rebels basketball:

Analysis: Five reasons to be optimistic about UNLV basketball next season

The 2011-12 season laid a solid foundation for what should be an even better outcome in Dave Rice’s second year

Image

Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV guard Justin Hawkins celebrates his three-point shot that brought the Rebels to within two points of Colorado during their second round NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship game Thursday, March 15, 2012 in Albuquerque. It was the closest the Rebels got as UNLV lost the game 68-64.

The dust has already begun to settle from the UNLV basketball team’s collapse to close the season.

The Rebels were nearly a top-10 team in opening the year with a 21-3 record, but couldn’t duplicate the favorable results down the stretch. What started out with such high hopes — remember storming the court after beating No. 1 North Carolina? — wound up being just like the past two seasons with the team coming up short.

However, not all is lost. The foundation was firmly established for the future of the program. It’s a future that looks bright.

Despite the rough ending, and all sorts of questions trying to dissect the late-season struggles, it’s pretty obvious UNLV returned to national importance. While that status didn’t result in a NCAA Tournament win, it’s a sign the program is heading in the right direction. Even the most pessimistic fan has to feel better about the state of the program, right?

Here are five reasons to be optimistic about the upcoming season:

    • UNLV sophomore guard Bryce Jones, left, works against sophomore forward Karam Mashour during the first team workout of the fall on the UNLV campus Thursday, Sept. 15, 2011.

      UNLV sophomore guard Bryce Jones, left, works against sophomore forward Karam Mashour during the first team workout of the fall on the UNLV campus Thursday, Sept. 15, 2011.

      More talent

      Remove seniors Brice Massamba, Oscar Bellfield and Chace Stanback from the UNLV starting lineup, replace them with Bryce Jones on the wing, Katin Reinhardt at guard and Khem Birch (after the fall semester when the transfer is eligible) in the post, and the Rebels are instantly a more athletic, aggressive and an overall better team. Sure, losing Bellfield’s reliability and decision making in the backcourt won’t be easy to replace, but give the 6-foot-4 incoming freshman Reinhardt a few games, and you’ll realize it’s a major upgrade. All three players were top 100 recruits, including Birch in 2011 being McDonald’s All-American and Reinhardt a top-50 recruit from powerhouse Mater Dei in Southern California. The rising sophomore Jones, a 6-foot-5 wing who will take over for Stanback, is a transfer from USC who several feel is one of the program’s most talented players in two decades. He’ll have the same impact Mike Moser did this year.

    • UNLV forward Mike Moser dunks on New Mexico during the first half of their game Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012 at The Pit in Albuquerque, N.M.

      UNLV forward Mike Moser dunks on New Mexico during the first half of their game Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012 at The Pit in Albuquerque, N.M.

      Mike Moser

      Having the 6-foot-8 Moser penciled in at the four-spot is a great starting point for the upcoming season. He’s athletic, plays with passion and intensity, finds success offensively with his inside and outside game, and fits perfectly into the Rebels’ up-tempo offensive philosophies. Moser, who this season averaged 14.1 points and 10.6 rebounds per game, will likely be the league’s top returning player and a big reason why UNLV will again be a top-25 team. Moser was four times named the Mountain West Conference’s player of the week, taking the honor in consecutive weeks in late November in bursting onto the scene as one of the nation’s best. Like the Rebels’ hot start, Moser also fizzled out — if just briefly. A two-week stretch of bad performances in February — and the Rebels’ poor end to the season — will give him motivation to make improvements this offseason. Look for Moser to add bulk to his lanky 210-pound frame and fine tune other aspects of his arsenal in becoming an even more complete player.

    • UNLV's Anthony Marshall takes a photo with a young Rebel fan before boarding a bus to Albuquerque for the NCAA Tournament, Tuesday March, 13 2012.

      UNLV's Anthony Marshall takes a photo with a young Rebel fan before boarding a bus to Albuquerque for the NCAA Tournament, Tuesday March, 13 2012.

      Solid leaders

      Anthony Marshall and Justin Hawkins will be seniors next year, and make no doubt about it, they will be the Rebels’ unquestioned leaders. That’s a good thing because they are hard working, likable and talented. Marshall, a local product, has long been the face of the program and cherishes his role in being someone others look up to. He made tremendous strides in his game from his sophomore season to this winter and will continue to progress in potentially becoming a first-team all-league pick. Hawkins was UNLV’s unsung hero this year, typically the first player off the bench in playing several productive and quality minutes. He’s a top-notch defender, isn’t prone to mistakes and has developed a nice jump shot. It’s a pretty safe bet that both these players will be rolling up their sleeves in the offseason to ensure their final season with the scarlet and gray is a memorable one.

