REBELS BASKETBALL:

10 talking points, wrapping up 2009-10 and looking toward 2010-11 for UNLV hoops

UNLV exceeded expectations this season, but will face highest expectations in some time next year

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Sam Morris

UNLV coach Lon Kruger talks to his players during a first-round NCAA Tournament game against UNI at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City on March 18, 2010.

UNLV Basketball: 2009-10 Recap

A look back at the Rebels' 2009-10 season.

LV Sun: UNLV Post-Season Awards

Ryan Greene and Christine Killimayer discuss the top performers of the 2009-10 UNLV basketball season.

The Rebel Room

Wrapping it all up ...

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Ryan Greene and Ray Brewer wrap up the 2009-10 UNLV men's basketball season by discussing the highs and lows from along the way for the 25-9 Rebels. The guys give the season a grade overall and take a look at what the future holds for Lon Kruger's program.

It was more of a contrast than a comparison between the postgame locker rooms of Northern Iowa's two victims this weekend in Oklahoma City — 8-seed UNLV and 1-seed Kansas.

When the Panthers became America's hoops darling Saturday by upsetting the Jayhawks, who were the NCAA tournament's top overall seed, tears flowed and few words were said as Kansas retreated to its expansive locker room at the Ford Center.

Expectations were high across the country for a veteran KU club to run rampant through the field and emerge with a second national title in three years.

Two nights earlier, it was UNLV that was left collecting itself in the depths of the building. However, the Rebels — who, like the Jayhawks, were done in by a clutch 3-pointer from Ali Farokhmanesh — were more in shock than anything.

There wasn't as much of a final feeling among the UNLV players and staff, because while it was an abrupt end of a long season, the 25-9 Rebels not only surpassed preseason expectations, but will return almost their entire roster next season in a quest to advance further.

The team loses reserves Steve Jones and Darris Santee from the current group.

"When you have seniors, it's a little more deep of a wound because you don't line up again," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "When you do have underclassmen, even thought it hurts, your mind starts turning to 'let's get back to work and make a positive out of this.'"

Both reflecting on the 2009-10 season and looking ahead to the 2010-11 campaign, here are 10 talking points of note ...

#12 BYU vs UNLV

Led by a Tre'Von Willis career-high 33 points, UNLV upended twelfth-ranked BYU 88-74 for the Rebels' seventh straight win over the Cougars at the Thomas & Mack.

1) When looking for a signature performance from this season, look no further than Feb. 6 An 88-74 victory at home over BYU wasn't nearly as close as the final score made it look, as the Cougars were never a threat.

Tre'Von Willis scored a career-high 33 points for UNLV, BYU's Jimmer Fredette scored an inconsequential 21 on 4-of-15 shooting and the most anticipated home game of the season was played in front of a raucous, sellout crowd of 18,557.

Everything about this game was big-time, and it vaulted UNLV back into the Top 25 polls. The Rebels shot an unconscious 64.5 percent from the floor and hit nine of their 13 3-point attempts en route to building a 22-point halftime lead.

UNLV vs Utah

The NCAA Tournament hopes for UNLV took a major hit Wednesday, with the Rebels falling at Utah, 66-61.

2) ... and after that came the unexpected A three-game losing streak on the heels of the victory over BYU was low-lighted by two of UNLV's three worst performances of the season, coming in a 68-58 loss Feb. 10 at San Diego State and then a 66-61 loss at Utah four nights later.

Against SDSU, the Aztecs showed just how tough of a time UNLV had against long, athletic front lines, as Billy White, Malcolm Thomas and Kawhi Leonard combined for 36 points, 24 rebounds and six blocked shots. UNLV had trouble creating offense and was just 19-of-54 from the floor.

The Utah performance was just as ugly. Willis caught fire late and scored 32 points, but missed an opportunity for an open drive to the bucket late and misfired on an awkward 3-point look. The Rebels were cursed from before the start, as Matt Shaw sprained his ankle in pre-game warm-ups, and outside of Willis, the Rebels were a combined 12-of-33 from the floor and 0-for-9 from 3-point range.

