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Numbers show UNLV makes strides under T.J. Otzelberger

UNLV’s 16-14 record is strikingly similar to the 17-14 mark the Rebels posted last season, but how they’ve arrived to this point is much different.

The Rebels were an inconsistent team heading into the Mountain West tournament a year ago, but they enter Saturday’s 2 p.m. regular-season finale at San Jose State clearly a team on the rise.

UNLV has won four consecutive games and five of six and has served notice — especially with the 66-63 victory Feb. 22 at then-No. 4 San Diego State — that the team could be a factor in next week’s conference tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center.

The numbers back that up.

UNLV is No. 98 in the Kenpom rankings, the first time in two years the Rebels have cracked the top 100. They were No. 165 last season.

The Rebels rank No. 70 in adjusted offense with 107.3 points scored per 100 possessions and No. 142 in adjusted defense with a 100.1 rate. Last season, they were 146th in offense (106.1) and 215th in defense (106.4).

“We’ve looked at from a numbers standpoint things we want to improve upon,” UNLV coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “At this point, our defense has substantially improved from last year, even from early in the season. Our offense continues to improve, largely because of what our defense has done.

“I’m a numbers guy. At the same time, I’m a daily process guy and the habits that we have every day that lead to those things, but it’s exciting that our guys have continued to move the bar forward for our program. That’s what we set out to do, but we’ve got a lot of work left this year and as we move forward.”

Otzelberger has used a makeshift roster in his first season to get better as the season has reached its latter stages.

His roster is not as talented as last season’s that included three players now at Power Five programs — Shakur Juiston at Oregon, Joel Ntambwe at Texas Tech and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua at Baylor. Juiston missed most of last season with a knee injury.

Kris Clyburn (14.1-point average) and Noah Robotham (9.3), who formed two-thirds of the starting backcourt, also had to be replaced.

Otzelberger will upgrade the talent level next season, and with that will come expectations of potentially competing for the Mountain West championship.

Meaning more pressure.

“We’re trying to bring that winning culture back to UNLV,” guard Bryce Hamilton said. “Hopefully, next year we will have a better season. We have freshmen coming in, and we’re going to keep on building year after year.”

Hamilton’s thoughts aren’t quite on next season yet. The Rebels have plenty to play for this season, such as trying to make a run at the Mountain West tournament championship.

UNLV can finish as high as third in the standings. The Rebels need to beat San Jose State, UNR to defeat San Diego State and Utah State to lose to New Mexico. Otherwise, the Rebels will be in Thursday’s 2 p.m. quarterfinal between the fourth and fifth seeds.

“We’re playing our best basketball at the right time,” Hamilton said.

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.

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