Take 5: Looking at the issues UNLV will face in 2013-14

Whose style will UNLV play next year? Who’s playing point guard? Those are a couple of questions the Rebels must address in the offseason

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

As the Cal flag waves in the background, UNLV coach Dave Rice walks off the floor with his team after falling to Cal 64-62 in their NCAA Tournament game in the Round of 64 on Thursday, March 21, 2013, in San Jose, Calif.

Offseason changes, storylines and questions come for every college basketball team. The Rebels just hoped theirs hadn’t come so soon.

After ending the 2012-13 season Thursday with a 64-61 loss to Cal in the Round of 64, UNLV (25-10) must look ahead to 2013-14. And there’s no doubt a fourth straight first-game exit from the NCAA Tournament will add a little extra pressure to UNLV coach Dave Rice and his staff.

Only the last two of those tournament losses are on Rice’s watch, although both of his were as the much higher seed whereas the previous two were in the No. 8 vs. No. 9 game. It’s different because there’s more expected now, and there’s more expected because Rice has made things different. Or at least tried to.

In a way, he’s a victim of his own recruiting success, as the most common refrain after the Rebels walked off the court for the final time was that so much talent was wasted. Fair or not, Rice has to deal with that and plenty of other things this offseason.

Freshman Anthony Bennett is expected to jump to the NBA, and a couple of other Rebels have decisions to make. What’s the team going to look like next year? What needs to change? Who’s coming in?

Let’s start to answer some of those as we take a look forward:

1. A difference in the players

Whenever a coach takes over a new job, he’s at least partly at the mercy of the players the previous coach left behind. Good, bad or otherwise, they’re simply not his guys, so there’s often not the same relationship that would have been established in the recruiting process and there’s no guarantee the players’ strengths will mesh with the coach’s style.

Rice will praise former UNLV coach Lon Kruger and the players who were already here every chance he gets. And the pairing, plus the guys Rice’s staff has started bringing in, has resulted in 51 victories, which is a school record for a coach’s first two seasons.

Still, the difference between taking over a program and running one as your own is getting a roster full of your own players, and Rice is nearly there. The only Kruger guys with eligibility remaining are Carlos Lopez-Sosa and Mike Moser, who committed to Kruger but played only for Rice. And there’s a chance neither one returns next season, though we should know more on that in the coming weeks.

That leaves only Dantley Walker, the high-scoring Lincoln County High guard who committed to Kruger before serving the past two years on an LDS mission. He’s one of five guys joining the team this offseason and the only one who wasn’t recruited to Las Vegas by Rice’s staff.

2. A difference in the style

Two things worth noting in regard to Rice getting his own players into the program: First is that there should be more of the “Runnin’ Rebel Basketball” Rice often refers to, including more full-court pressure and the turnover-driven defense that led to so many points scored in the early '90s.

And second, having (mostly) all his own players puts more pressure on Rice to produce. Not just in the regular season, but come tournament time, too.

Every coach would rather have his own players because he knows what he’s looking for better than anyone else, but it also means there’s one less excuse. Not that Rice or his staff make excuses, but most everyone is aware that accommodations have to be made when you want to play a certain way with guys who have been doing something different.

The quick NCAA Tournament exits, plus some of the ugly performances preceding them, have caused plenty of fans' anger toward Rice. That’s part of the job, and it will only get louder if some of the same problems persist.

3. Zone offense

Speaking of problems, playing against a zone has to be at or near the top of the list. The half-court offense was sporadic all season, with a lot of games against zone defenses featuring almost exclusively passes around the perimeter and isolation play, which is much harder with guys sagging to the middle.

Now, defense is tied into this, as is full-court pressure. If the Rebels are effectively pressuring the ball more often, it will create more run-outs and transition opportunities. And more of those means fewer half-court possessions, and thus fewer possessions against a zone. Both sides of the ball work together, and playing fast could solve a lot of this year’s team’s offensive issues. It could also create different ones, but that’s something to be dealt with when they get there.

This year’s team played good enough defense to do a lot better than it did. UNLV ranked 14th in adjusted defense, according to kenpom.com, and only 114th in adjusted offense. Last year, those rankings were 33rd and 71st, respectively.

