Why am I here?
A valid question, and part of the human condition. But I mean, specifically, why am I here in Las Vegas right now? Why did I pack up my tiny Honda Civic this summer and drive 3,000 miles to cover UNLV basketball?
The answer, of course, is you. The fans. I’m here to serve you however I can. I mean, I won’t paint your house for you or anything, but I will answer your Rebels questions. And after last week’s disappointing loss at New Mexico, you had a lot of them. Let’s jump into some of the more pertinent questions in this edition of Words with Fans.
(Note: Some questions have been tweaked to clean up Tweet-speak)
WORDS WITH FANS
Is it better to have the tough road games out of the way early, or will going 1-3 to start league play really kill the Rebels’ spirit?
You’ve already got them penciled in for a 1-3 start? Tough crowd. Anyway, every player who has been asked about the tough opening to the Mountain West schedule (three of the first four games on the road) has had the same answer: we prefer it this way, this will make us tougher, etc. Me personally, I would have rather played some of the more difficult road games (at New Mexico, at San Diego State) later in the season, just because the Rebels haven’t had a chance to put their best team on the floor very often to this point. But maybe I’m just a wuss. And no, I don’t think a 1-3 start would kill the team’s spirit, just because this is college basketball. As long as you can punch a ticket to the tournament, you’re always alive.
Is winning on the road something that is a coaching issue or a player issue?
(COP-OUT ALERT) It’s both. For example, at New Mexico, the team didn’t seem totally prepared to defend Alex Kirk – did Bennett and Birch know that Kirk has 3-point range? They failed to close on him outside the arc on a number of occasions — and that’s on the coaching staff. As for the players, they absolutely have to make better decisions. With less than two minutes to play at New Mexico, Anthony Bennett got the ball in the post, waited for a double-team (which didn’t come), and passed it back out. He then re-posted, tried to pass to a cutter, and ended up turning the ball over. If Bennett is going to be the closer, he’s got to make better decisions down the stretch. And he probably will. After all, that was his first conference road game. So there’s obviously room for improvement as the season goes on.
What’s the deal with Quintrell Thomas and Savon Goodman?
Both players have seen their playing time reduced recently, for different reasons. With Goodman, I think it’s a risk-reward thing. He makes positive plays with his hustle and produces on the fast break, but he’s also one of the team’s most mistake-prone players. His ball-handling is raw, he commits unforced turnovers, and his defense is unpolished. The guess here is that the coaching staff doesn’t want to gamble on him in these tight conference games. As for Thomas, he was always destined to see a reduced role once Birch and Moser started playing full-time. But he’s also been losing time to Carlos Lopez-Sosa, who appears to be the first big man off the bench now.
Any insight as to why coach Rice went with Katin over BDJ in the starting lineup?
After the Air Force game, Rice said it was a positional thing. Starting BDJ at shooting guard over Reinhardt would have created a logjam at the 2 (don’t forget that Justin Hawkins usually gets about 25 minutes there), and bringing BDJ off the bench as the backup 3 still allowed him to play 22 minutes. And the decision worked out perfectly, as Dejean-Jones made a ton of key plays to help the Rebels win in overtime. And it may be telling that while Reinhardt started the game, he was on the bench while Dejean-Jones finished it.
Q: Will the Rebs start playing full court defense? I would think that could help improve our transition game.
I doubt it. I haven’t seen much of the press in practice, and with Moser’s move to the starting lineup, I’m not sure they have the personel to play it effectively (it’s tough to cover the entire court with three big guys playing at the same time — Moser-Bennett-Birch is a halfcourt lineup). What I wouldn’t mind seeing is more pressure from the halfcourt defense. UNLV definitely has the length and athleticism to force turnovers and create the kind of transition opportunities where they flourish. Again, the youth may be holding them back from playing more exotic defenses. It’s difficult enough for first-year players to grasp base defensive concepts, but maybe we’ll see more wrinkles unveiled throughout the season.
What changes need to be made to close out big games and when will they be implemented? We win the easy ones, lose the tough ones.
This is the key question. The entire season may hinge on it. Defensively, I’m confident that the Rebels can get big stops when they need them. Offensively, I have no idea if they can get those crucial buckets. Conventional wisdom says you need a playmaker on the perimeter who can create shots when the defense is really digging in, and I’m not sure that UNLV has one of those. Bryce Dejean-Jones did the job against Air Force, but he’s been less than consistent in those situations. Is Anthony Bennett going to be the go-to guy? It’s always tricky to rely on big men late in games, because you can take the ball out of their hands by double-teaming. Does that mean AB should touch the ball more in the mid-post and face up? Should the team incorporate him into some pick-and-roll situations? Those are options. I’m not sure we have any answers yet.
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