Unbeaten UNLV takes on USC in an opening round game tonight of the Las Vegas Basketball Invitational at the Orleans Arena in Vegas. Game time is 7:30 PM ET and the books have listed the Rebels as -12.5 point favorites.

The Trojans (2-3 SU, 1-3 ATS) ended a three-game losing streak with a 65-62 win over Morgan State on Tuesday. USC has played a tougher non-conference schedule than most, losing in double overtime to Nebraska and by two points to San Diego State. They’ll also feel by six to Cal Poly before getting the much needed win over Morgan State.

UNLVOffense has been SC’s biggest problem to date. They are near the bottom of the rankings in points per game (56.4) and three-point shooting (25.7 percent). Aaron Fuller who is averaging 15 points on 62.8 percent shooting has been the Trojans only consistent threat.

UNLV (5-0 SU, 2-1 ATS) is 29th in the nation in scoring (83.2 ppg) and has won four of their games by 15 points or more. The Rebels offense is led by Mike Moser who is averaging 16 points and 13 rebounds per game. Besides Moser, four other players are averaging double figures in scoring: Chace Stanback (13. ppg), Justin Hawkins (12.8 ppg), Oscar Bellfield (12.2 ppg) and Anthony Marshall (10.0 ppg). In all the Rebels have four starters back from last year’s team that went 24-9.

Cupboard is bare

Head coach Kevin O’Neill guided USC to a 19-15 record and into the NCAA Tournament last season but will have a tough time this season after losing three starters including top scorer Nikola Vucevic, who averaged 17.1 points per game for the Trojans last season and was also the team’s top rebounder at 10.3 rebounds per game. USC lost 59-46 in the first round of the tourney ‘Final Four’ school VCU.

SC’s backcourt depth took a major hit when Jio Fontan suffered a season ending ACL tear in an exhibition game in Brazil. Fontan only played the final semester last season, but led the team in assists and was second on the team in scoring with a 10.5 ppg average. With Fontan sidelined, that means Troy will need more from Maurice Jones who was third in scoring last year (9.9 ppg); first in assists with 110 and set the USC freshman record with 69 steals. This year Jones is back to his old tricks, leading in steals and assists while averaging 14.6 ppg.

The Trojans leading scorer is forward Aaron Fuller (15 ppg) a 6-6 transfer from Iowa. As a sophomore in 2010, he received an honorable mention on the Big Ten team after averaging 9.7 points and 6.7 rebounds per game.

Coaches

Last year, the Rebels went 24-9 overall and 11-5 in the Mountain West Conference. Their performance didn’t go unnoticed especially by Oklahoma which made head coach Lon Krueger an offer he couldn’t refuse. Now with Krueger running the show for the Sooners, Dave Rice takes over at UNLV. Rice was part of the 1990 national championship team as a player and served as assistant coach for the Rebels for 11 seasons. Most recently he was the associate head coach at BYU.

Kevin O’Neill guided USC to a 19-15 record and into the NCAA Tournament last season. The Trojans finished tied for fourth in the Pac-10 conference and reached the Pac-10 semifinals. O’Neill has a rich resume which includes three head coaching jobs at Marquette, Tennessee and Northwestern. He was interim coach at Arizona under Lute Olson and has been an NBA assistant for the Knicks, Pistons and Raptors.

Up next

The winner of tonight’s game plays the North Carolina/South Carolina winner at 10:30 p.m. ET Saturday. The losers meet at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Sportsbooks list UNLV as the -12.5 favorite, and I expect them to cash in for us. Theefore I am making UNLV my NCAA basketball pick for the day, as I predict that they will not only get the victory, but also take home the "W" by more than 13 points.

Harvey’s Take: It will say ‘neutral site’ on the scorecard but in truth this is a home game for the Rebels. They shouldn’t have any trouble against the undermanned Trojans.

Lay the lumber and grab UNLV!

Good luck.