The Cal game offered a great example of this. The game was tied when the Rebels went 11:32 without a made field goal, and they trailed by only six when they finally hit a bucket. If the offense were just a little better during that time, this could be a very different story.

4. Who’s playing point?

Click to enlarge photo

Jelan Kendrick shakes hands with UNLV basketball coach Dave Rice while on an official visit and taking in the Rebels first practice of the season with his dad Lonnie Kendrick Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. Kendrick committed to UNLV on Saturday.

We’ve addressed the style UNLV would like to play with this staff’s players, but who exactly is going to lead that group? The Rebels aren’t short on candidates, which number as many as five.

First, the returners: freshmen Katin Reinhardt and Daquan Cook. Then there are juco transfers Jelan Kendrick and DeVille Smith, plus incoming freshman Kendall Smith.

At 6-foot-7, Kendrick can play the point or the wing. Kendall Smith is a combo guard and DeVille Smith, who played at Mississippi State and then Southwest Mississippi Community College, is probably the closest of the group to a true point guard, though he can score, too.

Reinhardt said in the locker room after the Cal loss that he plans to work on his ball-handling after averaging 1.9 turnovers per game this year. He was given more time as the point guard later in the year.

Cook’s potential role in this mix will likely depend a lot on his offseason development.

UNLV is going to have options. The key is finding the best one or two so the Rebels have consistency at the position and get what they want from that spot.

5. The recruiting trail

And of course you can’t look to the future in college basketball without talking about recruiting. UNLV’s incoming class isn’t going to have the same top-10 ranking it had last season because there’s no piece like Anthony Bennett in the group, although Kendrick was a McDonald’s All-American two years ago.

Unless there’s a transfer in the coming days or weeks, which is always a possibility, this year’s class is done. The 2014 group, though, could get a jump-start this week as five-star small forward Dwayne Morgan is set to announce his decision Wednesday.

Morgan is down to UNLV, Maryland and Georgetown. He was in town Feb. 9 for the Rebels’ victory against New Mexico.

Recruiting has been the perceived strong suit of this staff from the start, and beating out Maryland for a Baltimore native would only strengthen that reputation.

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

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  1. Really will be very interesting to me to see if Rice does commit to playing true full court pressure defense. I hope he was watching Louisville's dismantling of CSU on Sat. That is what great full court pressure can do. There is always so much talk about getting a team that is more suitable to full court press, which is ironic to me. This year's team could go 11 deep, was very athletic, long and rangy. The players we are losing for sure are Marshall, Hawkins, Bennett, and Thomas. AM, JHawk, and AB are tremendous athletes with long arms. Not sure how the guys we are bringing in are more suited than these guys would be to play fast. Thomas would not have excelled in this system but then again I do not believe Chris Wood has any better speed or quickness than QT. I do believe our roster next year could be a very nice open court team, however, I thought this year's team could very easily have played this style as well. We will see.

  2. What are we saying here? We have to address who is going to be the coach, Dave Rice is not good coach and we haveseen this for two years and that is enough. If he remains the coach nothing is going to change and it will just get worse.

  3. I say go to the NIT for a few years, make some gains in that tournament before getting embarrassed again in the Big Dance.

    Rice is a horrible coach, he needs to be let go before he fully destroys this program. The knucklehead does not even understand the simple accepts of coaching, the other teams defense is playing man to man, so lets run an zone offense. Good work you sad excuse for a coach.

    On the plus side of all of this, we can finally stop hearing about how great the Mountain West Conference is. I really do believe that nonsense talk is over. Still a bottom mid major program at best. Even Syracuse was just toying with Cal like a cat plays with a mouse. Come on wake up, the MWC is not a major conference.

  4. Continue pounding your heads against the wall if all you've been doing is screaming for a coaching change. We'll see what happens after next season. Go Rebels!

  5. I'm resigned to the fact that Rice will be the coach for at least the next two years. If Hauck can get a reprieve from the AD then Rice could very well be here for a decade.

    It's funny, despite their records I think Hauck is actually the much better coach of the two but may very well be gone before Rice.