    • UNLV coach Dave Rice calls a time out as Colorado goes up by 10 during their second round NCAA Men's Basketball Championship game Thursday, March 15, 2012 at The Pit in Albuquerque.

      UNLV coach Dave Rice calls a time out as Colorado goes up by 10 during their second round NCAA Men's Basketball Championship game Thursday, March 15, 2012 at The Pit in Albuquerque.

      Dave Rice will be better next year, too

      When UNLV opened the season with 21 victories in its first 24 games, rising to No. 11 in the Associated Press rankings, it was easy to forgot that the man calling the shots for the Rebels was making his head coaching debut. Dave Rice, despite the collapse to end the season, had a tremendous first season. And not just on game day. He landed top recruits in Jones, Reinhardt and Birch, embraced the community obligations associated with running a program, and didn’t flinch when dealt with the adversity of poor play. All in all, a great effort in taking the program to another level — yes, even with the first-game NCAA Tournament exit, the program took a gigantic step forward. Rice’s first go-round will serve as a learning experience for upcoming seasons, with the coach surely going to take a long look in the mirror when evaluating the season. Rice is known for his work behind the scenes in preparation and should come back next year a more versed coach.

    • Fans in the student section wear white during the white out during the UNLV game against Wyoming at the Thomas  & Mack Center in Las Vegas on Saturday, March 3, 2012.

      Fans in the student section wear white during the white out during the UNLV game against Wyoming at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas on Saturday, March 3, 2012.

      Unbeatable at home

      With Rice, a member of the 1990 national title team, calling the shots and bringing an exciting brand of fast-paced basketball back to UNLV, the scarlet and gray faithful returned to religiously following the team. There were three sellouts this year (more than the past 19 years combined) to create a true home court advantage in helping the Rebels post a perfect regular season record at the Thomas & Mack Center. The band seemed to play louder, the fans didn’t miss a word in the fight song and those crazy students were surely creative in making sure the opposition felt at a disadvantage. Welcome back, UNLV basketball. Just like the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Mack is the place to be. Don’t expect that to change next winter, giving UNLV a leg up in complete its return to prominence.

    Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

    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: 20 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. 1.) Pretty good lineup of returners: Mike Moser, Justin Hawkins, Quintrell Thomas, Carlos Lopez, and Anthony Marshall (Can he practice some layups this off season? He clearly has the talent to get TO the basket, as he's the most athletic guy on the court most nights, but he's got to be able to finish. The number one quote from announcers this season: "Anthony Marshall misses a layup").
      2.) Kaitin Reinhardt
      3.) Bryce Jones
      4.) Khem Birch
      5.) Demetris Morant

      Don't forget DaQuan Cook.

      The number one thing we suffered from this year... NOT playing Runnin' Rebel full court pressure defense. Next year our bench will be stacked. There is no excuse for not pressuring teams. Get it done Coach Rice!

    2. The talent is not the question. The Question many are asking, but not mentioned in this article, is the offensive plays the Rebels ran. If the same play calling this season is used next season with different players, we will see the same results.

    3. Matt:

      Morant is no where ready to play. He is a terrible offensive player, he is a good defensive player but not a starter.

    4. I will be very interested to see who Coach gets for the last scholarship. Truly believe that for this team to win a conference championship and get to the second weekend of the NCAAs they must sign a low post presence. The biggest overall problem for the Rebels was offensively. Very one dimensional drive and kick with the high ball screen offense that Kruger had that drove alot of us crazy. Little disappointed that Rice did not change a thing except to shoot quicker. Two guys working a pick and roll while three stand and watch. Have to be able to get easy baskets in the post and draw double teams. We may be upgrading the talent but until our offense gets some diversity, we will still go through offensive lulls and lose to teams we should not. Did anyone else really enjoy watching them play the last 10-12 minutes against CU? Trapping everywhere and playing like their hair was on fire? I loved the chaos and the frenetic pace. That to me is the Runnin Rebels. Hope Rice got some inspiration from that.

