athletic ability and tough-lengthy front court is the type of team that has given Lon Kruger trouble throughout his time here. We just have not generally matched up well against teams like this. SDSU being a prime example.

    Obviously if K-State plays as poorly offensively as they did against Florida Saturday we have a shot, but tough to envision that happening again. Plus we don't have the same make-up personnel wise as Florida.

    To win, the Rebs have to have one of their better shooting performances, take advantage of KSU's PG woes right now and force turnovers and at least try to keep the rebounding margin respectable.

  4. Ryan,
    Are we to expect Marshall to get the start tonight or is Jasper's knee ready for return?

  5. Which Rebel team is going to show up tonight? I feel that we will know right away who is going to win this game. Our bigs HAVE to step up. Can't hardly wait.

  6. Looking forward to this game as a true gauge of how we will fare in March. This is a team that smacked us around last year. I am curious to see if we can stand up to these guys mentally more than physically. If we can control the pace with outstanding pressure defense then we should do just fine and should have a chance for the win at the end of the game.

    Go Rebels!

  7. Ben, Jasper practiced with the first unit yesterday and I'd expect him to be back in the starting lineup again.

  8. Tre has not arrived yet and still has a way to go. Up to this point, he's a step slower, less aggressive attacking the rim, and more turnover prone than a year ago. Hopefully he can find his true game soon.

  9. man why is dick vitale doing the game lol i was really hoping for bob knight

  10. why arent they playing in manhatten

  11. Man it sounds like most of you have either doomed unlv from the get go tonight or expect us to win by luck. I think we are better than them on any given day. I would agree that if we play like a couple game ago we lose, but as a whole we don't play like that. We are also great when we play as the unranked underdog team. Last year if you remember they were the unranked underdog and we were the over confident ranked team. Rolls reversed. Stanback and Marshall have got this one watch.

  12. DJ, i think the general fear form Rebel fans is that the team peaked too early. They really haven't had a solid 40 minute performance since Ill-St. The potential is certainly there, but this team has looked unfocused this last month and has struggled mightily against zone defenses. Should be an exciting game, and an absolutely MUST win for UNLV as far as March positioning is concerned.

  13. This is the perfect time to play K-state and strike a team that is quite beatable and highly ranked.

    No doubt about it, they are going to dominate on the boards, especially offensive boards. However, if we can make them turn over the ball more, which we are good at, we can make things interesting. They have been shooting horribly, and their FT percentage is one of the worst in the nation.

    For sure, our bigs have to show up a little bit. If they foul though it's not the end of the world with our pressure D.

    I really, REALLY don't want to listen to Vitale all game praising Duke every 3 seconds and comparing every program to Duke while going back 20 years to reminisce about Laettner.

  14. PS, I think it's a semi-neutral game because they played us at the Orleans last year. And I don't agree with you liljoe in that it's a must win for a look into march. Maybe as far as seeding goes, but keep in mind MWC is still strong this season.

  15. I think thats what he meant, referring to seeding.

  16. The other X-factor: Justin Hawkins.

    If he creates havoc defensively most of the game, the Rebels have will have a chance.

  17. @ Sofaking, I agree the MWC is more credible nationally with some of the wins SDSU, UNLV, BYU in particular have had. This means wins within the conference will mean some more than they have in the past. How much is the big unanswered question. Still, this is definately a good thing if we can secure some wins.

    With this said, I still think this is a must win in my opinion if the Rebs are going to escape the 7-10 seed range we have experienced under Kruger. A loss tonight, especially if it is bad, and I have a hard time seeing anything above a 7, maybe a 6, seed. Wisconsin seems to be their usual self under Bo Ryan but other than that there really isn't the quality OOC wins. Virginia Tech may prove to be one as time goes on but right now some early brackets don't have them making the field.

  18. @ Ernie, UNLV still holds a very high RPI. Compare the non-con teams we have played to those in the higher echelon of teams ranked right now. Check out www.kenpom.com and look at the current stats and SOS. Compare to teams such as Baylor, Ohio St, Purdue, Villanova, etc. Even now, the stats have us ranked higher than K-state. We just have to be good at our strengths of defense and pass the rock around. We can't stand around like we did against UCSB.

  19. Agree that the bigs are important but the more I watch the Rebs the more I understand that the bigs cannot "step up" unless we modify our offense somewhat. We must have post touches for Q, Brice and Carlos. All of them have shown that they can be somewhat effective on the blocks if they get the ball. Are they going to dominate? No, but they can at least collapse the defense and give our shooters better looks and driving opportunities. Our bigs cannot get better if they are not utilized. Until we play more inside out our bigs can not step up and we will be prone to lose games when our guards are shooting contested shots. Runnin' Rebs!

  20. Gumbie is exactly right.

  21. IMO if we want more production from our bigs, we can't pull them immediately after their 1st foul. You can't get into the groove of the game like that. Pull em after the second foul or when they're gassed.

    Wade, I think the perfect time to play K-State would be after they win a couple of blow out games. They struggled for their last couple of wins, so there won't be any slack from them. They know they have to step it up. Should be a great game regardless.

    I also wish Bob Knight was calling the game. I've learned more about basketball listening to him as a commentator than I've learned in the past 10 years.

  22. I don't think kruger really wants more out of the bigs than a combined double double. So there is a little room for constancy growth. But Kruger likes more out of the Guards and wings. Our team(unlv) isn't looking for the next LSU shaq just bigs by commity and better guard play. Or maybe a durant who can be big and a guard.

  23. I just want to hear Vitale call Chase Stanback a "PTP baby" in route to a UNLV victory.