REBELS BASKETBALL:

Three key storylines as UNLV’s 2010-11 hoops season begins

Rebels’ highly anticipated season gets under way with FirstLook event on Friday night at Thomas & Mack Center

Image

Justin M. Bowen

UNLV freshman guard Anthony Marshall reacts after throwing home a second-half dunk in a 73-61 victory over Utah in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Conference tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center on March 11, 2010.

Reader poll

Which newcomer are you most interested in seeing at FirstLook 2010?

View results

A rough off-season is now officially in the rear-view mirror for the UNLV basketball program, as the 2010-11 season kicks off on Friday night with the annual FirstLook event at the Thomas & Mack Center.

The public's first chance to see the Rebels in action gets under way at 7 p.m., and admission is free.

Despite everything that's happened in the past few months — from the drama with Tre'Von Willis to the sudden absences of Matt Shaw and Kendall Wallace — the outside expectations for the Rebels are higher than they have been at any point in coach Lon Kruger's tenure.

Here, now, are three key talking points as the season gets under way:

1) Picking up the long-range slack

Call it quirky, but UNLV's steak of consecutive games with a 3-pointer made means plenty to a lot of people in and around the program. For the record, it now stands at 772, and the Rebels have hit one in every game they've played since the 3-point line was introduced at the start of the 1986-87 season.

Last season, the Rebels thrived by hitting them in bunches.

En route to going 25-9 and appearing in the NCAA tournament for the third time in four years, UNLV averaged 6.8 per game. The long ball probably was the biggest reason the Rebels won a few of those games.

Now, the biggest hurdle Lon Kruger's club has to clear is figuring out how to keep that weapon alive.

Last season, Kendall Wallace led the team in 3-pointers (61) as a junior, while Matt Shaw was its leader in 3-point field goal percentage (45.0).

Both were set to enjoy strong senior seasons but neither will.

Shaw drew a one-year suspension from the NCAA after failing a drug test in March before the NCAA tourney, while Wallace suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee last month during a pick-up game. Having already used his redshirt year, Shaw's UNLV career is done, while Wallace will be back on the floor in 2011-12.

The Rebels do have several guys capable of hitting the outside shot. The likely culprits to pick up the slack are Tre'Von Willis, Chace Stanback and Oscar Bellfield.

That trio combined for 123 of the team's threes a year ago — or 53.2 percent. Also, sophomore Justin Hawkins, who was 8-of-29 last season from deep as a reserve, figures to eat up some of what would have been Wallace's minutes.

The big jump that needs to be made, though, is in terms of efficiency. Willis shot just 29.5 percent from deep, while Stanback checked in at 30.9. Bellfield was a bit stronger at 37.2.

2) The big unknown

UNLV's glaring weakness last season turned out to be the lack of a dominant presence in the paint.

It's been a consistent theme since the graduation of Joel Anthony following the 2006-07 season, and there are three candidates to try to fill the void.

Leading in the experience department is junior Brice Massamba, who continued to shed weight this summer. Last year, dropping some baby fat made him lighter on his feet and helped bring his offensive game along.

He beefed up his numbers from his freshman year a bit, averaging 4.6 points and 2.4 rebounds a game while only averaging a shade under 14 minutes a night. The next logical step would be for the Findlay Prep product to become a consistently reliable force both in terms of scoring and rebounding. He's had a tendency to disappear for stretches in his first two seasons.

The two guys who draw the most intrigue entering this season, though, are redshirt freshman Carlos Lopez and sophomore Kansas transfer Quintrell Thomas.

The 6-foot-11 Lopez has a unique blend of skills that make him equally dangerous in the paint as he is away from it. The key for Lopez, though, is that after a year with strength & conditioning coach Jason Kabo, his body has finally filled out. Now, what remains to be seen, is how long it takes him to adjust to the college game.

Thomas saw limited minutes in his one year at KU, but at 6-foot-8 and 245, he has a body that can do some damage against the front courts of the Mountain West Conference. Though he, like Lopez, will likely take a few games to get into the flow, as it's been a while since he played in a meaningful game.

3) Bold prediction: This year's break-out player will be ...

Sophomore guard Anthony Marshall. It makes the most sense.

It's easy to forget just how big of a recruit Marshall was two years ago coming out of Mojave High, and a handful of coming-of-age performances down the stretch last season showed just why so many top-flight schools were after him.

At the end of the 2009-10 campaign, the Rebels were without do-it-all swingman Derrick Jasper, while starting point guard Oscar Bellfield was hobbled after bruising his knee on Feb. 6 against BYU.

In the season's final 12 games, the 6-foot-3 Marshall averaged 6.9 points and 5.5 boards while helping fill both of their roles. The pinnacle of that run came in the Mountain West Conference tourney quarterfinals against Utah, where he had 13 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, two steals and just one turnover in 34 minutes.

