It’s quite a rarity in Saturday afternoon’s game between No. 20 UNLV and North Carolina: It’s only the fifth time the Tar Heels’ 179 nonconference games at the Smith Center that the opposition is ranked and UNC isn’t. Carolina is 2-2 in those matchups, with the last such happening on Dec. 10, 2010, with the Heels beating No. 10 Kentucky, 75-73. As the school Web site points out, expect a great game Saturday as three of those previous four occurrences have been decided in the final 20 seconds.
UNLV at North Carolina Betting Story Lines
Let’s get to the big question first: Will UNLV star Mike Moser, a preseason Mountain West Player of the Year favorite, play? Moser gruesomely dislocated his elbow back on Dec. 9, and at first the team worried it might be a season-ending injury. Then the Rebels said he would miss about four weeks. However, Moser did return to a full practice on Wednesday. The Las Vegas Sun reports that coach Dave Rice didn’t rule Moser out but that Moser himself said there’s “no way” he would be able to play. He also could be pulling a little gamesmanship. The junior forward, a UCLA transfer a few years back, is averaging 10.9 points and 8.3 rebounds. He is officially being called “questionable”. Meanwhile, Rebels starting guard Anthony Marshall re-aggravated a strained calf in UNLV’s last game, but he will play Saturday. He leads the Mountain West in assists.
Even without Moser, the Rebels have a scary-good frontcourt. Anthony Bennett might be the best freshman in the nation. The burly Canadian – he played high school ball in Las Vegas – is averaging 19.5 points (55.7 percent from field) and 8.5 rebounds. And the Rebels recently got former top recruit Khem Birch eligible – he transferred from Pittsburgh. The 6-foot-9 Birch, also from Canada, is averaging 11.7 points and 6.7 rebounds in three games. Because of those two huge bodies down low, Rice says he plans to use Moser more on the perimeter whenever he does return. The Rebels (11-1) have won nine in a row since an 83-79 loss to Oregon. UNC will be by far the team’s best competition to date and probably all regular season, all due respect to a very good Mountain West Conference.
North Carolina (9-3) is a very young squad this season after losing four first-round draft picks. The Heels have looked the part in their three losses, all by double digits, to Butler, Indiana and Texas (all away from Chapel Hill). Carolina can score with anyone – it has hit triple-digits twice and ranks No. 3 in points per game (84.0) and No. 1 in assists – but the defense has been a big issue at times. The Heels also settle for jump shots too often. In their nine wins, they are 85-for-208 (40.9 percent) from three-point range. In those three losses, Carolina is 11-for-49 (22.4 percent) from long range. UNC is averaging nearly 22 3-point attempts per game, a number it never surpassed in a single game last season. For sure it will be fascinating to see UNC star forward James McAdoo, who leads the team in scoring (15.0) and rebounding (8.3), deal with that uber-talented UNLV frontcourt.
These two schools met in Las Vegas last year, and UNLV pulled a 90-80 stunner over No. 1 North Carolina. It was the Rebels’ first win over the nation's top-ranked team in 22 years and the first time a Mountain West school ever beat the nation’s No. 1 team. But don’t read too much into that. All of Carolina’s primary players are gone, and UNLV’s two main contributors in that game, Chace Stanback and Oscar Bellfield (they combined for 44 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists), also have moved on. I didn’t count Moser because of his uncertainty, but he was a monster force with 16 points and 18 rebounds in what was his coming-out party. UNC’s current star, McAdoo, wasn’t much of a factor with six points off the bench.
UNLV at North Carolina Betting Odds and Key Trends
At BetOnline, UNC is a four-point favorite. There is no early total but it will be high, likely around 152 or so. UNLV is 6-5 ATS this season and 2-2 “over/under”. Carolina is 5-4 ATS and 5-4 O/U.
UNLV is 1-10 ATS in its past 11 road games. The Rebels are 3-7 ATS in their past 10 Saturday games. UNC is 4-1 in its past five games vs. Mountain West teams. The Heels are 0-4 ATS in their past four after a win. The under is 4-1 in UNLV’s past five road games. The over is 4-0 in UNC’s past four at home.
UNLV at North Carolina Picks and Betting Predictions
The Rebels are looking to win 10 straight for the first time since the 2006-07 season, while Carolina wants to bring some momentum and get a signature nonconference win before beginning ACC play. The Heels have blown everyone out at the Smith Center so far but also haven’t played anyone of note there. The Rebs are 3-0 in true road games, but all three were close wins: Portland (Moser sat out with a different injury), California (the game in which Moser injured his elbow) and UTEP (also no Moser). I am sensing a Moser trend here. If he were 100 percent, I absolutely believe UNLV could go in and win this game. But it doesn’t sound like he will play and clearly won’t be anywhere near 100 percent if he does. Take Carolina and the over.
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