Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Monday, Jan. 7, 2013 | 2 a.m.
- Rebels prepare for new challenges after wrapping up nonconference season
- Rebels to unveil a new starting lineup when they take on Cal State Bakersfield
- Atmosphere at the Mack a big selling point for newest UNLV commit
- California point guard commits to UNLV on official visit
- Rebels’ bench and inside presence enough in tuneup game against Chicago State
- Reinhardt’s development centers on his progress within UNLV’s defense
- Class of 2013 guard will make official visit to UNLV on Thursday
- UNLV Leftovers: Moser’s return finally gives Rebels their full roster
- Bad start leaves too much ground for UNLV to make up in loss at UNC
- All UNLV men's basketball coverage
By one metric, two of UNLV’s top five offensive performance of the season came in Saturday night’s 84-63 victory against Cal State Bakersfield. And had he played enough minutes to qualify, Quintrell Thomas — 10 points on 3-of-4 shooting and six rebounds in nine minutes — may have bested them both.
The two outstanding performers were Anthony Bennett and Bryce Dejean-Jones. Bennett scored the team’s first 11 points, finishing with 28 points and 10 rebounds in 29 minutes. He was 7-for-9 on 2s, 3-for-4 on 3s and 5-for-6 at the free-throw line. That was good for a 171 Offensive Rating, according to kenpom.com.
Throwing out the La Verne game (sorry to Carlos Lopez-Sosa and his 185) that was the second-best single game of the season, behind only Anthony Marshall's 180 against Northern Arizona. The other top performances were Thomas against Northern Iowa (168) and Khem Birch against Canisius (167).
The ORating was developed by Dean Oliver in the book “Basketball on Paper” to help properly judge a player's personal offensive efficiency. Bennett leads the team for the season at 127.3, which ranks in the top 50 in the country.
In that regard, Bennett’s performance was hardly a surprise. However...
Dejean-Jones needed a game like this
UNLV coach Dave Rice has expressed his happiness with Dejean-Jones’ progress for weeks, but it hasn’t always showed up on game day. On Saturday, it did as Dejean-Jones scored 12 points on 4-for-8 shooting and six assists with no turnovers. It tied Birch’s 167 ORating in the Canisius game, and the most important part is that Dejean-Jones passed up some open shots for better looks that resulted in high-percentage shots. He’s always had the talent to excel in Rice’s system, but when he tries to make too many plays and rushes shots, it hurts the team.
“I told Bryce that he was making the game a little bit too hard on himself,” Rice said.
Against Bakersfield, Dejean-Jones let the defenders dictate what he did with the ball rather than forcing the issue. That’s an important step in his development.
His performance was even more important because freshman Katin Reinhardt really struggled while battling an illness. Reinhardt shot 2-for-10, including 0-for-4 on 3s, and committed two turnovers.
Whenever Mike Moser returns to the lineup — and it could be as early as Wednesday at New Mexico — either Dejean-Jones or Reinhardt is going to the bench. Whoever it is will likely still play close to starters’ minutes, so it’s not a big deal. Dejean-Jones at least made that decision difficult with Saturday's performance.
Dejean-Jones is the choice if Rice wants to start with a better defensive lineup, but Reinhardt has been the more efficient scorer this season. Really, though, the more important question is which guy is going to be on the court at the end of games? I expect Rice will try a few different end-of-game lineups in the first half of conference play while searching for the best mix.
Game preparation will be key
Rice pointed out something interesting in Saturday’s postgame: From now until the Mountain West tournament, the Rebels will have at least two practice days before each game.
Although that’s not the best preparation for the NCAA Tournament, where a victory can award you a game less than 48 hours later, it should be beneficial for a team that still has a lot to figure out.
The rotation will certainly tighten up in conference play, but that’s also dependent on Moser’s return. Not only does UNLV need to get him back on the court, it needs to figure out exactly how best to use him.
Rice said Moser would see time at both forward spots, moving and outside depending on the matchups and the Rebels’ lineup.
“We’ll see how that shakes out,” Rice said.
Thanks to the schedule, UNLV will have ample time before each game to figure out how it wants to piece together its lineup against each opponent. In-game adjustments will always be important, but it can only help to have plenty of time to put together each game plan.
Bennett really enjoying himself
A big takeaway from Bennett’s game, from the media and I think from fans, is that he’s having a lot of fun playing college basketball.
“I would say it’s more fun (than I thought),” Bennett said. “The crowd just gets me into it every game.”
I think the more accurate description is that Bennett on the court is pure id. He smiles and he’s happy in the simplicity of the game. Bennett also sneers at opponents, stares them down and refuses to let them help him up.
With all of the small things he does throughout a game — hitting the ball out of people’s hands when the play is dead, pulling himself up on the rim, staring down opponents and yelling from the opening tip — I’m surprised Bennett hasn’t been called for a technical foul this year. I’m not saying he should be or that there’s one play that absolutely should have been called; I just didn’t expect a freshman to be able to get away with as much extracurricular activities as he does.
Speaking of fouls, Bennett actually deserves a lot of credit for staying out of foul trouble. He hasn’t been called for more than three fouls in a game, which is very impressive for an interior player, never mind a freshman.