UNLV has some guys that Arizona fans are familiar with, and some that we aren't so familiar with, so we went to Mountain West Connection's UNLV basketball expert Ea Madrigal to get the inside scoop before Saturday night's game.
1. Dave Rice is a great recruiter but not the best in-game coach. Is patience running out within the fanbase after yet another collapse earlier this week?
Ea: "Collapse" - Harsh, but true. Wednesday night was one of the most frustrating games of the season, thus far, and maybe even of the Dave Rice era. A water bottle thrown on the court, fans walking out of Thomas and Mack with a minute or so left in the game. I'd say the fans are very frustrated. But, fans (of any team) are often prisoners of the moment. Prior to the season, there may have been some Rice "doubters", but suddenly after a big win against Oregon a couple weeks ago, Rice was heralded. Then, after Wednesday night, Rice was vilified again. There's no doubt that Rice is a fantastic talent recruiter. But, there are some questions with the level of effort by his players at times and certainly issues with decision making during game time situations. I'd say, patience is definitely running out on behalf of fans, especially for those who thought bringing Rice to the helm at UNLV would bring back "glory days." But, each year, his team's record digresses and each year more fans are calling for his ousting. This is a critical season for Rice and his imprint for UNLV basketball.
2. Arizona fans and Sean Miller are very familiar with Stephen Zimmerman. What has been the best part of his game as he transitions to the college level?
Ea: Zimmerman has, obviously, been a wonderful addition for the Rebels this season. It's been quite some time that UNLV truly had a big man at center, and it's been an even longer time since they've had a skilled big man who has some mid-range capabilities as well. Questions surround his overall physicality, and he certainly needs to build up his upper body strength in order to be a lethal threat in the future. Rebel fans have a faint hope that he might stay for a second season and work on some of this, but already, he's projected as a first round NBA draft pick on several websites; so, who knows. UNLV fans will enjoy his presence while he's there, especially because he's a home town guy which makes him a crowd favorite - something that former Rebel guard Anthony Marshall experienced a few years ago during his time on the team. As Zimmerman continues to make the transition to the college level, he's continued to advance the variety of his post moves (something that will only benefit the team as the season goes forward).
3. Who's a guy outside of Zimmerman and Patrick McCaw that could have a big impact on this game?
Ea: I'm so glad you mentioned Pat McCaw. This guy is a game changer and is rarely talked about on a national level, maybe because of strength or even size. I see him in the future as an Austin Rivers-type guard, who I hope, gets a shot someday in the NBA - an ideal bench contributor at that level. Outside of Zimmerman and McCaw, Vegas is very lucky this year to have a lot of depth. Ike Nwamu, a great outside shooter. Obviously, Derrick Jones, Jr. who most of us have heard of before because of his constant highlight dunks (although casual fans overlook that he is also a quality forward in his own right). But, the player who has truly impressed me and could make a large impact in the game against U of A is Ben Carter. Carter, an Oregon transfer, is a highly skilled 4/5. I've been impressed both with his basketball IQ as well as with his assertiveness on the court. Coming off the bench, he's truly been an unsung hero, and I'd actually like to see Rice remove Dwayne Morgan from the starting line-up and replace him with Carter (who is more efficient on both sides of the ball).
4. What's your prediction for how this game plays out?
Ea: A couple weeks ago in a previous article, I made some predictions for how the tough 5-game stretch would end up for UNLV (ending with the Arizona game). I was perfect in my predictions until the Rebels laid an egg Wednesday at home against ASU. My last of the 5-game prediction was that the Rebels would lose at Arizona. I think Arizona is just playing too cohesively and with the kind of experience that this young Rebel squad just doesn't seem to have, yet. However, I will say that the loss at home vs. ASU has to sting for UNLV players and there might be a little bit of retribution that goes into their effort against the Wildcats on Saturday. You know as well as I do that U of A vs. UNLV match-ups are almost always high-intensity affairs. Undoubtedly, the Wildcats have the advantage, especially because Dave Rice UNLV teams do not play well on the road; so, nothing in me would be shocked if Arizona came away with a double digit victory. But, this is the final game of that rough five game stretch for the Rebels and the second-to-last non-conference game of their season. A win for UNLV would rectify their home loss to ASU and be a great notch on their March tourney resume.