UNLV vs. California: NCAA Tournament East Regional Odds Preview and Prediction

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UNLV vs. California: NCAA Tournament East Regional Odds Preview and Prediction
Jeff Bottari/Getty Images
UNLV's Anthony Bennett and the Runnin' Rebels will face California on Thursday in their Eastern Regional opener in the NCAA Tournament in San Jose.

 

Who: UNLV vs. California
What: NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, East Regional second round
Where: HP Pavilion at San Jose, California
When: Thursday, March 21, 2013
Time: 7:27 p.m. ET/4:27 p.m. PT
Television: truTV (Las Vegas Cox 54, 1054)
Local Radio: ESPN 1100 (Las Vegas) Live Stream
Satellite Radio: SiriusXM channel 92
UNLV: Roster  | Schedule ~ California: Roster | Schedule

Odds: UNLV -2½
Total: 131
Money Line Odds: UNLV -145, California +125
Odds To Win NCAA Championship:
UNLV 100/1, California 300/1 (ViewFromVegas.com Futures Link)
Source: LVH SuperBook (Las Vegas, Nevada)

 

When these two schools met in the regular season, UNLV edged California 76-75 at the Haas Pavilion on a last-second shot by Quintrell Thomas. This Eastern Regional showdown in San Jose on Thursday should be just as thrilling and competitive.

California (No. 12, 20-11) should benefit a bit from the site here, as it will be playing its first tourney in the Pacific time zone since 1950, just a little more than an hour away from the Golden Bears' campus in Berkeley.

Pac-12 Player of the Year Allen Crabbe (18.7 ppg) leads the way for Cal and has a dynamite running-mate in the backcourt in Justin Cobbs (15.5 ppg). The two juniors combined to be the highest scoring duo in the conference with an average of 34.2 points per game.

UNLV vs. California: March Madness Preview

But as potent a scoring threat as Crabbe (44th in the nation) and Cobbs will pose to the No. 5-seed UNLV (25-9), it’s the Golden Bears' defense that the boys from Sin City will have to worry about.

Cal is holding opponents to a Pac-12-low 39.6 shooting percentage from the field and is allowing just 64.4 points per game—the Bears' lowest average point total in the last 28 years—so if UNLV is to find a way to win and advance, it will have to be fairly accurate from the field.

In the paint, Cal’s Richard Solomon (8.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and David Kravish (6.9 rpg, 1.7 bpg) provide a pretty big presence, but with freshman sensation Anthony Bennett (16.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg), junior Mike Moser (7.2 ppg) and the dynamic shot-blocker and rebounder Khem Birch, UNLV should be able to dominate underneath if it can just concentrate on doing so.

Bennett, who just celebrated his 20th birthday a week ago and is being tabbed by many basketball experts as a top-five NBA lottery pick, is a huge reason the Runnin’ Rebels rank sixth in the nation in rebounding and have the kind of expectations that haven’t been had around Sin City in over 20 years.

At guard for UNLV, the electric combination of Anthony Marshall (10.5 ppg), Katin Reinhardt (10.1 ppg) and Bryce Dejean-Jones (9.9 ppg) provide a balanced scoring attack, but much of their energy should be used in trying to keep the Golden Bears’ Crabbe (34.9 percent from three-point range) and Cobbs in check.

Jeff Bottari/Getty Images
UNLV's superb guard troika of Bryce Dejean-Jones, Anthony Marshall and Katin Reinhardt will have to be at their best for the Runnin Rebels to defeat Cal in their Eastern Regional opener on Thursday.

Should Cal’s guards be scoring a bit too easily for the Runnin’ Rebels' tastes, UNLV head coach Dave Rice can always bring in senior Justin Hawkins to provide an experienced and calming effect on his younger teammates.

Despite the excitement of this being the first game of the tournament and so many talented scorers on the floor, expect defense to rule the day in a game that might bear a striking resemblance to the December meeting, with each possession being worth its weight in gold.

Cal has allowed less than 60 points in its last four games—all wins—and if UNLV is to represent the now high-profile Mountain West Conference properly, it will have to dominate the boards and stymie the Golden Bears' prolific backcourt.

Expect Cal head coach Mike Montgomery to employ a zone defense in this rematch against UNLV, which has had trouble advancing in this tournament in recent years.

But should the young Canadian and Findlay Prep product Bennett be in “beast mode,” the rims at the HP Pavilion had better be screwed on real tight as very few opponents have found a way to stymie Bennett when he is in a groove.

Who will win this Eastern Regional tourney opener?

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The play of UNLV’s Marshall—who turns 22 today—and Cal’s Crabbe will also be worth watching, but if the Runnin’ Rebels' first-year guys Bennett, Birch, Reinhardt and Dejean-Jones are on, it could be a very long afternoon for the Golden Bears.

But like most important UNLV games, this one should go down to the wire with a late clutch shot determining who moves on and who goes home.

The winner will play the Syracuse vs. Montana (truTV, 9:57 p.m. ET/6:57 p.m. PT) winner in San Jose on Saturday, with the winner of that game advancing to the Sweet 16 (regional semifinals) at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. on March 28.

 

PREDICTION: UNLV 59 California 57

BETS: UNLV -145 (money line), Under 131

 

>Follow me on Twitter : @KevinStott11

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