The Maturation of Marshall

Saturday marked UNLV freshman guard Anthony Marshall's 19th birthday, but as the season progressed, Marshall proved he's capable of playing well beyond his years.

3) The MVP was without question Willis, while the most improved Rebel was ... Anthony Marshall. The freshman guard was the guy who UNLV needed more than anyone to provide the all-around support in the back-court that the Rebels lost when Derrick Jasper went down Jan. 26 against Air Force.

In those final 13 games, Marshall rapidly improved as his minutes increased, and he ultimately wound up a fixture in the starting lineup in the final 10 contests. In that 13-game stretch, he averaged 6.5 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.4 steals a night, all while shooting 62.5 percent from the floor. He had two double-doubles after working his way into the starting rotation.

Defensively, with his 7-foot wingspan, the 6-foot-3 Mojave High product became a terror in the backcourt, and with his incredible leaping ability, he showed he could be an adept rebounder.

Now, the next step is improving on his weaknesses. Among them include improving on a 34-of-62 performance this season at the free throw line, a 1-for-23 showing from 3-point range and his penchant, at times, for turnovers, as he recorded 30 in the final 13 games. His shot looked good in practice down the stretch, but now the trick is incorporating it into game situations.

Once it comes together, he has star potential written all over him.

Click to enlarge photo

UNLV athletic trainer Dave Tomchek brags to Derrick Jasper that it only took him four tries to make a 3-point shot at the end of practice on Wednesday, March 17, 2010, before the first round of the NCAA Basketball Championships at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City.

4) Derrick Jasper's grade this season? Incomplete When Jasper went down Jan. 26, the partial tear of the medial collateral ligament in his left knee was diagnosed with a four-to-six-week recovery period.

Instead, he never played again, but did start to look like himself in practices at the end of the season.

The unfortunate part for Jasper was that after spending last year re-rehabbing from knee surgery following his freshman season at Kentucky, it finally was starting to click for him just before he went down in a freak incident at the end of the first half in the victory over Air Force. To that point in the game, he had three points, four defensive boards, four assists and no turnovers.

He finished the year averaging 6.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. That's the type of all-around help UNLV will hope for next season from the 6-foot-6 Jasper as a senior. The key to it all is being at his peak mentally after undergoing a serious injury to his left knee for the second time in his college career.

5) What was lacking? Consistent rebounding and physical presence In eight of UNLV's nine losses this season, the Rebels were out-rebounded, by an average margin of 8.3. The worst of those came in the Feb. 10 home loss to New Mexico, when the Rebels were out-boarded 45-23 on their home floor.

Of course, that can snowball into bigger problems, such as second-chance points and devastating missed opportunities to get out into transition.

The team that exposed UNLV more than anyone else was San Diego State, with its three-headed athletic monster of White, Thomas and Leonard inside. UNLV was out-rebounded 120-91 in those three games combined, while the Rebels had a hard time on offense driving and finishing against that size.

"There's several things we could have done better," Kruger said. "The biggest thing is being physical on the boards, rebounding consistently. When we lost ball games, it seemed oftentimes that played into it. That kind of ties into a year where we could have been more physical, which I think we can improve on going into next year."

On the season, UNLV's three true big men — Santee, Matt Shaw and Brice Massamba — ranked fourth, sixth and eighth on the team in rebounds per game, respectively.

6) A general lack of turnover certainly won't hurt While UNLV had a couple of lingering issues this season, returning nine members of an 11-man rotation that won 25 games can't be a bad thing.

The Rebels averaged 73.1 points per game this season, and 91.8 percent of that scoring will return for 2010-11.

Considering that six players in that 11-man rotation didn't play for Kruger the year before, now the focus is more on general improvement this summer rather than getting new players acclimated.

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7) There will be a couple of fresh faces, though Kruger and his staff hope that the need for more of a physical presence not only will be answered by a summer full of growth for those returning, but also with the addition of two big bodies.

