NCAA Tournament:

The Rebels face five major tasks this off-season for getting better in 2012-13

Rebounding and getting a consistent post presence top the list of improvements that Rice needs to make for Year Two

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV mascot Hey Reb walks the baseline during their second round NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship game against Colorado Thursday, March 15, 2012 in Albuquerque. UNLV lost the game 68-64.

2012 NCAA Tournament - UNLV vs. Colorado

UNLV forward Quintrell Thomas grabs his own rebound against Colorado during their second round NCAA Men's Basketball Championship game Thursday, March 15, 2012 at The Pit in Albuquerque. Launch slideshow »

UNLV vs. Colorado State

KSNV coverage of UNLV taking on Colorado in New Mexico during the NCAA Tournament, March 15, 2012.

ALBUQUERQUE — Dave Rice sat down at the podium, his first season as UNLV’s head coach suddenly complete.

The fanfare and criticism, successes and failures all in the past tense in regards to the 2011-12 team. A hard-charging rally couldn’t salvage UNLV from a 68-64 upset to 11-seed Colorado, as the Rebels lost in their first NCAA Tournament game for the third consecutive season.

The Rebels (26-9) will lose four seniors, and Rice mentioned the melancholy that comes with saying goodbye. Yet less than 45 seconds into his postgame statement, and less than 30 minutes after the season came to a screeching halt Rice was looking to the future.

“While this was a very rewarding season, we’re proud of a lot of the things that we accomplished, we didn’t ever feel like we were satisfied with how it went,” Rice said.

The Rebels return six players from the main rotation, and add transfers Bryce Jones and Khem Birch, as well as three high-school recruits with one scholarship still open.

In order to make the necessary improvements next year, here are five things that the Rebels must work on this off-season.

Rebounding

The Rebels got dominated on the glass several times this season, most notably in losses at TCU, the last two to New Mexico and on Thursday.

The problems against Colorado started immediately as the Buffaloes came up with seemingly every loose ball.

“We were switching a lot of screens, ended up making mismatches on the boards and guys just couldn’t box the bigs out,” said sophomore forward Mike Moser, who finished with a team-high nine rebounds.

Colorado’s Andre Roberson pulled down 16 rebounds as the Buffs finished with a 46-33 advantage on the glass. The Lobos outrebounded the Rebels by 15 in the Mountain West tournament semifinal last Friday.

“The last two games of the season we’ve been out-rebounded pretty significantly, and that’s a big problem for us especially since we want to get out in transition and run,” Rice said.

Many will criticize UNLV’s shot selection, especially early, as it finished with a season-high 36 3-point attempts. Rice was OK with that because those were the open shots, and you can’t always control whether the shots are falling.

“But we can control whether we defensive rebound the ball or not, and we just did not do a good enough job,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure that we do a better job on the defensive boards. It’s just so critically important for us to become a more consistent defensive rebounding team.”

Post offense

Full-court pressure was the key to UNLV’s run, but another important factor was the Rebels getting into the lane.

“Didn’t get to the rim in the first half, but that opened things up in the second half. Triggered our offense,” junior guard Anthony Marshall said.

On Thursday it mostly came from the guards’ penetration. Next year, Rice wants to be able to dump the ball down into the post more often with more consistent success.

“We need to make sure that we continue to establish a low-post/mid-post presence, and it doesn’t have to be a 5 man. It can be a wing,” Rice said.

Establishing that presence will be key to both the post offense and rebounding, so long as the Rebels find an answer.

Taking home on the road

UNLV went 20-1 in Las Vegas, and 6-8 everywhere else. It hasn’t won a game outside of Vegas since January, a stretch that could be attributable to travel, tough road environments or an inability to overcome adverse conditions.

The problem probably includes all of the above, which means it may take the entire off-season to come up with the answer.

“Took the next step this year in terms of establishing our program, and now we need to take the next step to becoming a more consistent program at home, but also on neutral floors and on the road,” Rice said. “That’s the next step for us, to try to play the same way on the road as we do at home.”

Sense of urgency

Colorado had it. UNLV didn’t, just the latest example of the Rebels letting the moment pass them by without playing a full 40 minutes.

The players left everything they had on the court Thursday, but they waited far too long to start doing it. Sitting in his locker after playing his final game as a Rebel, fifth-year senior Kendall Wallace said his message to returning players was to always feel that urgency.

