Portland State (0-0) at UNLV (0-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Friday, November 8, 10:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Thomas & Mack Center (18,500) -- Las Vegas, Nevada. Television: MWN, UNLVRebels.com. Home Record: PSU 0-0, UNLV 0-0. Away Record: PSU 0-0, UNLV 0-0. Neutral Record: PSU 0-0, UNLV 0-0. Conference Record: PSU 0-0, UNLV 0-0. Series Record: UNLV leads, 7-1.
GAME NOTES: A dominating team in the desert, the UNLV Runnin' Rebels kick off the 2013-14 season tonight at the Thomas & Mack Center as they host the Portland State Vikings.
An impressive 19-3 in their own building a year ago, the Rebels finished 25-10 overall, but just 10-6 against the rest of the Mountain West Conference. Under head coach Dave Rice, UNLV has won 51 games in his first two years, the best start by any coach in program history, although the squad did fall short of expectations a season ago when it lost to New Mexico in the conference tournament, and then bowed to California in the NCAA Tournament.
One of two teams in the Big Sky Conference to finish with single-digit victories overall, Portland State figures to have yet another difficult campaign here in 2013-14. Last season, the Vikings won just three games outside of conference play and posted a 5-15 league ledger, the latter tying the team with Idaho State for last place in the standings.
The Rebels, who lost star forward Anthony Bennett to the NBA Draft, lead the all-time series by a count of 7-1, with all but one of those meetings taking place in Las Vegas. The most recent encounter was in 2002 when Charlie Spoonhour's UNLV squad posted a 69-54 victory in the Thomas & Mack.
Head coach Tyler Geving knows that his PSU squad has the ability to be successful, after posting a 17-15 mark just two years ago, but with only two returning starters the Vikings will be put to the test each and every time they hit the hardwood. Senior forward Aaron Moore will draw plenty of attention from opponents after leading the program in scoring (13.2 ppg), rebounding (7.1 rpg) and blocked shots (26) while being named an All-Big Sky Honorable Mention selection.
While Moore takes care of business in the paint, Gary Winston should be shaking things up out on the perimeter where he led the league in three-point shooting at 47.0 percent. Andre Winston figures to get more playing time as one of the other key returning scorers (7.0 ppg), but there's no guarantee he'll be able to break into the starting lineup for a team that struggled on defense with 72.8 ppg allowed (310th nationally).
Despite having six freshmen on the roster, UNLV is still expected to be a force in the MWC again this season, which may say more about the other talent in the league than it does about the strength of the Rebels. Junior forward Khem Birch was selected as the 2012-13 MWC Defensive Player of the Year and is again expected to perform his duties against the opposition accordingly. A member of the All-MWC Preseason Team, Birch was responsible for 3.0 blocks per game in league play and was also good for 7.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per contest, which means the Rebels will have to find someone else to be the leader in the scoring department this year.
Because of the efforts of Birch, UNLV ranked eighth in the nation in blocked shots with close to six per game, but they'll need more than that to be competitive. Bryce Dejean-Jones figures to be helpful on offense, although he is the only returning player to have averaged double-digit points (10.3 ppg), which means opposing defenses might key on him more than anyone else. Experts are targeting Kendall Smith as the preseason freshman of the year in the MWC after averaging 27.5 points, 6.7 assists, 5.4 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game as a senior in high school.
Unless the Vikings have been holding back some secrets from the preseason, there seems to be no reason to believe UNLV can be upset at home tonight.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: UNLV 81, Portland State 65
11/08 10:40:50 ET