No offense to Portland State but for Kansas, the NCAA tournament begins today. Until history is made a one seed toppling a 16 seed is a foregone conclusion in NCAA play. KU is set to take on an upstart UNLV team that many think just might’ve been the best team in the Mountain West.
The eighth seeded Rebels will not sneak up on this KU team especially
after Kansas coaches had a front row seat to UNLV’s first
round destruction of Kent State. The Jayhawks are also well aware that
just a year ago Lon Kruger’s Rebels took down second-seeded
Wisconsin on their way to a Sweet 16. All five starters from that squad
are gone, but this year’s team presents a whole new set of
challenges for KU – challenges that Kansas head coach Bill Self admitted are “unique”.
Las Vegas is known for glitz and glamour but this UNLV team is all
about blue-collar work. They’re not the most talented bunch,
they certainly have weaknesses but this Rebel team never stops working.
Lon Kruger’s squad plays a suffocating man-to-man defense
that forces a ton of steals. Thursday Kruger’s vaunted
“D” held Kent State to just 10 points in the first
half – it tied an NCAA record for lowest points in a half.
“That just shows how well UNLV pressures. And they pressure a
lot. But, you know, they had Kent State a little bit out of their
comfort zone. It's something we can't allow them to do to
us,” according to Sherron Collins. “We have to
absorb the pressure and run the offense and get around the pressure. I
think we have guards that are good enough to handle that
“I don't know that we played against anybody that defends or
are in the right spots or positions better than what I saw UNLV do
against Kent State the other day,” Self continued.
“They totally took Kent State out of the offensive sets
before they even crossed half-court with their positioning playing so
high on the floor, and their pieces are interchangeable defensively,
because they can switch ball screens.”
“I think our guys recognized early that our identity needed
to start on the defensive end. They bought into it and accepted it and
took pride in it,” stated Kruger.
On offense his team values the basketball averaging less than 11
turnovers per game coming into the NCAA tournament. The Rebels boast
one of the nation’s top assist-to-turnover ratios at +1.4 but
did turn it over 19 times Thursday against Kent State. If
Kruger’s team does that against Kansas, he knows the Rebels
As is usually the case, a matchup that can be exploited on one end
turns into a disadvantage at the other end. The Jayhawks have the size
advantage in this one and the Rebels play without a traditional post
presence. The tallest player on Kruger’s roster is 6-8, Matt Shaw but UNLV will present issues for KU’s big man on
“I think it's going to be tough on us in terms of guarding
them because they can really shoot it,” said 6-11 Sasha Kaun.
“We're not really used to guarding the perimeter as much for
bigs and I think it's going to be a tough matchup there.”
“It's unique because we're more of a traditional team and
they're not traditional at all with their size, and it's a tribute to
Lon because he's a fabulous coach and he's definitely got them in the
right spots,” said Self.
Don’t confuse the Rebels lack of height for lack of
athleticism or strength because there are plenty of both on this squad.
Shooting the three is surely a key to success for UNLV and for the
Rebels it all starts with 6-0 guard Wink Adams (15.5 ppg). Adams is
streaky and you can never count him out of a game as he can heat up at
anytime. Senior Curtis Terry stands 6-5 and is the man who makes the
Rebels go averaging more than five assists per game (11.5 ppg, 4.6
apg). Joe Darger is the third Rebel who averages in double-figures
(11.2 ppg). Darger went 7-11 from the floor (including 4-8 from three)
at Kent State and scored a game-high 18 points.
6-6 Renee Rougeau leads the Rebels in rebounding and creates havoc on
the defensive end. Rougeau leads the team in steals and had three
steals Thursday vs. Kent State. Rougeau is one of those players that
UNLV will rely on to disrupt KU’s offense.
If there’s anything we should’ve learned from the
first two days of the tournament its how critical energy is. If Kansas
comes up with the type of fervor needed in an NCAA tournament
environment they will advance to the Sweet Sixteen and move closer to
its goal of a championship. Too many times in this tournament the
higher seeded team has failed to come out of the gate with a purpose.
Self needs to make sure the Jayhawks are ready for a UNLV team that
will be playing in the most important game of their lives.
Kansas Ready To Take Next Step
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