Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.
Las Vegas is the place to be on this Friday night before Christmas. Sin City hosts three quality basketball games at two different venues this evening .
California @ #20 UNLV – 5:00 PM EST on CBS Sports Network (****)
- Chace Stanback was simply fantastic for the Runnin’ Rebels on Monday against Louisiana-Monroe, scoring 29 points on 10-13 shooting (including 8-9 from downtown). UNLV needs its swingman to have another solid game against a very good California team. The Rebels play fast and shoot lots of threes but Mike Moser can have the biggest impact on the game in the post. When Moser is playing well, it’s so much easier for Dave Rice’s team to get open looks from deep. Playing that inside-outside game with good distributors at the guard position in Anthony Marshall and Oscar Bellfield, UNLV has no problem getting into an up-and-down game where it’s often easier for them to make shots in transition. The Rebels are a well-balanced team capable of hanging plenty of points on the opposition.
- California has been dealing with plenty of health issues recently. Senior leaders Jorge Gutierrez and Harper Kamp have been fighting illnesses while Richard Solomon is out with a stress fracture. Gutierrez and Kamp should play tonight and that will be important as the Golden Bears need to show poise in a tough environment on the road. Guards Gutierrez and Justin Cobbs need to play smart and control the tempo by protecting the ball and running efficient half court sets. Cobbs had 25 points on 10-12 FG against UC Santa Barbara on Monday for the 10-2 Golden Bears. California doesn’t shoot many threes but Allen Crabbe is a big time deep threat for Mike Montgomery. The budding sophomore hits on 45.8% of his triples and represents a major threat to a UNLV defense ranked #205 against the three-ball.
- Cal’s two losses have come against the better teams on its schedule. This is another chance for the Golden Bears to prove they’re the best team in a watered down Pac-12, something they’ve yet to do in convincing fashion. California has a strong interior defense led by Kamp and freshman David Kravish, although the absence of Solomon could cause problems if Cal’s big men get in foul trouble. Cal needs to control the backboards against Moser and company. If Gutierrez and Cobbs can control tempo, Cal will have a good chance to pull off the road victory. One area to watch is if Cal can keep UNLV off the foul line. The Golden Bears have the #4 defensive free throw rate, an important statistic against a Rebels team that shoots 73.4% from the stripe. With all of that being said however, it’s hard to predict a Golden Bears victory in what should be a raucous Thomas and Mack Center. California hasn’t proven it can win a big game yet and until they do, UNLV has to be the choice.
#5 Baylor vs. West Virginia (at Las Vegas, NV) – 9:00 PM EST on ESPN (****)