    Anyway, back to hoops...

    Rice said he was going to bring the "runnin'" back to the Runnin' Rebels but did anything but that. The team was actually slower than Kruger's teams. Yes, some of that is because of the lack of turnovers forced but even when the Rebs had the opportunity they often walked the ball up. Even when they didn't walk, Reinhardt would go 1-on-3 and jack up a 3-pointer to (often) no avial.

    I really do think that Vegas won't stand for a team that consistently scores in the 60's. We'll get Rollie back if we want that (I recently saw that he's still alive and coaching NAIA in Florida). Rice should be watching some video of the Denver Nuggets if he wants to learn how to actually run.

    I really don't think Rice will be very successful unless something suddenly clicks and he figures it out. I do believe we're in for a couple more 1-and-dones and then will be doing a coaching search.

  6. Opposing coaching see the Rebel coming a mile away. The key to many loses, the Rebel coaching staff did not (or refused to do so) make obvious adjustments during important points in each game lost.

    This is where Coach Rice falls extremely short on the coaching list. The Rebel play good defense, they have no offensive strategy adjustments. That is the coaching, not the players.

    And more importantly. If appear the Coaching staff is not developing the player's offensive potential. It seems the Rebel players are not getting better offensively. Who's responsibility is that?

    Coach Rice is responsible for the offensive.

    It is obvious that Coach Rice needs of ask for advice and suggestion from other Coaches who see the problems Coach Rice does not see.

    If you don't know, ask somebody.

    What is clear, Coach Rice has shown his limitations as a Coach. He needs to improve in order for the players to improve.

  7. Rice cannot control his current supply of players. The best change for UNLV basketball would be a resignation from Rice.

  8. Can we get rid of this idiot first? CDR has no idea how to make adjustments. UNLV will just get worse and worse. As soon as UNLV runs good offense, the defense starts giving up dunks and visa versa. UNLV needs to either slow the tempo or press more. None of this in-between garbage. We can thank Hutson for the good defense, but CDR has no idea on how to attack a zone to save its life. He needs to learn how to start yelling. With that said, GoBruins is wrong. The MW is not a low mid-major conference? The Big West maybe? The MW finished #1 in RPI, nobody can change that fact. The non-Catholic Big East did not have any Sweet 16 teams either, and that is a power conference. The Big 12 and Pac 12 only have one, ditto the SEC. Ill tell you what, you can blame CDR for the MW's failures in the tourney, but to say the MW is a low major conference at best is totally BS. This conference has no bad teams, almost every other conference has at least one team that is a true joke.

  9. NCAA rules should be changed. A player can enter the draft after high school if they wish, but if they choose (their choice) to sign a letter of intent, they must stay in college (barring flunk out) for a minimum of three years before again eligible. This protects the fans, the school that recruits them, and gets them at least close to a degree before leaving. It would be better for everyone and still provides a choice for those who think they are going to be drafted at age 18. GET RID OF THESE DUMB ONE AND DONES.

    As for Bennett and UCLA's Muhammad, neither are anything special. They are both lazy, do not hustle down the court and play poor defense. How any knowledgeable basketball person can brag on them is beyond what I have seen of both of them.

  10. I don't think your statement about Dantley Walker is correct. I'm pretty sure that Dave Rice recruited Dantley Walker while he was an assistant at BYU.

  11. @mitmo52 - You contradicted yourself in the same sentence.

    @gumby2323 - Have you seen Chris Wood play?

    @AmLowLife - So, going for a fake field goal against a Division II team is a good coaching move?

    I'm glad that Livengood doesn't listen to the delusional fans on here. Coaches are similar in that they develop over time. People who think that Dave Rice is going to be a hall of fame coach after two years have no knowledge of basketball or sports in general. He'll get better with time.

  12. Phillips - I have seen Chris Wood play. He is an excellent stand still shooter but lacks strength, agressiveness and overall quickness. He is very raw and I think in time can be a nice player for UNLV. I have never once called for Coach Rice to be fired. However, I also don't just swallow the coach speak. With the talent he has had in place the last two years there are tons of D1 coaches that could have got 50 wins out of those groups and many that could have gotten more. So he is not above reproach and I think it is absolutely fair to question his in game coaching, and overall strategy when you are swept by teams like Fresno St this year, lose multiple games with second half double digit leads like last year, and have yet to win a game in the NCAAs even though they have been a 5 & 6 seed. Exactly what part of this, or any other comments I have made, makes me delusional?

