UNLV BASKETBALL:

A closer look at the 76 Classic field

UNLV, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma State are likely favorites to go 3-0 in 8-team tournament

Thursday's 76 Classic First Round Match-ups

11:30 A.M. Virginia Tech vs. Cal State Northridge (ESPNU)

1:30 P.M. DePaul vs. Oklahoma State (ESPN2)

6:00 P.M. Murray State vs. Stanford (ESPNU)

8:30 P.M. UNLV vs. Tulsa (ESPN2)

The field at this year's 76 Classic will be a step up from what UNLV faces last season when making a much longer journey to Honolulu over Christmas for the Diamond Head Classic.

But as was the case for their holiday tournament a year ago, the Rebels will head to Anaheim, Calif., as one of the favorites to bring home some hardware (UNLV lost to Southern Cal in the title game last December, 67-56).

Here's a closer look at the rest of the field in this weekend's event.

Virginia Tech

Record: 2-1

Last Game: Def. UNC-Greensboro, 92-70

The Stud: Senior guard Malcolm Delaney — 21.7 ppg, 3.7 apg, 3.3 rpg

Under eighth-year coach Seth Greenberg, the Hokies in recent years have been 'that' team, constantly landing on the NCAA tournament bubble but ultimately ending up in the NIT. Many observers expect that unfortunate run to end this year, as Virginia Tech suits up maybe its most talented group of the Greenberg tenure.

Senior guard Malcolm Delaney is the unquestioned alpha dog on this team. Last year's top scorer in the ACC is off to a strong start so far as a senior. Senior forward Jeff Allen is averaging 12 points and 8.7 rebounds through three games, and as long as he can stay out of foul trouble, makes the Hokies formidable against any front line.

The achilles heel for Virginia Tech as a whole, though, is the aforementioned fouling issue. In the team's first three games, the Hokes have totaled 69 fouls. That's an average of 23 a contest ... or 11.5 a half ... or a good chance opponents will end up in the double bonus. In a tournament setting, that can be a killer.

Oklahoma State

Record: 3-0

Last Game: Def. Nicholls State, 76-56

The Stud: Senior forward Marshall Moses — 16.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg

In the three years that Travis Ford has been at the helm at Oklahoma State, the Cowboys have been one of college basketball's best-kept secrets. They've made two NCAA tourney appearances, and appear poised for a third in 2010-11.

He's assembled a talented group, but until this week, it's one that has yet to be tested following the loss of super-scorer James Anderson, who was a first round pick in this summer's NBA draft.

Attempting to fill that void is 6-foot-6 senior forward Marshall Moses, who through three games has doubled his scoring average from last season. The effort is led by junior Keiton Page, who has played big minutes ever since arriving in Stillwater and can shoot the 3-pointer well from his point guard spot.

Still, it will be interesting to see how the Cowboys react to their first real test of the season, which could end up coming in Saturday's semifinals against Virginia Tech.

Murray State Racers

Record: 2-1

Last Game: Def. Reinhardt, 84-70

The Stud: Sophomore guard Isaiah Canaan — 11.7 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.3 apg

Murray State came within two points of upsetting eventual national runner-up Butler last March and advancing to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tournament as a 13-seed.

The entire core of that team isn't back this year, but a big enough portion of it is to make the Racers again dangerous. It makes their opening round match-up against a young Stanford team very interesting.

An interesting upstart for the Racers is 6-foot-3 junior guard Donte Poole. He's averaging 11.3 points and 3.3 rebounds a game this season, and is a former Mojave High teammate of UNLV sophomore guard Anthony Marshall.

Stanford Cardinal

Record: 3-0

Last Game: Def. Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 92-49

The Stud: Junior guard Jeremy Green — 14.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg

This team might be the most interesting one to watch over the course of the weekend. The Cardinal are 3-0 with an impressive 21-point blowout of Virginia on the resumé so far.

But what makes Johnny Dawkins' team so intriguing is the fact that he has 10 freshmen and no seniors on his roster.

A lot of their success in this tournament will hinge on how those newbies react around the duo of sophomore guard Jeremy Green and junior forward Andrew Zimmerman.

Tulsa Golden Hurricane

Record: 2-1

Last Game: Def. Missouri State, 62-50

The Stud: Senior guard Justin Hurtt — 18.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.0 apg

The Rebels' opening round game against Tulsa on Thanksgiving night could turn out being tougher than their Friday night contest against either Stanford or Murray State.

Tulsa suffered a tough 89-86 loss to Appalachian State in its season opener, but has two big wins since. The Golden Hurricane downed Oral Roberts, 83-68, on national TV during ESPN's 24-hour hoops marathon, then knocked off Missouri State, one of the Missouri Valley's top teams, 62-50.

The Golden Hurricane is very top-heavy, but the top is producing at a high level right now. Senior guard Justin Hurtt (18.7 ppg), sophomore guard Scottie Haralson (15 ppg) and freshman guard Jordan Clarkson (12.7) can all get hot from the outside, while 6-foot-11 Steven Idlet is averaging 16 points a game. UNLV coach Lon Kruger called Idlet the most skilled low-post scorer the Rebels will face to this point in the season.

DePaul Blue Demons

Record: 1-1

Last Game: Lost to Western Carolina, 69-64

The Stud: Freshman guard Brandon Young — 13.5 ppg, 5.5 apg

It's truly a rebuilding year for DePaul under first-year coach Oliver Purnell, who left for Chicago following a successful run at Clemson. He's building a nice recruiting class for next season, but for the time being has given freshman point guard Brandon Young every opportunity to make it his team. Young is averaging 13.5 points and 5.5 assists over the Blue Demons' first two games.

What will make DePaul worth a watch is that the team has bought into Purnell's fast-paced, up-and-down style. In their first game of the season, the Blue Demons scored 114 points on Chicago State.

Cal State Northridge Matadors

Record: 1-2

Last Game: Def. Vanguard, 109-66

The Stud: Senior guard Rashaun McLemore — 15.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg

The host school enters the 76 Classic not expected to do a whole lot of anything, but its first round game against Virginia Tech should be interesting, as the Matadors are more tested early than maybe any of the other seven teams. Their first three games of the season included a 33-point loss at UCLA, then a 17-point letdown at Cal four days later.

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