The 5th and 7th place teams in the Mountain West Conference will meet tonight as San Jose State will head to UNLV to take on the Rebels. With only a few games left in the season, the importance of conference tournament seeding is becoming a bigger factor, and we’ll preview the game before going over my two plays for the action.
After a five-point win at home over Utah State, the SJSU Spartans are back to .500 in conference play. The Spartans have not been able to put any long stretches of solid play together in MWC play, as after winning their first two Mountain West games, they have yet to have another win streak, and across their past six games, they are 3-3.
On the season, the Spartans have an offensive efficiency rating of 110.8, ranked 70th in the country, according to KenPom. However, in three of their last four games, SJSU has scored 69 or fewer points and primarily relied on leading scorer Omari Moore to carry the team on that end of the floor. Moore put up 27 points in the Spartans' most recent win, meaning he was responsible for a little over 39% of the team's offense.
The offensive inconsistency has not fully hurt the teams' record, mainly because of the Spartans' defensive play over the past five games. In three of their last five games, the Spartans have held opponents to 64 points or less, and in their most recent win, they held a sharpshooting Utah State team to 33% from beyond the arc.
Their opponent tonight has also struggled with offensive inconsistency, but UNLV can light up the scoreboard on any given night. The Rebels rank 101st in the country in offensive efficiency, according to KenPom, but much like SJSU has an elite-level scorer in EJ Harkless.
The big question for the Rebels tonight is which defense will show up, as in two of their last three games, they have allowed 82 points, but on the season, they rank 71st in the country in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.
San Jose State can currently be found as +7.5 point underdogs, and I’ll be backing them for my first play in this one. The Spartans beat the Rebels by three in their first meeting this season, and over the past seven match-ups between these two teams, the road team is 5-2 ATS. Additionally, the Spartans are 9-7 ATS this season when listed as underdogs.
The Spartans hold a significant advantage on the boards tonight as they have the 24th-best offensive rebounding percentage in the country, while UNLV ranks 313th in defensive rebounding percentage. A large part of the Spartans' most recent win was due to their ability to bring down 14 offensive rebounds in the game, and if they can replicate that tonight, they should be able to stick in the game offensively.
UNLV’s biggest strength has been their ability to force turnovers, as they lead the country in forced turnovers per game; however, in the last meeting between these teams, the Rebels only forced SJSU to have 12 turnovers. If the Spartans can protect the ball in a similar fashion tonight and win the rebounding battle, I think this will be a close game.
The point total for this game can be found at 140 points, and for my second play in this one, I’ll be taking the over. The over is 13-5 when UNLV is listed as a favorite this season and 7-4 when the Spartans are on the road.
UNLV runs at the 63rd-highest tempo in the country and has shown the ability to force teams to play at their pace when at home. Neither side shot the ball particularly well in the last meeting between these two teams, but with the way Omari Moore and EJ Harkless have been scoring, that is likely to change tonight.
San Jose State +7.5