“Take every moment and relish it, because it goes by really quick,” Wallace said. “You only get so many opportunities to do this, so take advantage of it while you can.”

Finish the season

Late-season collapses are the same-old story now for Rebels fans. Rice could see it in his players.

“We’re a group this year that had a lot of success, and then at some point about 2/3 of the way through the season had a very hard time managing our success,” Rice said.

Part of that comes with the experience, because every situation is easier to handle if you’ve been there before. But more importantly it’s going to require a mental toughness from the players and a reassessment from Rice on just how everything spiraled away from them.

“That’s something we’ll have to work very hard on in the off-season,” Rice said.

They won’t be short on projects this summer.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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  1. Let's make this clear first. I like rice and glad he is our coach. Now, here is the problem that the player see. He says things like he ok with all those open three shots because they were open even thought they went 9-36 (the most misses all season long). Then he has the nerve to say that he want way more passes and drives to the paint. Make up your mind. If you are ok with it then all the players will do is sit around the perimeter and jack them up. It's easer than taking it to the whole even if you make more shots that way. You want consitancy, then coach consitancy. New slogan for next year. Let's really run. Not this years "lets shoot" campaign.

  2. 1) Post defense. Shotblocking. We have ZERO threat and guys penetrate at will. 2) Point guard that can create....ie Katin reinhardt. Reinhardt needs to start from Game one....And Anthony Bennett wouldnt hurt either.

  3. Toughness. This team really lacks the toughness. It's embarrassing watching Lopez and Massamba constantly try and flop, without being actors. Except for Marshall, Moser, Hawkins, and Bellfield all season, The rest seem to just play soft. Break out those football hit-pads and toughen these guys up.

  4. I agree with the "toughness" comment which would also be part of "killer instinct", something these Rebs just didn't have.

    My biggest complaint is that the Rebels didn't seem to improve as the year went on. In fact, they seemed to take steps backwards in many key areas particularly rebounding, fast breaking and perimeter defense.

    Is this a coaching thing? I still find myself wondering if things would have been the same under Reggie... I know, that's all water under the bridge but Reggie was a tough guy and Dave seems too nice (despite the classic bloody face photo). (Note: I have never been to a practice so maybe he is a taskmaster but it's not the feeling I get by looking in from the outside)

    I'm sure Stacey & Co. tried to develop an inside post game so maybe we just didn't have the horses for it. I think Lopez has a bit of promise there and it sounds like Birch is gonna be an animal so maybe we won't suck so bad when we can't run nor hit the trey.

  5. The major thing that I would add is improve our offense. A post presence would clearly aid this but to me our entire offensive scheme needs to be scrapped. This high pick and roll with the other three players standing is a joke. This is the identical offense Kruger ran he just did not let the team take as many shots as Rice does. Other teams get action and screening off the ball and are able to get much easier looks. All we get is long jumpers or occasionally a guard can turn the corner and create but everyone stands and waits. This is precisely the reason that Kruger's teams and Rice's teams both have so many offensive lulls in so many games. I thought Rice was a good offensive coach but I sure have not seen anything different than Coach Kruger ran. Btw just who does Coach Rice intend to be our low post threat next year? We know that there is no way that Lopez or Thomas can do this. Neither one has any clue in the post. I have not seen Birch play but I have heard he is raw and athletic, not skilled. Morant the same. Unless we pick up a scorer/banger with our last scholarship I do not know how Coach intends to make this happen. We going to post guards and small forwards up? Coach Rice really needs to show me something next year for me to believe he is the right guy to take this to the next level. Toughness starts at the top. These last two months have given me many doubts about Coach Rice and I hope he makes some big improvements in these areas for next year.

  6. I think you can't measure a coach's success until he's had at least three years to bring in his own guys and implement his own system. The fact that Kruger's kids ended up with the same result under Dave Rice as they did under Lon is more a reflection of the players than the coach. It was good to hear Coach Rice in the post-game news conference say exactly what I was thinking the whole game - need to greatly improve rebounding and better post play in the half court, otherwise we'll continue to chuck up 3's and flat-line in tournament games. We need to improve our half-court offense significantly next season, and play defense for 40 minutes without taking possessions off.

    You can coach effort and technique, but toughness is a have-it-or-you-don't quality. Especially mental toughness. Marshall and Hawkins seem to have it. Let's hope that Jones, Birch, and the other newcomers have it, because overall this team came up a little short in the toughness department.

