The San Diego State Aztecs are in Las Vegas to take on the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels in a Sunday afternoon game of Mountain West basketball. The Aztecs enter this game undefeated at 20-0 and are 6.5-point favorites on the road in this matchup.
Aztecs’ Magical Run
At this point in the season, the Aztecs have a real shot to go undefeated through the regular season without too much stopping them from doing so. They have yet to play a ranked team this season, and they do not have one left on their schedule.
There will obviously be questions about the Aztecs’ strength of schedule entering the NCAA Tournament, but there is no doubt that an undefeated season in a year with so much chaos would land them a No. 1 seed and the easiest path possible.
The most impressive part of this run by San Diego State is its lack of close calls to this point, especially as it has advanced throughout the season. The Aztecs had a five-point win over BYU very early and a two-point win over San Jose State, but other than that, they really haven’t been in a tight game with a minute remaining.
Runnin’ Rebels Rebound?
UNLV enters this game with an 11-10 record that may make this game look like a blowout waiting to happen, but the Runnin’ Rebels have won seven of their last nine games and are currently second in the Mountain West standings.
This hot streak is due in part to a tough early-season schedule before conference play really kicked in, but it is also a result of the Rebels playing better of late. They had losses to Power 5 teams in overtime early in the season, but they also had losses to teams like Pacific and Texas State.
Keys to the Game
These teams are both slightly above average in terms of points per game with the Aztecs checking in around 90th and the Rebels ranking about 40 spots behind them. The difference is their efficiency on the offensive end of the floor. San Diego State ranks 15th in the country in points per possession, while UNLV is just 96th.
To add to that point even more, the Aztecs are the fourth-best team in the country in defensive efficiency, while the Rebels are 202nd in that metric. While the raw offensive numbers are similar, the Aztecs’ defensive prowess separates them from the Rebels statistically.
The best way to beat the Aztecs is to slow the game down and make shots at a high rate in your halfcourt offense, and this is something that UNLV has really struggled with this season. UNLV is the 252nd in three-point shooting this season, and it is just above average inside the arc.
The biggest issue is that the Rebels do not even have one single player above 37 percent from beyond the arc this season, while the Aztecs average 37.4 percent.
When you aren’t a great shooting team, you often look towards size discrepancies, but the Aztecs are also the bigger team down low for the most part, and the Rebels really do not use their size to score in the paint even when they are the bigger team.
These teams average basically the same number of defensive rebounds per game, but the lone edge I see for the Rebels is their willingness to crash the offensive glass.
UNLV is a top 15 team in the country in offensive rebounds per game, while the Aztecs are 229th. This is only a difference of about four rebounds, and that difference may come due to the lack of shooting on the Rebels and their increased opportunities, but it is something that they can try to exploit in this game.
This line is not one that I love simply because it’s not easy for a 20-0 team to travel to a team that’s won seven of nine and win with relative ease. Despite that, I’ll lay the 6.5 here with the Aztecs. They are just more complete on both ends of the floor, and we would need to see a UNLV weakness beat a San Diego State strength just to see this game stay close. I think the Aztecs win by double digits.