Six-foot-8 sophomore Quintrell Thomas, who transferred last summer from Kansas, added a physical presence on the practice floor upon his return from shoulder surgery. His offensive game will undergo some work this summer, but he's a natural enforcer who plays with an edge that the Rebels could have used this year.

As for 6-foot-11 freshman Carlos Lopez, he added roughly 15 pounds of muscle during his redshirt season and cut his body fat down significantly. He may never be the banger inside that Thomas is, but he'll be able to stretch the floor out with his inside-outside game and ability to handle the ball.

"Those guys help," Kruger said. "But the guys coming back, Brice is going to do so much more, Matt has to do so much more, we have to get Derrick back bigger and stronger. More importantly, they'll understand the value and significance of getting loose balls. It's not just the physical part of it, but the understanding that that's what cost us some ball games."

Click to enlarge photo

Grandy Glaze

8) There could be another name in the fold, too Kruger and his staff largely have turned their recruiting focus to the 2011 and 2012 recruiting classes, which will have to be deep as that's when they'll begin losing more contributors off of the current roster.

Last week, the Rebels drew a huge commitment from Grandy Glaze, who will be a senior next season at Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg, Mass. The 6-foot-6, strong power forward has plenty of charisma and enthusiasm, plus the kind of attitude the coaching staff is looking for in a big man. He's also very skilled in transition, which fits UNLV's system nicely. The program still has at least three scholarships to fill in the 2011 class, and nabbing Glaze early gave them a nice head start on that effort, as Rivals.com ranks him as the No. 83 prospect in the 2011 crop.

The wild cards right now are current high school seniors Cory Joseph from Findlay Prep and Dwayne Polee from Westchester (Calif.) High.

Joseph, who Rivals.com ranks as the No. 7 recruit in the 2010 class, will decide in the next few weeks between — in no particular order — UNLV, Minnesota, Villanova, UConn and Texas.

The only official visit Polee has taken was to UNLV on Nov. 28, when the Rebels downed Louisville, 76-61. He still has four Pac-10 suitors along with UNLV, who paid him another visit over the weekend in California.

The staff also has its eyes on a few other under-the-radar prospects who likely would be redshirts next season, along with incoming 6-foot-11 freshman shot-blocker Henry Buckley, who still is attempting to qualify academically and will take the ACT exam next month.

UNLV doesn't have a dire need for a freshman to fit into the rotation next season, though. Whose minutes would either Joseph or Polee cut in to? Not that Kruger & Co. would say no to either of them.

9) Expectations, expectations, expectations The expectations will be higher next season for Kruger and his program than they were going into any of his first six campaigns.

This year, the Rebels made their third NCAA tournament appearance in the last four seasons, but it was the first time under Kruger in which UNLV exited from the field of 65 in the first round.

Expectations from the outside will be for a deeper run, most likely into the second weekend at the least.

Inside, Kruger doesn't want his team looking that far ahead.

"I can understand the expectations," he said. "The key for this group, though, is the focus and attention we give to the offseason. The natural thought is we did this and that, next year we want to do more. That's a trick. It's hard to make the NCAA tournament. Our focus has to be on becoming a lot better, not dwell on what we need to do to go deeper in the tournament. We need to become a better team in the offseason."

Click to enlarge photo

BYU guard Jimmer Fredette grimaces after shooting a three-point basket against Florida during the second overtime of their first round NCAA Basketball Tournament game Thursday, March 18, 2010 at the Ford Center in Oklahoma Ctiy. On the back of Fredette's 37 points, BYU posted its first NCAA tournament win since 1993 by beating Florida 99-92 in double overtime.

10) As for the rest of the Mountain West ...

The record four berths into the NCAA tourney for the Mountain West Conference is a feat that easily could be repeated in 2011.

San Diego State returns all five starters from a team that went 25-9, plus several reserves. The Aztecs also add Santa Clara transfer James Rahon in the back-court — a 3-point gunner who can handle the ball — and still will be the league's most athletic club.

