Analysis:

Rebels face great challenge in Saturday’s closed scrimmage at UCLA

NCAA rules don’t allow UNLV to discuss playing the Bruins, so we take a look at the matchups and how the Rebels stack up

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV’s Mike Moser jokes with Carlos Lopez during the Rebels first official practice Friday, Oct. 12, 2012.

The biggest news in college basketball Wednesday came out of Los Angeles, where the NCAA cleared highly touted UCLA recruit Kyle Anderson. And while it’s great news for the Bruins, who hope a similar day is coming soon for Bishop Gorman grad Shabazz Muhammad, it’s also good for UNLV. That’s because the 18th-ranked Rebels go to UCLA this Saturday for a closed scrimmage, and adding Anderson to the mix makes it a greater challenge.

Per NCAA rules, the event is closed to the media and public, and the players and coaching staffs can’t speak specifically about the game or the opponent. But UNLV coach Dave Rice is allowed to speak in general terms about scrimmaging other teams, and he said he recognizes the advantage of playing top-level talent.

“The only reason to play a closed scrimmage is if you can do it against someone who has a quality team,” Rice said.

The scrimmages usually are run just like a regular game, with 20-minute halves, a full halftime and media timeouts. After that, the coaches may decide to work on specific situations or just play another mini-game to give freshmen and probable redshirts more time on the court.

Division I teams are allowed to have one closed scrimmage and one regular exhibition game, or two of one or the other. Exhibition games usually are against inferior opponents — UNLV hosts Division II Dixie State on Nov. 7 — but they offer the chance to fill an arena with fans and simulate a real game environment.

What the closed scrimmages lack in game atmosphere they generally make up for in competition. Other notable scrimmages around the country this week include Stanford at Saint Mary’s and Memphis at Alabama, though UNLV at UCLA is the highlight of the entire slate. It’s a matchup of top-20 programs that would generate a lot of revenue were somebody allowed to charge for tickets.

But since we can’t see the game and Rice can’t talk specifically about matchups, I’ll do it for him.

For UCLA, Anderson, a versatile 6-foot-9 guard who likes to play point, likely will start with a collection of former North Carolina transfers. Guard Larry Drew II and twin forwards David and Travis Wear moved to Los Angeles within the past couple of years after being unsatisfied with their time in Chapel Hill. Drew is new this year; the Wears both averaged at least 10 points and about six rebounds per game for the Bruins last season.

If the NCAA clears Muhammad, he will be the fifth starter throughout the year, but for Saturday it could be 6-5 junior guard Tyler Lamb or maybe 6-5 freshman guard Jordan Adams. Lamb averaged nine points last season and is one of at least four players on the roster, including the Wears, who went to Mater Dei High in California, the same high school as UNLV freshman Katin Reinhardt.

While Anderson presents the greatest individual matchup problem for UNLV, the Bruins’ strength is on the inside. In addition to the Wears, UCLA has junior Joshua Smith (6-10, 305 pounds), freshman Tony Parker (6-9, 275) and intriguing 6-10 freshman Adria Gasol, the youngest brother of NBA players Pau (Los Angeles Lakers) and Marc (Memphis Grizzlies) Gasol.

Gasol may have the name but Smith and the Wears have the production, together averaging 31.6 points and 17.1 rebounds per game last season. They will constantly challenge UNLV’s big men on the inside and probably push them around in a way the Rebels aren’t used to.

Anderson is an entirely different problem. UNLV guards Justin Hakwins and Anthony Marshall are known as solid defenders, but because of Anderson’s size it may work better to have former Bruin Mike Moser or freshman Savon Goodman guarding him.

The good news for UNLV is that it can create matchup problems of its own, with UCLA’s big men having to extend themselves 15 feet or more away from the basket because of Moser's and freshman Anthony Bennett's versatility. That’s supposed to be one of UNLV’s many strengths this season, and it’s even more important that it work well against teams with talented big men who would make scoring in the paint more difficult.

One of the Rebels' biggest problems Saturday may be the same thing they're counting on as a strength this season: depth. Khem Birch and Roscoe Smith are ineligible for the game because of their redshirt status. Bryce Dejean-Jones, who had the cast taken off his left hand Thursday, will just be a spectator and Carlos Lopez-Sosa may join him. Lopez-Sosa practiced Thursday, but his left shoulder is still hurting from a collision Tuesday and the staff wants to make sure it doesn’t get worse. Dejean-Jones expects to practice fully Monday and play a few minutes in the Nov. 7 game against Dixie State.

That’s going to mean tired legs by Saturday afternoon, which is fine with the players. No matter whom they’re playing, they’re just happy it’s someone in a different uniform.

“We always want to play against the best competition, but at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter who’s on the floor,” Moser said. “I just want to play basketball.”

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

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  1. This would be a fun matchup to watch, but alas, this scrimmage is closed...