The third and final game of a New Year's Day tripleheader of college basketball on CBS will see San Diego State (8-3) face UNLV (8-5) in the first Mountain West game of the season for both teams Saturday. As conference play gets fired up, there is a distinct separation between the MWC's two tiers as five teams sit within the top-65 of the NET rankings and the other six are at No. 135 or lower. UNLV falls in the latter category at No. 136, but the Rebels will have home court advantage and are entering on a four-game winning streak.
UNLV knocked off Seattle, Hartford, Omaha and San Diego by at least 13 points each over the past four contests to flip the script after a 4-5 start. First-year coach Kevin Kruger was promoted from within and did a solid job of surrounding star guard Bryce Hamilton with productive transfers. As they continue to gel together, the Rebels could end up belonging with the league's top half and not the bottom half.
The Aztecs are still figuring things out offensively with last season's leading scorers Jordan Schakel and Matt Mitchell departed. But defensively, they are allowing only 58.5 points per game, which is 18th nationally. Veteran big man Nathan Mensah is a big reason why. Mensah is leading the Mountain West with 2.4 blocks per game. Cal transfer Matt Bradley is leading the way on offense with 14.7 points per game but is shooting just 27.5% from 3-point range after making 40.2% of his 3-pointers during three seasons with the Bears. As Bradley gets going, SDSU will improve and potentially compete for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid.
How to watch San Diego State vs. UNLV live
San Diego State vs. UNLV prediction, picks
It's the first game since Dec. 22 for both teams, so don't be surprised if tired legs lead to some erratic offense on both sides. The kicker here is San Diego State's elite defense, which is holding opponents to just 58.5 points per game. The Aztecs should be able to fire the defense right back up and stifle UNLV's offense. Prediction: San Diego State 65, UNLV 58
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