New Mexico, which went 30-5, brings back first team All-Mountain West point guard Dairese Gary (13.1 ppg, 3.9 apg), sharp-shooting combo-guard Phillip McDonald (10.4 ppg, 3.1 rpg) and center A.J. Hardeman (7.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg). The wild card is whether junior do-it-all forward Darington Hobson (15.9 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 4.6 apg) — the league's Player of the Year in his first season as a Lobo — comes back or tests the NBA Draft waters. Surely, he'll feel things out at the very least.

BYU, which like New Mexico won 30 games for the first time in program history, finally ended its NCAA tournament hex by getting out of the first round for the first time since 1993 last weekend in OKC. If junior super-scorer Jimmer Fredette (22.1 ppg, 4.7 apg, 3.1 rpg) returns to school, the Cougars will have four starters back.

But the league can't afford to simply be top-heavy in a year when the MWC will have a good amount of the nation's attention going into the season. Programs such as Colorado State, TCU and Utah need to be formidable.

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  1. This is a great article! Good info. The sky is the limit with this group. Excited about their potential. Sure would be nice to sign a Joseph or a Polee to help take us to that next level. My opinion is Joseph is off to Minnesota to play along side his bro. Good lookin' out Ryan, thanks for the article. You and Ray do a great job!!

  2. A guy isn't supposed to work this hard on his birthday! Great article Ryan! We have a lot to look forward to next season, I'm sure the shooting will improve. We can only hope that QT is as good as advertised, we need toughness and rebounding or it will be the same old song again next year. Did I just say that where you at rebelmom?

  3. Great article as usual Ryan. The bigs coming in and the ones we have will have to be the answer for the more athletic teams next year, and I hope Kruger experiments with putting a few in at once to see what produces. (QT at C, Lopez at PF, kick out to shaw for a 3).

  4. It will be nice to out-muscle teams for a change next year! I can't wait for next b-ball season, too bad its 8 months away...

  5. Ryan, understand a local former Big East and NBA player is acting as an "advisor" for Cory Joseph and of the 5 schools mentioned, only UNLV has been ruled out. Any truth?

  6. Joseph is NOT going to come here. Polee very well might.
    Massamba should red shirt next year- lose more weight and work on his skills-and come back a much better player for his last two years. If Polee comes, they should let Jasper transfer to the cheerleading squad and do what he does best. This way Marshall can start and play 30 minutes a game.

  7. Yea, next year should be very exciting but I thought the very same thing for the 2008-09 season; we will see. I am very hopeful since this team will have a clear leader in Tre; something that the 2008-09 team did not have.

    rose1414...easy on Jasper. He is a great complimentary team player and has absolutely no ego. I truly hope that this "good" kid has a great 2011 on the court and continues to excel in the class room.

  8. Rebels had a good but not great season.

    Rebels will be really hard to beat next year.

    Masamba should redshirt

  9. massamba has a LITTLE upside... but you cant teach hands and cant teach feet. If he gets the ball in his hands he has great moves.. but cant catch as well as you'd like your bigs too. Anyways.. if polee or C Jo dont sign, i personally would like to see us use the scholarship on a juco guy. Has to be a diamond in the rough out there.

  10. Lots of folks talking about next year. I would be interested to hear exactly what your expectations are? For me, the next logical step is to win the MWC Regular season title. UNLV cannot begin to think of Sweet 16's and Elite 8's when you are the 3rd, and maybe 4th best team in the Mountain West Conference.

  11. Last, is there an unofficial non-conference schedule out for next season?

  12. @ Louisville
    K-State - Kansas City
    Gonzaga - Orleans Arena
    Illinois - Chicago @ The United Center
    @ UNR
    @ Weber State
    @ Holy Cross
    76 Classic in Anaheim Convention Center
    (3 games in three days; teams participating include Cal State Northridge, Oklahoma State, Penn State, DePaul, Stanford, Tulsa, and Virginia Tech)
    MWC/MVC Challenge

  13. I thought Illinois was supposed to be the 2011-12 season...

    I think we get Polee and Joseph goes to Texas (or at least doesn't go to UNLV...ran into CJ and didn't get a good feeling from him when I told him we'd love to see him wearing red next season).