  13. MWC should concentrate on getting victories in the NCAA tournament and against quality nonconference opponents, not on how many places we "deserve" because of RPI. If RPI was so important, the MWC teams would still be in there, thus RPI can't really be all that predictive.

    And anyway, people only talk about RPI when they can't talk about sustained winning streaks against quality teams. And when RPI isn't in their favor either, they start talking about BPI or whatever that stat was this year that ESPN started talking about.

    The MWC schools need to stop scheduling UC Davis, Jacksonville State and UC Irvine in the non-conference part of the schedule. Then their victories (or close calls) against Cal, UNC, Louisville, etc. will make more of an impact.

    Or, the MWC teams can just win more in the tournament when they get there. Your choice, but one way or the other the MWC can't keep going to the NCAA's and heading home the first weekend if they want more respect. No three-letter acronym can change that.

  14. I think Dantley Walker is going to be the big surprise. Here's to hoping that he's our zone-buster.

    And you're from another planet if you're talking about firing Rice after the past two seasons. His chair isn't even lukewarm. Welcome to Earth, by the way.

  15. Stop with Dave Rice is a horrible coach crap. There was more excitement this year for the Rebels than in years and the future is super bright. Why? Because of Dave Rice!!
    Stop the stupid talk...please.

  16. @mitmo52 if nothing is going to change then how can it get worse.

    Friends don't let friends post drunk

  17. ^^^^ that's perfect.

  18. The english teachers and grammer teachers, should teach because they know nothing about basketball or any sport, so dummy up and let the big boys talk basketball. And I dont drink.

  19. UNLV, at a minimum, is playing Arizona and Louisville in the out-of-conference next season. They may also play Illinois, but I'm not positive about that. Dave Rice is scheduling a much tougher out-of-conference schedule than Lon Kruger ever would, and he's also demanding a home-and-home with these programs.

  20. @gumby2323 - You never said that Dave Rice should be fired. The bottom paragraph was intended for the people who have called him to be fired.

    On Chris Wood, we'll agree to disagree on certain parts of his game. One area where I think he stands out is his athleticism and quickness. He was guarding guards with no problems when Findlay Prep played the Las Vegas All Stars. Speaking of them, I hope we can land Stephen Zimmerman.

  21. You Dave Rice lovers will be hating him by the end of next year when he produces the same results as this year. You can't like this guy after watching him coach and I mean really watch him. He is lost in a job he can't handle. He is out coached 70% of the games played, and his lack of discipline is horrible. Players have little respct for coaches who don't make them toe the line and I have yet to hear any players talk about how great this coach is. I am already disappointed in the man and you Rice lovers will be too, you're just a lil slow in the head to catch on when you see a failure.

  22. Espscially you Phiilips. lol

  23. oops typo

  24. @Phillips1990702, who in the heck are you. " he's also demanding a home-and-home with these programs. How do you know "he's demanding" For someone to be so loyal and get so defensive for comments made of Mr. Rice, you have to be either his wife, brother or relative or just in love with the guy. Maybe your getting paid to defend Mr. Rice. It's down right scary, good grief UNLV's season is over, give it a rest.

  25. I'd rather have Ben Howland or Tubby Smith, both of which got fired this weekend than Dave Rice. We need experience, not some green coach we're going to suffer through growing pains with.

  26. @fed up2here........well said

  27. @fedup2here (Kenny Rogers) - You're really annoying. You state everything like it's fact. You, or nobody for that matter, know what's going to happen next year.

  28. @HoosierBoy - He has said that he'll play anybody in a home-and-home series. He also said he's not going to play at an elite program and then not have them play here. Those are his words.