  7. @COrebel I totally agree with you.

  8. UNLV fans want to see an up-tempo offense but in a lot of close games, Coach Rice was out-coached. The staff needs to mix-up different offensive and defensive strategies during the course of the game. Keep the other coach guessing. Why did we wait until the last 7 minutes before UNLV put in a full-court press after Colorado had a 20 point lead? Next years' team needs to be taught to run a half-court offense. Tournament time, teams take air out of the ball and we won't always be able control the tempo - especially if we can't get a rebound. Every possession is critical. A made 2 is worth more than a missed 3. On defense, UNLV players need to play tight defense and deny open shots. UNLV spends too much time playing the passing lanes, trying for a steal. Guard tighter and keep other shooters from having so many open looks. Notice how Murray State guarded CSU? They stayed in their opponents' jersies until the shot lock was winding down, and when CSU tried to put the ball on the floor, Murray State forced turnovers.

    Coach Rice is still learning and will be fine, but he needs to adopt a more flexible approach. Without rebounds, we can't run; if 3s don't fall, we need an effective half-court game.

  9. This is ALL on the coach.......took almost the whole first half to figure out that man on man defense was not working and finally switched over to a zone. That and the fact that driving the lane was all but missing with the 36 three point tries. Abysmal performance but all to typical for most of the UNLV sports teams. Poor coaching......poor execution..same thing we have seen from UNLV since the Tark.

  10. Looking forward to next season! Go Rebels!

  11. I love how you all can critique a 10+ year college coach. This Rebel team was very good. The tale of this team is how wallace put it. They didn't grasp the opportunities. They let the game pass them by. They would get up by 15-20 (showing they were far superior) and then sit back and rest on their laurels. They were up big on TCU, CSU, NMU, WYO and would relax and lost all those games. Exactly what Iona did with BYU. The Colorado game, they came in thinking they didn't have to work for the win. They should have easily beat CU, but they didn't grasp the moment. They had the talent obviously, but did not come to play. You can blame it on the coach, but the coach can't make the players want it. This team does well when they fear, when they have success they get too over confident. The Colorado game was a perfect example. They cut the lead to two and suddenly forgot how to play again and reverted back to the horrible play of the first half. Things will be better with the players coming in. I think Jones and KR will have a more consistent jump shot and will be able to create for themselves better then the players we have leaving. I think that will quell most of the long scoring draughts that the Rebels this year fell into.

  12. I think it comes down to conditioning. The players were not in good enough shape for Rice to run pressure defense.

    I think Rice was caught off-guard when the players started gassing out 2/3rds of the way through the season.

    He was already trying to shorten the rotation and it was too much for the team to overcome.

    Next season, I'm hoping that Rice places a premium on conditioning from day one and does his best to keep the players in tip-top shape.

  13. We watch the teams that consistently advance - they play defense and they hit the boards. UNLV was a one shot and out team, with a soft big man trying to get boards with Moser and Stanbeck standing behind the 3 point line. UNLV's great teams played pressure defense and the good old "ameoba" zone. Stacy and Dave know this defense, so why did they not employ it with their challenges rebounding the ball? Every time, Rice looks to his former Wyoming Head Coach for advice. The Rice who made it look like he was so vocal on the sidelines at BYU - was emotionless on the sideline. He has room to improve when going up against top Coaches, regardless if he caught North Carolina one time. Moser needs to play like a first round pick - like Drew Gordon. Marshall has to develop a jump shot that he can knock down. Maybe taking a harder look at these transfers - like Reggie from Marquette. That team has tough players, there has to be a reason why he did not get any time? Jones should be solid. But, 2 raw players in Khem and the 4 th or 5 th best player from Gorman - does not sound like toughness.

    To hear that UNLV chose Kendall Wallace over the Pac 12 Conference MVP - it just smells of a favor over talent. The last scholarship needs to go to a kid that is a rebound machine that is tough. That addition will be needed for a team that will continue to gun shots up from 3 point land.

  14. The fun continues...

  15. The team will already be a better rebounding team with the departure of Massamba. The guy was too lethargic and could barely get his hands away from his sides, so he was never in position to rebound the ball. I mean how many times do you have to see him get outrebounded by a 6 ft 190lb guard? Lopez, who should be the starter next year, is far more active and agile, and with the addition of Birch this should help getting boards from the 5 spot. I don't expect much from Morant as I expect them to ask him to redshirt. He's too thin at this point and needs to take a year like Lopez to bulk up and continue working on his offensive game.