  14. I was under the impression Illinois would be added next year, but I could be wrong (unofficial OOC schedule). I believe N. Carolina is being added for the 2011-12 season.

  15. Guys, I'll have a Joseph update story later this week and then a story on the progress of next year's non-conference schedule early next week. Just a heads up.

  16. Wow, interesting if we get the Zags and a shot at Kst again. OK st would be a good matchup in the 76 classic as well.

  17. We get the Zags in an arena that they have played more games in than we have, yet it will still go down as a home game for us.

  18. Make sure you get your free copy of Vegas magazine. It has the 1990 Rebels on the cover.

  19. I love Cory Joseph but Polee fits our needs much better at this point. With Bellfield, Willis, Wallace, Marshall, and Hawkins returning we have plenty of guards. The real help needed is inside and on the wing. When we play long athletic teams like SDSU having players like Lopez and Polee would help a great deal. Between Thomas and Massamba we could be a much more physical team. Just keep wondering whose minutes are going to be cut. Can not help but think that Hawkins, Jasper and Shaw are going to see the court a little less.

  20. I think Cory Joseph would be help immediately and would bring us to the next level (sweet 16s and elite 8s), but he'll probably only spend 2 years in school, at the most. Polee would also help immediately AND in the future. I can't decide which one would be better for us, but it looks more and more that its going to be Polee

  21. Polee definitely fits a need better for us, but at the same time, if Cory Joseph is as good as advertised, I'd take him in a heartbeat over Polee. It's not that I think Polee is not going to be a great player, I just think Joseph could be a "special" player. I mean, the fact that we're talking about this guy being a 1 or 2-and-done type player shows the type of talent he has and that he is at a higher level than a lot of prospects (and more than likely many NCAA players). Just think if Cory Joseph is that elite player. What's the worst-case scenario for UNLV? Unless Joseph is dominant and leads UNLV on a pretty good NCAA Tourney run (Sweet 16 or better), he won't be getting the good pub that 1-and-dones get after their freshman year, and probably won't leave for the draft after one year. If he is that dominant and we do make a good run and he leaves, we get the national exposure of being in the Sweet 16, which helps our school's basketball image, recruiting and though they'll never admit it, academically as well with the money that kind of run brings in. If he's good enough to be a 1-year college player and then a lottery pick and UNLV lands him, that gives Kruger & Co. instant credibility with other top prospects. All of that being said, Joseph probably doesn't come to UNLV and I'll still be thrilled with Polee coming in.

  22. Haha good observation about Gonzaga, Mike!

  23. Polee is that above the rim guy. He would be great at UNLV. I just read an article last night about him playing in the California city championships or whatever, but that he is starting to get a jumpshot. Crazy to think that a kid playing ball his whole life would have a dad telling him he needs to learn to dribble and shoot. CJ sounds like a guy who can take over the game at any time. We definitely need one of those. Tre is good, but sometimes gets shut down like against UNI. He struggles to shoot over long athletic guys and worries about getting his shot blocked when driving. CJ is one of those guys who will take it up against the big guy an alter his shot to prevent a block and still make the basket. He would thrive in the less then athletic MWC.
    Lets get him here.

  24. Toughness toughness toughness.

    That is what this team lacks.

    I would do a kartwheel if we get EITHER Joseph or Polee. And I agree that Polee would make UNLV a more complete team.

    But I don't see either bringing the degree of toughness that this current squad is missing.

    I really have high hopes that Q. Thomas is the answer.

    I'm just so sick of seeing our big men be IN POSITION to get a rebound and then being muscled out of the way or out jumped (if they even jump).

    Shaw is NOT a 5. He's a huge, unathletic 3 who can shoot the lights out. He's great. He's been great in big games, in the ncaa tournament, etc. . . Massamba could be a 5, but he just doesn't rebound. I don't know why. He did improve this year and had a couple of great games. But I don't think Massamba will be the answer to UNLV's questions in the paint.