  29. How anyone can be glad or proud of the coaching they have seen over the past two years is ridiculous. Look at the hustle, intensity and intelligence of the teams playing in the Sweet 16. LaSalle? FGCU? Witchita State? Great coaching with no blue chip talent. Rice can't even draw up and execute a set play after a timeout. In over his head. Period. We had a guy who will be the 5th overall pick in the NBA draft and we get beat by Fresno State at home on Senior Night? The majority of Rebel fans want a change. Fire Dave Rice.

  30. Just fire Dave Rice already so we can end this drama.

  31. @SanAntonioRebel - Do you have a crystal ball? Also, writing the word "period" is double narrating. At La Salle, their coach is in his ninth year, and this is his first tournament appearance. The coach at Wichita State made his first tournament appearance in his fifth year at the school. Florida Gulf Coast is a product of the rules of the tournament that reward an auto-bid to the conference tournament champion.

    For all of you who think that I think Dave Rice is perfect, you're wrong.

  32. Many of you Haters need to relax and take some English courses so that your comments don't look like they come from someone who had to take English X repeatedly. As far as bad coaching goes, apparently most of you never went to the games where John Bayer or Rollie coached. 25 1/2 wins in first two years is pretty fair accomplishment.

  33. Who is John Bayer? And what were the Rollie (and Bill Banyo) days like? I was not around then, so I honestly don't know.

  34. It starts & ends with Rice. Its not his system or philosophy that is wrong...it is his enforcement of them. He MUST up the ante with players who fail to conform to EXACTLY what he wants done on the floor. aka Comply or Sit. I really think if he can "tame" the notoriously free wheeling Katin & BDJ....and turn them into HIS extensions on the floor...the Rebels can be special...even in the half court too. Those two have "it" in terms of confidence, audacity, & a competitive fire to win. Rice needs to get those qualities working for him & not against him as was the case this season.

    With all the pt guard depth coming in....coupled with the length of Birch, Smith, & Morant to protect the rim...I absolutely hope, pray, & demand that we extend, pressure, & force tempo next season. We definitely "finally" have the depth (fouls), athleticism, & length to extend & be more physical defensively without sabotaging our half court execution offensively. If picking up & pressuring 3/4 court isnt our minimum defensive posture, I will be severely disappointed.

    Again, the deal Rice makes with the players & his determination in holding them to it will be key and, quite frankly, could determine his future. He can give the players the green light in terms of "freedom" & "Lets Run" in the up tempo transition game that extending your defense effectively can provide. But in return they will have to give him fanatical effort on the defensive end and accept non negotiable "roles" in our half court offensive execution. Its the only way his philosophy & the reality of players & the game today can produce positive results. Otherwise, this year will keep repeating itself over & over. For our sake & his, I hope he connects the dots.

  35. @djonian81 - I think you're overreacting a tad bit. Anthony Marshall doesn't fit what Rice wants to do, but to have him riding the bench would have been absurd. He gave the Rebels the best chance to win on a nightly basis.

    I agree that Reinhardt and Dejean-Jones were out of control at times. Reinhardt needs to be more efficient since all of the skills are there. Dejean-Jones needs to keep his head up when he penetrates so that he can find the open player. He always draws help when he penetrates. He would also benefit from developing a floater to avoid all of the charging calls he drew.

    In terms of length, you forgot about Christian Wood. He's 6'11" with a 7'3" wingspan, and he moves like a much smaller player. I too would be disappointed if there isn't a full court press next season.

    I think they'll be fine in the half court going forward. Bellfield and Marshall relied too much on the high ball screen. Rice had to go with it because that's what they were most comfortable with it. Reinhardt and Dejean-Jones can create for themselves off the dribble and won't have the rely on the high ball screen. Also, Deville Smith can wreak havoc in the lane. He can penetrate at will.

  36. Heyyyy Phillips, I'm annoying? I'm already convinced that you are Dave himself. I just tell it like it is. I've been around a long time and I know what doesn't work for coaching basketball,,, at any level. You sir are the annoying one sticking up for this coach who has the basketball IQ of a crayon. His skills are of an assistant coach who has been riding coat tails of a mediocre coach at BYU. Send him back to BYU. I'm annoying ,, thats funny.

