Runnin’ Rebels set to take on the Roman Main Event

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Royce Hamm Jr blocking a shot from a Gardner-Webb player in UNLV's home opener, Hamm tallied four blocks that game. Photo by Jordan Anders-McClain.

The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels are one of four teams that will be headlining the 2021 Roman Main Event, a four-team tournament that benefits the Coaches vs Cancer program on Nov. 19 and Nov. 21.

The Runnin’ Rebels will look to win its second Main Event championship belt after taking the tournament title in 2017. UNLV defeated Rice 95-68 for the championship, which earned them the all-time team record for most points scored in the tournament. 

This year, UNLV is set to face off against the No. 4 Michigan Wolverines Friday night following the opening match-up between undefeated teams Arizona and Wichita State. From there, the winners will play for the Championship on Sunday followed by the consolation match. 

For the first time in tournament history, the tournament will have player Ambassadors to promote the event being played at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

 The “Starting Five” Ambassadors include UNLV’s own Bryce Hamilton, along with Michigan’s Adrien Nunez and Hunter Dickinson, Arizona’s Dalen Terry, and Wichita State’s Dexter Dennis.

Bryce Hamilton shooting a 3-pointer over a North Dakota State defender during UNLV’s home game, Hamilton is averaging 17 points so far this season. Photo by Jordan Anders-McClain.

“It means a lot [to be selected],” Hamilton said. “It’s Coaches vs Cancer and I actually have people, family relatives that are dealing with cancer and have dealt with it, so I’m happy to be one of the ambassadors.” 

Hamilton along with the other “Starting Five” players will help promote the tournament that benefits Coaches vs. Cancer all week long leading up to the first game. 

For more than 25 years, the Coaches vs. Cancer program, in collaboration with the National Association of Basketball Coaches, has brought together coaches and fans to help the American Cancer Society.

While UNLV is not only playing to help raise money to defeat cancer, they are also playing to win and bring back the tournament title to UNLV. To do that, they first must cause a huge upset, and that’s beating Michigan.

UNLV vs No. 4 Michigan

Michigan will be coming into this tournament ranked fourth in the nation after Head coach Juwan Howard has signed the best ranked recruiting class three years in a row. Last year, Michigan won their conference, ending the season with a 23-5 overall record and finishing in the elite eight of the 2021 March Madness tournament. 

With Michigan bringing back three of their starters from last year, while adding a top NBA draft prospect, Caleb Houston, UNLV will have to be at the top of their game for this match-up.

One of the toughest match-ups UNLV will have this season, offense and defense will need to play at full potential to compete with this stacked Michigan team. One of UNLV’s biggest threats, Michigan’s star center Hunter Dickinson. 

Dickinson is an all-around talented player, named to the 2021 All-American second team in his freshman year, he can score not only in the paint but behind the arc. Finding a way to stop him without drawing fouls will be the most important key to victory for the Rebels.

If anyone can stop Dickinson, it’d be UNLV’s Royce Hamm Jr. Hamm is averaging 3.0 blocks a game while putting up 12.5 points, he will be paired against Dickinson coming Friday Night. 

“I just have to hold my own,” Hamm said. “I came from a league with a lot of high level bigs from the Big 12 so I have the mindset and integrity to go into the game, and I’m ready for the match-up.”

Another important key for a Rebels’ upset is avoiding fouls, Michigan has tallied 74 free throw attempts in their first three games. Hamm, along with teammates Donovan Williams, Bryce Hamilton, and Keshon Gilbert, have each gotten into foul trouble early in each of the first three games, something they will need to be cautious of facing the Wolverines. 

As far as avoiding fouls, Hamm expressed, “staying down, being solid and being disciplined. Trusting what we do on defense, and trusting the coaches game plan. Whatever they want us to do as far as digging down, helping each other and playing for each other. I feel like if we do those things with discipline we’ll be okay.”

UNLV vs Arizona or Wichita State

Jordan McCabe (5), Marvin Coleman (31), Royce Hamm Jr (14), Donovan Williams (3), and Bryce Hamilton (13) taking the court ahead of UNLV’s home game against North Dakota State. Photo by Jordan Anders-McClain.

If UNLV plays the Arizona Wildcats either in the Championship or the consolation match, Arizona is coming into this tournament undefeated and ranked first in the PAC-12 conference. 

One thing Arizona loves to do is drive to the basket and dunk. If UNLV is able to cut off the driving lane and minimize the Wildcats scoring in the paint, that will be one of the keys to victory. 

On the other hand, if UNLV plays the Wichita State Shockers, one strength the Shockers have over UNLV is hitting shots behind the arc. Wichita State is shooting 31% from three in four games played while UNLV is shooting 21% in three games played. 

Defense will play a big role in these games, one that has shown to have solid defense so far this season is the Runnin’ Rebels’ only freshman, Keshon Gilbert. 

Gilbert stated he felt great going into his first big college tournament and is excited to play Michigan. Gilbert is averaging 16 minutes off the bench so far this season and has been showing off his talents especially on defense. Head coach Kevin Kruger added that, “the city will love this kid as long as he’s here.” 

As far as the tournament as a whole, Hamilton stated, “the game plan is just to go out there and compete. We feel like we have a really good squad we’re going against one of the top 5 teams in the nation so we’re excited and we’re ready to compete.”

Make sure to catch the Runnin’ Rebels take on the 2021 Romain Main event on Friday Nov. 19 at 9:30 p.m. against No. 4 Michigan. Students can get tickets to the event for six dollars on unlvtickets.evenue.net and the game will also be broadcasted on ESPN2. 

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