Coach: Dave Rice
Career record: 26-9 at UNLV
Best NCAA Tournament finish: Round of 64 at UNLV in 2012.
Years at current school: 1
|Vital Info: No. 12 UNLV|
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Last season's record: 26-9 (lost to Colorado in the Round of 64)
Notable losses from last season: Chace Stanback, Oscar Bellfield, Brice Massamba
Notable returnees from last season: Mike Moser, Anthony Marshall, Justin Hawkins, Carlos Lopez, Quintrell Thomas
Notable newcomers: Anthony Bennett, Khem Birch, Daquan Cook, Bryce Dejean-Jones, Savon Goodman, Demetris Morant, Katin Reinhardt
Projected starters: G: Anthony Marshall G: Bryce Dejean-Jones F: Mike Moser F: Anthony Bennett F: Khem Birch
Why this team will be good: The simple answer is because UNLV has an abundance of talented players, which is typically the first step to becoming good. Some have called this roster UNLV's best since the days of Jerry Tarkanian, and I'm in no position to argue. The star, of course, is Mike Moser -- a 6-foot-8 forward who started his career at UCLA, then transferred to UNLV and sat out a season. He became eligible last year and was dominant right from the start, proof being the 16-point, 20-rebound effort he posted against something called Grand Canyon. Moser went on to average 14.0 points and 10.5 rebounds per game as a sophomore. He could be a First Team All-American this season playing beside a pair of former McDonald's All-Americans -- namely Anthony Bennett and Khem Birch, the latter of whom is a transfer from Pittsburgh who won't be eligible until December. But when he is, watch out. Birch playing to his potential would lead to UNLV arguably having the nation's best three-forward combo.
Why this team might disappoint: The loss of Oscar Bellfield won't register with casual basketball fans but people who follow UNLV understand what he meant to that team. He was a steady point guard who averaged 5.4 assists, and his absence will likely require Anthony Marshall to be more of a primary ball-handler. Can Marshall handle those duties? Yes, I think so. And, more importantly, Dave Rice thinks so, too. But it is a question mark this preseason -- a preseason that's already been unfortunate given that Bryce Dejean-Jones, a transfer from USC, is currently sidelined with a fractured hand. Whether Dejean-Jones will miss any games remains unclear. But there's no denying he's missing valuable practice time, and there's no way to spin that into a positive. What it means is that Rice will likely be forced to play lineups he didn't anticipate having to play, and then he'll have to reshuffle again when Khem Birch becomes eligible. That can sometimes be a difficult task for any coach but particularly a young one. How Rice handles it could determine how good this team becomes.
Bottom line: Yes, UNLV will be relying on a bunch of newcomers -- some of whom are currently sidelined by an injury (Bryce Dejean-Jones), one of whom is a transfer who won't be eligible until December (Khem Birch). And Anthony Marshall, as stated, will have a new role, too. But still. Talent is talent. And I'm a sucker for talent. And if there's one thing we can all agree on it's that UNLV is one of the nation's most talented (and deepest) teams. That, more than any other reason, is why the Rebels should win the Mountain West Conference just ahead of San Diego State, get into the NCAA tournament and be a serious threat to make the Final Four for the first time since Jerry Tarkanian took them there in 1991. Folks in Vegas are excited about what's on deck. The truth is that they should be.
Quote from an opposing coach in the league: "Mik Moser is a stud. Imagine him still at UCLA and what Ben [Howland] could get done with him. I bet he hates losing him. But UNLV is happy to have him. I think he can be a First Team All-American, and UNLV might end up being the best team in the West … even better than UCLA, Arizona, Gonzaga, everybody."