  37. @fedup2here (Kenny Rogers) - If you know so much, then why don't you get a college basketball coaching job? You don't know what's going to happen next year. Neither do I. All that can be done is to make predictions based upon the facts.

  38. Seems to me the Rebels would have benefited from playing zone every not and then against Cal given their star was able to drive to the bucket at will. I grew up watching Tarks Rebels and they played a zone "ameoba" defense that would try to switch up and double on the ball handler when they could pin in against a sideline then have a 3rd guy jump in and surround him to force a timeout or a "piss or get off the pot" moment ...throw the ball away or find someone who will shoot (or try and get fouled). Point is it would speed up the game and force turnovers and waste the other teams TO's (for a late Rebel advantage). Man to man ...you're only as good as your weakest link and the Rebels always had someone slacking off this year. Hope they decide to change that up to a full court press - then use the zone and amoeba defense the way Tark used it. Also, when the old Rebels were scoring 100 night in and night out WITHOUT A 3 POINT LINE it didn't matter if the guy throwing up a long bomb (remember "Sudden Sam's 40 foot shots?) hit or not because everyone else was crashing the boards for the easy put back if it didn't fall, then hanging around to pressure the inbound pass. Ah the halcyon days of Tark's Rebels. Will we ever see that again?

  39. @phillips - There is more to being an ELITE head coach than recruiting and X's & O's. What separates those coaches from Rice are people skills, motivational skills, and credibility. There is no way....ever...that you could convince ANYBODY, ANYWHERE...that this past Rebel team played up to its potential. No chance. Ever.

    So instead of being in denial about it, lets be REAL Rebel fans and confront it. Rice proved, in every halftime & post game interview, that he knows what he is talking about. He knows the game, knows how to attack defenses, and knows how to play great defense. However, there was an obvious disconnect between what HE SAID & what HIS TEAM DID. He is only in his 2nd yr so its a learning curve for him too. But the brutal reality is that it must be corrected or he will fail. It is that simple.

    I'm not making this stuff up. There was an old guy from Indiana...coached at UCLA....and he said "One of the greatest motivating things that a coach has is the bench. They all love to play, all of them. You sit them on the bench, and they come around pretty good." Tom Crean at Indiana benched all 5 of his starters in a game this year too. Obviously it worked & they got the message since they're still playing. Our guys never got that memo.

    Sorry, I know you love the Rebels too & back Coach Rice..but I'm going with Coach Wooden on this one. Since he did, somehow, "overreact" his way to 10 NCAA titles.

  40. @Ye- Bayer preceded Tark and I always felt watching his teams was like watching paint dry. Rollie came here to retire and it showed. Inequitably the worst BB hire UNLV ever made(IMO). Bayno had some good athletes and his teams were fun to watch. His social life got him into trouble and proved to be his downfall. When he first arrived I thought he would really take the program back to national prominence; Unfortunately, not to be.

  41. Okay, thanks for telling me.

  42. Djonian81 - Thanks for at least posting a logical and thoughtful critique of Dave Rice last season. You are 100% correct that last year's team definitely did not live up to its potential. Everything you pointed out that Rice needs to improve on, you are exactly right. What's upsetting is that there were definitely flashes of him doing just that, but they weren't sustained.

    I think a lot of people over-sell the quality of players Rice inherited from the Kruger era. Dave Rice is recruiting at such a higher level that it is really tough to even make a comparison. This year, Rice really got stuck without a point guard. AM, though he played well and was an integral part of the team, would have been more effective at the wing and Cook just wasn't ready to play a huge role. Judging by the emphasis in recruiting players with point guard experience, I think Rice is going to make sure that never happens again.

    There's definitely been some head-scratching moments with this team since Rice has taken over (swept by Fresno comes to mind), but he's also created a bigger buzz and more excitement about the program than was ever there during the Kruger years. Recruiting is as good as it ever was under Tark. Obviously, the rest of it needs to catch up, but I guess I'm just one of those "Rice lovers" that thinks it will get better. If the same issues remain after next season, then I'll start having some doubts about whether or not Rice will be THE guy for the foreseeable future.

    P.S. By making the statement that "Hauck is a much better coach than Rice," you completely discredit anything you have to say.