(5) UNLV vs. (12) California
(5) UNLV Rebels
The Running Rebels (25-9, 10-6) are making their third straight NCAA Tournament appearance and their second under head coach Dave Rice. They’re led by one of the best freshman in the country in Anthony Bennett. Bennett, who frequently draws comparisons to former UNLV great Larry Johnson, has established himself as a top prospect for the 2013 NBA Draft with averages of 16 points and eight rebounds a game. While Bennett is one of the best players in the tournament, the Rebels have struggled when they’re overly reliant on him. They would be greatly aided if junior forward Mike Moser could revert back to his pre-injury form. He’s still not 100 percent, but was regularly flirting with double-doubles down the stretch. Collectively, the Rebels are an unselfish team that averages nearly 17 assists a night. But, they do struggle with turnovers, giving it up 14 times on average. That and their inconsistent three-point shooting are two of their main concerns going into the tournament. They finished the season with a top 25 RPI ranking, boasting a 7-4 mark against teams in the top 50. The Rebels are looking to snap a five-year drought without a win in the tournament.
(12) California Golden Bears
The Golden Bears (20-11, 12-6) looked like they were peaking at the right time, winning seven straight games before dropping their last two to non-tournament teams. They did just enough to earn their second straight bid to the NCAA Tournament, though. This is a team that has aspirations of winning multiple games in the big dance for the first time since 1997, so they are going to need to bounce back quickly from their little mini slump. The Golden Bears rely heavily on Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs, their juniors on the perimeter. They combine to average 34 points, 9.5 rebounds and seven assist a game. As a group the Golden Bears average 67 points a game while allowing 64. They went 5-5 against the RPI top 25, defeating Arizona on the road in their biggest win of the season. The Golden Bears made just four threes a game during the regular season; only 12 D-I teams averaged less. The formula for them to advance is simple. Crabbe and Cobbs need to be the best players on the floor like they are capable of. Their supporting case will need to play their roles well also. Teams are going to try to bait them into shooting from distance, which they’ll have to be ready to combat.
HOOPSWORLD’s Pick: UNLV. This is a virtual home game for the Golden Bears, but the Rebels beat them at home once already this season and we’re going to go with them being able to do so again.