    5. Albert Einstein stated only a fool does something the same and expects a different result. So hopefully rice and co aren't fools and they try something new. Unlv will continue to improve but like the other commenter wrote, it's gonna depend in the defense. It needs to be changed. The only thing that I think needs to be clear is the Mac might have sold out three times this year but the amount spent on advertising was alot more. They also had a significantly more amount of radio exposer. That's the real reason. You spend more on a successful advertisement program, then you get more hype which opens more doors. Let's try to duplicate or beat those numbers this year. Go rebels.

    6. In my opinion the #1 thing the Rebs need for next year is an old savvy assistant coach. One who has been a head coach before. One with a few gray hairs who has been around for a while. One who would've had Rice start pressing about 5 minutes into the game on Thursday. The Rebs have what they need on the floor. Consistent coaching mistakes plagued the team this year. Maybe even this assistant coach could come up with some sort of half court offense as well.

    7. Scarlet and red?

    8. Love Quintrell excitement in the first picture. Must be contiplating a physics exam or something.

    9. NEVADA is still playing . . .

    10. Who is Nevada? Yes, UNR is still playing, and when UNLV travesl up North next year, they'll see a banner hanging in Lawlor Events Center celebrating the Wolf Pack's NIT run.

    11. When was the last time UNR beat the Rebels? 2005-06? Some rivalry.

    12. UNLV needs a post player. Even just a rebounder would be fantastic. They don't have to be able to score every possession, not a Thomas Robinson, an Anthony Davis, or even a Andre Drummond. They need a Festus Ezili, a Mouphtaou Yarou, Robert Sacre, or Derrick Nix to complement the wings (Birch, Moser, Jones), but have good hands. They need just a Joel Anthony to block and get boards.

      Guards: Marshall, Hawkins, Reinhardt, Cook, Smith
      Wings: Birch, Jones, Moser, Mashour
      Post: Lopez, Thomas, Morant(?)

      We need a Zimmerman (hint hint)

    13. NEVADA Reno will always be an NIT (at best) team.

    14. So if UNR wins the NIT... Doesen't that make them the 69TH best team in the nation? The best 68 teams are in the big dance.

    15. Top priority should be a solid inside presence/game. I do not want to hear the 'live by the three, die by the three' phrase be associated with the 2013 Rebel team.

    16. Besides Mike Moser, this list is ridiculous. I'm bookmarking it to refer to it this same time next season....it will make for a fun read.

    17. I agree with all 5pts but I'm a little nervous about #2 aka leadership. I dont disagree that Marshall & Hawkins are great kids with tons of character & talent...but that dont make you a leader on the floor during gut check time.

      The last two COMPLETE leaders we had were Kevin Kruger & Curtis Terry. Those two had a command over their teams even if they werent the best players on their team...but all their teammates deferred to them because they didnt get rattled, they didnt sulk or have poor body language, and they didnt panic & do stupid things. Nor would they tolerate stupidity or contagious negativity from their teammates. THAT is a leader. They were always confident, cool, and had a high hoops IQs to know what it would take to win the game. We havent had anybody like them since. It isnt an accident their teams were the last Rebel teams to advance in the tourney.

      I love what Marshall & Hawkins bring to the table and they effort they give...I just dont know if they possess the intangibles necessary to lead others when the chips are down. Marshall wears his emotions on his sleeve & Hawkins is almost docile in his approach to the game. And those are fine because its who they are. But a leader is something else. I just dont see it. I hope I'm wrong.

    18. djonian:

      I agree with your last statement. Look for a guy like Reinhardt to be that leader in the future (not next year- no way a freshman will be allowed that roll).
      And Moser needs to get his butt back inside playing the intermediate game- he does need to turn into Chace Stanback.

    19. Agree on all five, but share Djonian's concerns about leaders. Don't see why Moser can't become that leader. Most comments right on point as well.

      Moser must develop some post-up moves if he wants to succeed on next level. Forget the freakin' 3-pointers and become automatic on the 12-15 ft jumper.

      I have no doubts that Coach Rice will put in the work to get better himself. Mix in at least a handful of half-court set plays, and even an occasional zone d just to change the look.

      Nevada still playing? Had to be someone just trying to get a laugh! Don't care who ya are, that's funny right there.

    20. Yeah, Hawkins looks really docile in that picture