    It's all right there. This team could set the world on fire IF (really big IF) UNLV can just find an answer in the paint. I pray QT is that answer.

    Really hope Jasper can play one healthy season in his college career too. He deserves one after what he's been through.

  25. I think CJ is Minnesota bound to play with his brother or Nova to replace Reynolds at the point. JMO

    If Jasper is healthy he will play. If I had to guess Hawkins time will stay about the same and KW's minutes will be less against teams that play more man to man. He is a great zone buster. Lopez gets chops 6 minutes plus another 5-10 depending on how he is playing and QT gets Santee's 10 minutes plus depending on how he plays.

  26. Run-nRebels, Tre got "shut down" due to injuries. The guy hasn't had much time in a UNLV jersey without nursing some type of injury. He still had 13 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists in that game including 2 steals. Hardly shut down.

  27. I watched Corey Joseph play this year, and I seen him play last year with Avery Bradley. Bradley was a much better all around player than Joseph. Bradley started alot of games for Texas this year. He had his ups and downs. Even with all his talent he couldn't help Texas get out of the first round of the tournament. Joseph would be a nice pick-up, but he is nowhere near the talent of a John Wall. For Joseph to make the pros would be a longshot. I agree with most here that QT will hold the keys to our future next year.

  28. The schedule looks like it is shaping up nicely. We'll have some tough OOC road games and it's great that we're in that tournament. I bet a ton of Rebel fans will be there in Anaheim. I know I will be there.

    I absolutely hate the Orleans game every year. It's a huge disadvantage for UNLV to play a "home" game there. We should just go on the road during that time.

    I know it pays the bills, but I almost hope the NFR moves to the new Dallas stadium.

    Gonzaga loses Bouldin. I think we'd kill them in the T&M, but the Orleans will feel just like home to them. They've experienced a lot of succes in that arena (not including this year's championship game).

    ENOUGH WITH THE ORLEANS GAME! It's a disturbing trend to have one of our best "home" games every year WITHOUT the advantage of the T&M.

    Plus UNLV really jobs season ticket holders with the seat assignments in that place. They sell the best seats and stick the loyal, paying fans in the back.

  29. I'd rather play the game in the cox pavilion than the orleans arena. For some reason, we also ALWAYS get a big game in there. Maybe a weber state game wouldn't be too bad or a southern utah game, but not a big game. It also only holds something like 8000 too. Tiny!

  30. I agree about The Orleans Arena being a horrible place for us to play. I wouldn't mind it if it went down as a neutral court game, but its definitely not a real "home game." The K-State game last year is a perfect example. The Orleans has no loyalty to UNLV, they are just trying to sell tickets. Unfortunately, that results in the loss of the crowd advantage. I would say that K-State fans had probably 50% of the Orleans Arena for our "home game." I'd rather just be on the road too. Play a couple more home games early and then hit a 3 or 4 game road trip over that couple of weeks that we lose the Mack. That long of a road trip would be tough, but losing on the road isn't as potentially damaging as losing what is counted as a home game can be.

  31. We don't play a team called Zag's

    We will play The Gonzaga Bull Dogs

  32. @ william...also known as the zags....

    Their website is www.gozags.com

    Rarely will you even hear the bulldogs (I think the bulldog's name is "zags"

  33. William - That was the worst post I have read on this thing in a while. Can't think of something negative to post, so you have to go with "We don't play a team called Zag's?" And, as Sofaking pointed out, "Zags" is a common nickname for the Gonzaga Bulldogs as well. Hope you feel better now.

  34. Really? Do you watch any basketball william?

  35. Check it out. They're predicting UNLV at #25 for next year.

  36. good thing we have Oscare Bellfield and Bruce Massamba

  37. We need to recruit real basketball players and get some size. We lack size and toughness. This is a do or die season for Kruger in my opinion.

    If he doesn't deliver a deep run, we need to move on and look elsewhere. Preferably, find a good recruiter.

    S711