Here's what we know about Marshall based on last season alone:

• He can jump out of the gym, making him both valuable on the boards and capable of a momentum-changing dunk at any time.

• With a wingspan of almost seven feet, combined with great lateral quickness, Marshall can be a terror on the defensive end.

• Above all, he's a hard worker, a bright kid and a great teammate.

What's tough to forget from last year, though, are the shooting woes.

After struggling from 3-point range for much of the year (he finished just 1-of-23 for the season), he didn't attempt one in the final 12 games. At the same time, he became hesitant to pull the trigger on mid-range jumpers.

Confidence will be key. As confident as Marshall is that he can score from any angle on drives to the bucket, he needs to be the same way with his jumper. He's made no secret this summer — visible to all via Twitter and Facebook — that working on his shot has been a priority.

His assist-to-turnover ratio wasn't great as a freshman, but Marshall was also bringing the ball up the floor much more than he probably will be this season and beyond.

If the shot made some strides, he will be well on his way to being the star that the UNLV coaching staff thinks he can become.

Other FirstLook notes ...

• Doors open to the public at 6:15 p.m. The night's events will be capped by an intrasquad scrimmage.

• This will be the first chance for the public to see UCLA transfer Mike Moser, who must sit out this season per NCAA rules. He will be able to play in the 2011-12 season and will have three seasons of eligibility remaining.

• It was expected that St. John Bosco (Calif.) High guard Cezar Guerrero would be in attendance on Friday night as part of an official visit to UNLV, but that is no longer the case. The point guard ranked as the No. 61 overall prospect in the 2011 class will instead be announcing his college choice on Friday afternoon. He most likely will be going elsewhere.

• One of UNLV's other top targets for a point guard in the 2011 class — Woodland Hills Taft (Calif.) High's Spencer Dinwiddie — was originally going to visit campus this weekend, but he has pushed the trip back two weeks so that his whole family can join him. Dinwiddie, who was the MVP of the adidas Super 64 in Las Vegas back in July, is expected to choose between Colorado, Harvard, Oregon and UNLV. He will instead be visiting Colorado this weekend.

• Several prospects from Las Vegas hoops powerhouses Bishop Gorman and Findlay Prep are expected to be in attendance, including Gorman junior swingman Rosco Allen, who Rivals.com ranks as the No. 23 prospect nationally in the 2012 class, and Findlay sophomore point guard Nigel Williams-Goss. Another intriguing local expected to attend is Durango High freshman guard Paris Estrada.

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy

Previous Discussion: 16 comments so far…

Comments are moderated by Las Vegas Sun editors. Our goal is not to limit the discussion, but rather to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and contain no abusive language. Comments that are off-topic, vulgar, profane or include personal attacks will be removed. Full comments policy.

  1. I can't believe the NCAA's drug testing policy and suspension guidelines!

    Smoke a little MJ like Matt Shaw did and you're suspended for an entire year. Commit a violent assault against an opposing team member after a game like LeGarrette Blount did and you're reinstated after 2 months.

    How does that make any sense?

  2. Can't wait for the season. I'll agree Marshall is going to break out this year. No doubt I hope he worked on his jumper and long ball though, but the kid can drive and jump like no other. I hope Jasper stays healthy this year, and it looks like we are just as deep, or deeper, than we were last year and more senior as well.

  3. I also have been thinking this is Marshall's year to shine.

    We all seen his athletic ability and defensive prowess last season and with all the time he put in the gym shooting this summer, hopefully he can get back to his high school efficiency from the outside.

    We will miss Kendall and his three bombs, but remember, how many times did he have trouble defending in games and Marshall had to come in for his D alone?

    Like in ears past(except last year) UNLV is going to thrive off the "underdog" role and show the press you just don't have the bulk of your scoring come back, add two big guys up front(where we've lacked in years past) and not improve our record because you lose two long ball members of your team.

    Go Rebs! I can't wait for the season to start!

  4. I feel bad for KW. But unless he's hitting four or five 3's in a game he doesn't bring much to the table. He won our game in New Mexico for us. That was huge. But there are a lot of games where he is pretty quiet, and a consistent liability on defense and rebounding. It'll be good to have KW back next year.

    I'm excited for J-Hawk and think he will benefit the most from KW's absence. He performed great in very limited time last year, and imo, deserved to play all of Chop Jones' minutes. Why? Because Chop could not rebound, could not score, could not play defense, got burned by every player on the opposing team, and he turned over the ball. J-Hawk was our best athlete on the bench (or even Shaw as a backup for Stanback last year would've been more effective than what Chop tried to do). Nothing personal, but Chop was an astonishing 6ft, slow, unathletic power forward. Ugh... I'm reliving frustration from last year.