    As for improved post play, the loss of Massamba once again helps there. Lopez has good footwork, as noted by Jay Bilas during the UNC game, but need to work on maybe a hook short and turn around jumper. He only seems to try and get by his guy to get to the rim and that's not always possible. He also needs to work on establishing himself within about 8 feet from the post and not the 12-15 feet he's been doing. Moser also needs to learn to play with his back to the basket. He currently only tries to face up and get around his guy which leads to way too many TO's. By playing down low it would also put him in better position to help with getting offensive rebounds as this years team had only one guy under the boards at best when a shot went up, as everyone else was already backpedaling. Learning how to play with his back to the basket would also help improve his pro potential not to mention it would help draw more fouls on his defender.

    As for taking home on the road, this would require a true leader. Someone who is willing to call guys out on the floor, not just in the locker room or when watching tape. This is a roll Marshall needs to fill, and maybe it'll be easier on him without all the senior "leadership" being around that he had this season. No more mister nice guy Anthony. If you want to take the blame and responsibility then you need to take charge of this team for real. We should also see improvement in this area with the additions of Jones, KR, and possible improvement from Smith, as all of these guys can drive to the hole, so Marshall won't be the only guy who can do it. This is important on the road as it can lead to better % shots, can help put the other team in foul trouble, and can also help you get to the line far more often to (hopefully) get more freebies. I know this year team wasn't a good FT shooting team, but outside of Marshall the only other players to consistently get to the line were Massamba, Q, and Lopez. It will also help that with Jones we should have a go to player as you have to respect his ability to drive and shoot. Until Marshall's J becomes respectable, he'll be unable to ever be a go to guy.

  16. As for a sense of urgency and finishing the season these sort of come down to the same issue. Not all of the current players are they type of players that fit into coach Rice's offense and they weren't in good enough condition to keep it up all season long. Simply put, they ran out of gas. That's why they'd seem like they ran into a wall continuously. When jump shooters don't have their legs their shots will start to fall short, which explains their late season shooting woes. As the season wore on they went from not being out rebounded by anyone, to being destroyed on the boards. They became slow to rotate/switch on defense and struggled to keep people in front of them and they no longer got a lot of steals that lead to breakaways. It takes time to get into shape to run the way Rice wants and one year just wasn't enough to do it...especially when the bench stopped providing anything. They should be in better condition come next year as they'll have another year to continue getting in shape to run this style of offense.

    The team needs to play better defense though next year. This was something that Coach Rice let slip. There were instances all year of missed assignments and switches. I know during the Wisconsin game, they're play-by-play guys commented on how they couldn't hear the Rebels communicating on defense and this is one of the most necessary things needed on defense.

    As for next years starters right now I'd have Carlos, Mike, Bryce, Anthony. that last spot is up for grabs though. Right now I'd put Reggie in it, but he has a lot of work to do. Needs to work on getting under control and not forcing things when he drives. He was a TO machine when he was on the court. Hopefully this was a just a case of nerves and feeling the pressure to perform due to the expectations placed on him, but we'll see. He also took very poor shots as although he has a nice stroke, he needs to learn that no matter if you're a hairs width behind the arc or 5 ft behind it the shot is still only worth 3 pts. He launched way too many shots from "Jimmer" range. He also needs to work on his FT shooting. He seemed unfocused when he was at the line and didn't have a consistent rhythm in his approach(this also being a problem of Justin's). He also needs to work on his defense. The guy he was guarding always seemed to be wide open or easily drive past him. I don't see how Mashour can be any worse of a defensive liability the Smith appeared to be. If he fails to improve then you could see either of the FR PG's take this spot(don't forget about Cook KR fans) or you could see Rice go with experience and play Anthony at the 1 and Justin at the 2. Of course this could all be a moot point if Shabaaz stays home, as he'll take that last spot. Personally though I'm hoping for Bennet. We don't need a 1 and done type guy in terms of building a program. I'd rather have someone who will be here for at least 3 years.

