Breaking down the UNLV basketball game against Eastern Washington at 7 p.m. Friday at the Thomas & Mack Center:
Eastern Washington is a tough team to break down from a positional standpoint because they have played a more traditional European style of basketball with interchangeable players that can play anywhere on the floor. They are a bit more defined in their roles this year. Luka Vulikic has been running the offense with Clark High School grad Sir Washington joining him in the backcourt. It’s a formidable duo, but they may have some trouble with the Jovan Mooring and Jordan Johnson on the defensive end.
This is where the matchup gets very interesting. The Eagles are the first team that will be able to even compete with the size of the UNLV front line. Bogdan Bliznyuk will be the most accomplished collegiate player, by far, on the floor. Grad transfer Benas Griciunas, a Findlay Prep product, is a legit 7-footer. Mason Peatling has been plagued by foul trouble, though he does get a rebound about every three minutes he’s been on the floor. None of them can compare with the physical tools of Brandon McCoy or even Shakur Juiston, but they make up for it with experience. It’s a close call.
Ty Gibson and Jesse Hunt don’t start, but have been among Eastern Washington’s most productive players. Both are shooting over 40 percent from 3-point range and Hunt, an Australian, is the Eagles’ leading rebounder at 7.7 per game. Anthony Smith stepped up in a big way for UNLV on Wednesday. Amauri Hardy has also been good, but the Rebels need more out of Cheickna Dembele or Cheikh Mbacke Diong at some point.
UNLV has played the 334th-ranked schedule in the country. There are only 351 teams. While the Rebels have done extraordinarily well against the opponents that have visited the Thomas & Mack Center, this could prove to be their first real challenge. Eastern Washington is already battle-tested after splitting road games against Pac-12 schools Washington and Stanford.
Edge: Eastern Washington
UNLV -10.5; total 148.5