    Note: I'm sure some poster on here will respond to Chop's defense. To which I write in advance: Ha! Chop is a terrific person, but was a horrible D-1 player. Players like Chop belong(ed) on the bench. I'd say the same thing about myself.

    Can't wait for this season!!

  5. I was waiting for someone to post about chop, as I nearly did myself, and Doc, I agree with you. Except in 2 games (Louisville and UNR). Jones added some sustenance in those 2 games, and Massamba was absolutely awful in those 2 games, but toward the end of the season got much better, as Chop never really improved himself.

    Again, nothing personal toward the guy, he was always very enthusiastic, but was really so bad on defense...well and offense now that I think about it. I'll take it as an example that if you contribute in some good way that you may see some playing time in Kruger's game plan. The roster we have this season I think is better than in 06-07.

    1 last thing, UNLV isn't necessarily flying under the radar completely. Katz on ESPN has UNLV as one of the teams to watch.

  6. Interesting note on Loyd's transfer out of BYU: http://espn.go.com/blog/collegebasketbal...

    Come to the dark side Loyd...

  7. Excited for the new season to start!!! But I can't believe you guys are still killing Chop on here, he's not even on the team anymore!!! If he was so bad why were we 19-2 last year when he played 8+ minutes. Be happy for what he added to the program.

    I think Quintrell is going to be the dark horse, he looks like a monster!!

  8. It will probably take me at least two more seasons to get over Kruger's dependence on Chop, because I'm convinced the Rebels would've gone 19-2 if I had played 8+ minutes on the floor too.

  9. Marshall will be a stud this year regardless if his shooting is much better. If his shot has improved, that's just a bonus. Quintrell and Carlos will really help in the post on offense and defense. And the fact that BYU may have released Loyd from his scholarship due to the fact that he was not LDS makes me hate them even more.

  10. I also am really looking forward to the season starting. My gut feeling is that we won't get killed on the boards as bad this year, but won't have anything for SDSU. They are going to be wicked good this year. I agree with all of the Chop comments, he might have been the best practice player Coach ever saw, but he stunk on ice 99% of the time he was in the lineup. I saw Lopez at last years First Look and was impressed with his scrappiness, he reminded me of Lou Amundson when he started. If he put some much needed weight(muscle)on his frame, we will be in good shape. He did show some mid to long range touch last year, possibly filling in for some of Shaw's deep shots. Should be a great year.

    Oh wait, who is that I hear crying about the Conference tournament being played here . . .

  11. thanks for the link Wade. The Rebels, in my opinion, should be glad to welcome back one of our own. Especially a player of his caliber.

  12. @ Jerry, I think you mixed up the news. Loyd is going to play at Midwestern State University (Div. II). Unfortunately UNLV won't be getting him. He is a good player.

  13. Don't get me started on the NCAA and their ridiculous rules and penalties. At most MOST Shaw should get a partial suspension (6 games?), but to deny the kid his entire senior year is completely over the top. thanks, NCAA!

    That said, i can't wait to see our new inside players, Lopez and Thomas, providing (hopefully) the presence our recent teams have been lacking in the paint. I'm sure it will take awhile for these kids to get up to college game speed, hopefully it won't be too long. i can't wait to see the continued development of Marshall as an all-MWC type talent. i can't wait to see how Tre' responds to the inevitable ribbing he will receive on opposing teams' floors. i can't wait to see how much Jasper has recovered from the knee injury and i can't wait to see if Stanback can become a more efficient 3 pt shooter. I can't wait to see J-Hawk with more playing time now that Kendall is out, and the mysterious Israeli newcomer, Mashour.

    Basically, I can't wait for November.

    oh wait. I don't have to. it's Friday...Go Rebels

  14. Someone post some video, as not everyone will be able to make FirstLook tonight!

  15. Was it just me or did everyone look bigger?... In a good way...

    These guys are not going to look like boys among men in the tourney... they actually look like they can run with a bigger team... I really dont think SDSU is going to man handle us as much as they think this year... QT, and Brice looked really aggressive and Brice has leaps now... And as Los gets some touch as the season progresses he is going to be a force as well... All 3 went to the hoop angry... a HUGE change over the finesse we would see with Santee and Shaw...

    Also keep in mind we are not small anymore... Marshall and Bell field looked like the smallest guys out there and they are easily 6'3ish...And J-Hawk looked like he got a lot bigger....Overall I am excited...

    Plus everyone looks really healthy... And I think Mashour may be ready to contribute right away...

  16. Ryan,

    Can we get an update on how the team looked this evening? Any video would be great as well!