  17. For those calling for coach Rice's removal you need to slow down. He got 26 wins and had the team looking far more impressive in doing it. He's got far better recruits coming in the Kruger ever got. Yes he made mistakes and yes he is still learning, but getting rid of him now would not look good to other candidates or on recruits. I know Sinatra likes to think we need to get someone with a name and pedigree, but the school doesn't have the money for it and someone like that will leave as soon as a BCS school comes knocking with more money then UNLV could currently hope to offer. Coach Rice and his wife are Rebels through and through and I don't think that they'll leave unless forced to. Hopefully 20 years from now he'll still be walking the sidelines and our kids will be referring to him and his teams as fondly as we refer to Coach Tark and his teams.

  18. Christopher Wilson - I'm suggesting Rice's removal now so that we can avoid toiling in mediocrity for another 5 yrs. I know everyone love's this guy, but it's clear as day to me that he doesn't have what it takes to win a championship...or even a final four finish. I find it comical that everyone is crucifying Kruger now. However, you were all the same homers who viciously defended him during his reign as head coach.

    I believe qualified head coaches with pedigree will come to UNLV. How did SDSU land Steve Fisher? They were in our conference? He took them from also rans to top in the conference and legit NCAA contenders. If we're going to lose, I'd rather lose knowing we gave our best effort. Sure, we beat UNC and had a few nice wins...however, the team did not give their best effort in the 2nd half of the season. The responsibility of motivation falls directly on the shoulders of the head coach and his coaching staff.

    All year long, I've been saying "don't be complacent". However, it was Coach Rice himself who said "we don't have to make major changes to their approach to road games"...and "not to panic"....that was at the beginning of Feb. Are you kidding me? This is our head coach! He didn't start to worry about it until the end of the month just before we started the conference tourney!

    And for everyone who drools over his recruiting acumen....to me you're a complete failure if you can't recruit your brother's best player. You have a distinct advantage over 99.99% of the coaches/teams on the planet. Why? Because you're brother has been in the kid's ear for years! Before he was the #1 recruit in the nation! So, who should the kid trust? The guy who helped him become the #1 prospect? It's common for high school coaches to sway/direct a player to a school...and Rice couldn't land him.

    The comedy in all of this is the argument that "We don't want/need the #1 recruit" because "he's one and done and will jeopardize the program". Do you think Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Texas care about "one and done" kids?! No, they deal with that every year! That's what makes a big-time program! Major coverage on the major networks come with the #1 recruit. Look at what happened this year....we were scheduled to be on national TV twice, but instead they showed games with teams ranked much lower than UNLV! So for all of you "rank whores" who were clamoring about our high rankings this year...it didn't do anything for us! Getting on national TV is how you land recruits!

    I don't have the patience to see if this rookie coach will turn out to be the next Tark. We should stop looking for the next Tark.

    In the meantime, I'll laugh at all of the homers...at least I'll be entertained and it helps me deal with the disappointment of the team. At least I'm young enough to be able to endure several more coaching changes. One thing is certain....Rice will not be around 5 yrs from now. You can bet on it.

  19. @Heretic - I agree. As much as I would like to have Shabazz here, his eligibility problems suggest that UNLV should steer clear. The last thing we need is another NCAA sanction.
    As for SDSU getting Fisher, don't forget that he came under a big dark cloud.

  20. @Heretic - It's par for the course for you homers...instead of focusing on the problem...Rice can't recruit. You try to create a diversion...that I'm obsessed with Shabazz. I could care less about Shabazz personally...it's the fact that Rice can't even land his brother's top prospect that's got me irked.

    Before the allegations of wrongdoing with Shabazz, Rice couldn't land him...and by the way, everyone wanted to land him until that happened. The point is that he couldn't get him...before or after this new information. If he can't land him, what makes me believe he can in the future?!

    What are you going to say now? LMAO (yes, you make me laugh)....homers always do.

  21. Sinatra, the season is over and you're still a complete fool. Please go away now and don't bother returning for the 2012-2013 season. Dave Rice isn't going anywhere, so it's incredibly foolish to even mention. I'm sure you would have done a much better job coaching the players that Rice inherited. With Coach Sinatra, the Rebels would be 37-0 right now and the overall #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament getting ready to beat whoever their opponent in the Sweet 16 would have been by 45 points or so.

  22. @I_Love_March_Madness - Again...typical homer tactic. I never said I wanted to be the coach. I'm not qualified to be a coach any more than you are. Nice attempt to change the point of focus to me instead of the real problem. I can't wait to read your comments and everyone else's comments a few years from now blasting Rice after he disappoints. That's why I laugh at you guys. Why don't you go away? LMFAOAY