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December 28, 2012

UNLV looks to build resume

ROLE REVERSAL - One season ago, the UNLV Runnin' Rebels used a victory over No. 1 ranked North Carolina to springboard themselves into the national spotlight and into the national rankings for the majority of the season.

Thirteen months later, it will be the Tar Heels trying to defend their home turf and picking up a much needed "quality" win to propel the historic program back into the rankings and relevance.

The Rebels are already the talk of the nation, featuring one of the top freshmen, if not top player overall, in Anthony Bennett. You can find stories lauding UNLV's talented roster on pretty much any national site that covers college basketball.

For UNC, it has been a rocky road so far this season. The Tar Heels lost five players to the NBA Draft a year ago and, despite a strong recruiting class, haven't quite reloaded yet.

But it could be coming. And that's the frightening thing for this Rebel squad heading into Chapel Hill this Saturday. This could be the game that the Tar Heels finally get their groove back.

So far, UNC has failed in every big time game it has played in, losing to Butler, Indiana and Texas. However, none of those games were at the Dean Dome.

It's pretty scary if you are a Carolina fan when your best win of the nonconference season is a toss-up between Gardner Webb or East Carolina.

UNC has an opportunity to turn its season around on Saturday. Just like UNLV did with its victory over the Tar Heels in November of last year.

HIGH ALERT ON PERIMETER - Despite having a power forward that many think will be a sure-fire first round draft pick, UNC lacks much umph in the post. The Tar Heels focus, especially on offense, will be on the perimeter.

How the Rebels' guards defend the Tar Heels' guards will most likely determine the outcome in this evenly matched contest. UNC guards Reggie Bullock, Leslie McDonald, P.J. Hairston and Dexter Strickland all average close to double-digits. They are all capable of having a monster game, too.

The two most dangerous shooters from the perimeter are Bullock and McDonald, with each connecting on over 45% from beyond the arc. And anyone who saw Hairston play at the Orleans Arena last year know what type of sharpshooter he can be when he is hitting his stride.

Keying the Rebels' defensive effort will be forcing the Carolina guards to become drivers instead of spot up shooters. An even better idea would be leading them into the interior where Khem Birch could potentially alter some shots.

UNLV freshman guard, Katin Reinhardt, who continues to improve on the defensive end of the court, could be a focus for North Carolina to attack off the dribble. The good news is that Reinhardt isn't close to the same player that was burnt over and over again by Oregon in the third game of the season, and also UNLV's only loss.

Bryce Dejean-Jones could also be a difference-maker in this game with his harassing defense. Look for Savon Goodman to get some meaningful minutes, as well.

UNC comes into the game as the third highest scoring team in the nation (84 ppg) but against both Indiana and Texas, the Tar Heels failed to reach the 70-point mark. Even more telling in those two losses was that UNC shot 12 and 15 percent from behind the arc, respectively.

The correlation there is that if you can slow the outside group, UNC's offensive production comes to a grinding halt.

SHARING IS CARING - You can tell a lot about how successful a team is going to be with how well they pass and share the basketball. Well, they don't come much better than these two clubs.

UNLV and UNC come into the matchup as the third and first best teams in the country in dishing out assists.

That result is a testament to the two coaching staffs. Being around UNLV head coach Dave Rice, making the extra pass is one of the most important things he preaches when it comes to offensive execution. It would safe to assume that UNC coach Roy Williams is similar in his approach.

And just like UNLV, the Tar Heels are getting contributions from numerous players in this area, but it has been two seniors, Anthony Marshall for UNLV and McDonald for UNC, that are playing most of their times in a new role of point guard. Both have shown they can be successful in their new gigs.

For more in-depth and insider information, be sure to check out Rebel Confidential.



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