The Rebels are ranked No. 18 in the USA Today/Coaches Poll and No. 21 in the AP Top 25, but national media members differ on just how good the Rebels are right now.
Matt Norlander of the CBS Sports blog Eye on College Basketball has UNLV in the top tier of his Mid-Major Power Pyramid, just below Creighton and even with Gonzaga. He’s got the Rebels ranked ahead of fellow Mountain West teams New Mexico and San Diego State, and notes the Rebs’ profiency at defending the perimeter:
Something you should know: Teams should be looking to score in the interior against UNLV these days. One, because Mike Moser is still out for a few more weeks with a dislocated elbow injury. Two, because Anthony Bennett is really good but still raw and susceptible to freshman fouls. Three, because UNLV’s defending 3-point shots to a 24-percent rate, among the elite 3 Ds in the nation.
But whereas Norlander likes the Rebels, the Mountain West Connection blog has UNLV just third in its conference power rankings, behind No. 1 New Mexico and No. 2 Wyoming.
And my former boss, the Boston Globe’s Joe Sullivan, isn’t buying the Rebels, either. In his college hoops blog Sully’s Court, he says “Vegas is a riddle” and points to the close call against UTEP as a sign of chemistry problems:
However, the Rebels have chemistry problems. I’m not a believer in the theory that you have to have a “true’’ point guard, that is one little guy who just distributes the ball. If you have players who know how to play together, you can all share the ball and succeed. Right now, Vegas doesn’t have either.
In other developments, the “Anthony Bennett for Player of the Year” train continues to gain momentum. ESPN’s Jason King filed a column on Wednesday touting Bennett as a potential national POY.
Labeling Bennett as the top freshman in the country — ahead of highly regarded prospects such as Shabazz Muhammad and Nerlens Noel — is hardly a stretch. If anything, the debate should be about whether Bennett is the best player in the country in the early going.
A freshman (Kentucky’s Anthony Davis) won the Wooden Award a season ago. There’s no reason it couldn’t happen again.
Jeff Borzello of CBS Sports still has Bennett at No. 1 in his Freshman of the Year power rankings, but says Oklahoma’s Marcus Smart and Kansas’ Ben McLemore may be closing the gap.
Also from Borzello, he quickly previews Wednesday’s game against Northern Iowa and says it could go down to the wire.
Despite Northern Iowa’s inconsistencies this season, this one could be closer than people think. UNLV has had some surprisingly close calls this year, and the Runnin’ Rebels are still getting used to having Khem Birch as a piece on the inside.
Follow Mike Grimala (@MikeGrimala) on Twitter for 24/7 Rebels updates.