Historically, the Arizona Wildcats have struggled against the UNLV Rebels.
UNLV leads the all-time series 12-8 and is 8-1 against Arizona in Las Vegas. Even when Arizona is great and UNLV is not — see the 2014-15 game — the Wildcats have trouble beating the Rebels.
The two teams will match up again this Saturday in Las Vegas (8 p.m. MST, CBS Sports Network). UNLV is coming off an 11-21 campaign, but appears to be much-improved this year in Marvin Menzies’ second season, opening with a 6-1 record.
It was selected to finish sixth in the Mountain West Conference.
UNLV hasn’t had a tough schedule, but did beat Utah by 27 points. Its lone loss was an overtime defeat to Northern Iowa in a true road game.
So what type of team are the Rebels this year? A pretty solid one so far. Let’s take a look.
UNLV averages 92.3 points per game with the No. 30 offensive efficiency in the country.
The Rebels are an uptempo team, averaging just 13.9 seconds per possession, the sixth-quickest pace in college basketball.
UNLV is a decent 3-point shooting team, making 36.7 of its attempts, but it takes an abnormally low number of them. The Rebels are 330th (of 351) in college basketball in 3-point rate.
Instead, UNLV does most of its damage in the paint. Freshman 7-footer Brandon McCoy, a former McDonald’s All-American who Arizona recruited, is averaging 18.6 points per game on 60.7 percent shooting. He is also dominant on the glass, averaging 12.1 rebounds per game (3.6 of the offensive variety).
McCoy along with 6-foot-7 forwards Shakur Juiston and Tervell Beck are why the Rebels are the ninth-best offensive rebounding team in the country this season. Northern Iowa held the Rebels to just nine offensive rebounds, however.
Juiston starts alongside McCoy and averages 13.1 points and a team-best 13.0 rebounds per game on 62.7 percent shooting. Surrounding the frontcourt are guards Jordan Johnson, Jovan Mooring, and Kris Clyburn.
All three are capable shooters. Johnson and Mooring are both averaging 14.6 points per game and shooting 42.3 percent and 34.8 percent from 3, respectively.
Clyburn, who starts at the 3, shoots 41.7 percent from 3.
A 5-foot-11 guard, Johnson is UNLV’s main facilitator, averaging 7.6 assists per game. He is also great at scoring at the basket, shooting a blistering 76.5 percent at the rim. Mooring shoots over 66 percent at the rim, so Arizona’s rim-protection will be tested.
Johnson can get turnover prone, as his assist-to-turnover ratio is barely over 2 to 1. He had six turnovers in UNLV’s loss to Northern Iowa.
The Rebels had 20 turnovers in that game, which isn’t that uncharacteristic of them as they average over 15 per contest.
UNLV doesn’t get much scoring or shooting from its bench. Beck leads the unit at 7.6 PPG.
The Rebels are effective in transition — an area Arizona has had issues defending — but cool down considerably in the halfcourt as you can see from these splits.
UNLV allows 70 points per game, and has 36th-most efficient defense in the country.
UNLV is holding teams to the lowest effective field goal percentage in the country (eFG% is a stat that adjusts for the fact 3-point shots are worth one more point than 2-point shots).
Why? Well, the Rebels are tremendous at defending the 3-ball, limiting teams to a 23.4 shooting percentage from beyond the arc. Northern Iowa shot 2-14 from 3 against UNLV; Utah shot 2-20.
Like Arizona, UNLV has trouble forcing turnovers. The Rebels are 300th in opponent turnover percentage. The Wildcats are 225th.
And despite being an elite offensive rebounding team, UNLV doesn’t rebound nearly as well on defense, rating 180th in the country in defensive rebounding percentage.
Aside from that, UNLV doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses. It defends in transition well and guards well at all three levels of the court.
Juiston is statistically the team’s best defender and 7-footers Chieckna Dembele and MBacke Diong come off the bench and swat shots.
Arizona’s offense has not been nearly as good away from Tucson this season, and its execution will have to be pristine — certainly better than it was in the Bahamas — to come away with a win in Las Vegas.
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire