Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2009 | 2:15 a.m.
Rebels in plus-minus (points)
The point differential, in Division-I games, when each UNLV player is on the court
Ryan Greene, Christine Killimayer and Ray Brewer discuss a busy day in UNLV athletics, including the hoops squad's resounding 76-71 victory over No. 16 Louisville at the Mack and the football team's sendoff to coach Mike Sanford and its 16 seniors coming in the form of a 28-24 come-from-behind victory at home over San Diego State.
Looking at an analysis of UNLV’s four games against Division-I foes, Rebels junior guard Tre'Von Willis sees that he’s atop his team’s plus-minus list.
For a few hours Monday morning, the numbers from those four victories were crunched and a value was determined for each Rebel – what happened, points wise, when each was on the court?
In sum, by how much has UNLV led, or trailed, in relation to each player in sixth-year coach Lon Kruger’s 11-man rotation?
Willis, at plus-47 points, topped the chart for the 24th-ranked and 5-0 Rebels. So when he’s been on the court, UNLV has been 47 points better than its four Division-I foes this season.
“It’s pretty interesting,” said Willis, taking a closer glance at those figures after practice Monday afternoon inside the Cox Pavilion auxiliary gym. “It puts together all the pieces. It’s fun.
“You know what? Looking at that just makes me happy to know I can contribute for the team to be successful.”
We’re tossing out the opener against Division-II Pittsburg State because that’s what the Ratings Percentage Index does. We’re only interested in D-I vs. D-I, or a level playing field.
The statistics show that junior guard Derrick Jasper is next on UNLV’s chart, at plus-40. Then comes sophomore forward Chace Stanback (plus-26), senior center Darris Santee (plus-25) and junior guard Kendall Wallace (plus-22).
Sophomore guard Oscar Bellfield, whom Kruger switched to the point in a savvy move against Louisville, is seventh at a plus-18.
What might surprise some is that fifth-year senior walk-on guard Steve "Chop" Jones – who has tallied two baskets in 68 minutes against UNR, Southern Illinois, Holy Cross and Louisville – is sixth at a plus-20.
That was largely due to an infusion of inspiration he helped provide in a comeback against UNR at the Thomas & Mack Center on Nov. 18.
When Jones went to the bench about seven minutes later, the Rebels had a six-point edge in a game they won 88-75.
Chop finished it with a plus-21.
“From Chop we need energy, we need confidence, we need enthusiasm,” Kruger said, “and we need someone who, when he goes in, the crowd is ‘rah-rah.’ If he makes a shot, that’s great.”
Points, however, aren’t mandatory from Jones.
“We get a lot of other things from Chop,” Kruger said. “If we get points, great … it’s not his role to score a lot of points.”
Jones sat out last season after transferring from Arizona State, where he played with former UNLV star Kevin Kruger, Lon’s son. For his desire and energy, his teammates named him the most inspirational Rebel.
In practice, he’s in constant motion. He’s the one player who most frequently barks instructions to teammates or roots for them – something Kruger and his staff demand from the first day of practice.
Monday, on the sideline wearing a black jersey, he crumpled to a slouch, with his head in his hands, when a Rebel in a white jersey hit a shot against the black jerseys in a scrimmage.
He took a basket against his squad personal even though he wasn’t in on the action.
Willis said Jones is just what the Rebels could have used in some of their tight defeats last season.
“That’s sometimes what I felt we lacked, maybe, last year,” Willis said. “He would have been big. Pretty much he turns the game up with his fire. He constantly says, ‘Let’s go! Let’s go!’ He gets the guys pumped up.
“You can’t really categorize a guy like Chop. He’ll do so many little things for you, whether that’s diving on the floor for a loose ball or jumping into the stands, playing defense full-court, getting a rebound or making a nice hustle play.”
Willis remembers Rene Rougeau providing the Rebels with that same intangible, which ended up earning him a scholarship.
“He’s pretty much the X-factor for this team,” Willis said of Jones. “Energy never goes down when Chop is in the game. He’s definitely a big piece to this team. We’re lucky to have him.”
Jones said the offense is designed to get players open shots, he’s taking them and they’ll eventually fall.
He said he hopes he can help lead the team with his energy and passion and excitement, and that some of his experience rubs off on some of the younger guys.
“I’ll just try to do everything I can,” he said, “to help this team win.”
Kevin Kruger always told Jones what it was like to play inside the Mack when it was rocking and rolling, and Jones got to feel that in the UNR and Louisville victories.
“It’s the most fun I’ve had, other than winning the (Oregon) state championship,” Jones said. “When you get out there and the fans are roaring and everything is going crazy and you can see the look on the opponent’s faces, that you got ’em in a good spot …
“It’s just so much fun to go out there and play.”
That all 11 of the regular Rebels have plus ratings is significant to Jones.
“It’s a testament to our team and our depth,” he said. “There are so many we can put out there and play, and it’s not going to be a huge drop-off. We can use it to our advantage. It’s great.”
If everyone continues to get results, Kruger said he’ll stick with the 11-man rotation.
“You never know what will happen,” Jones said. “I think, right now, we’re playing team ball, we’ve all bought into it and we’ll just keep going with it.”
Wednesday, Jones drops into familiar territory with the Rebels. With ASU, he hit a 3-point shot at McKale Center in Tucson during the 2006-07 season, but the Sun Devils got drubbed out of the arena by the Wildcats. Arizona (3-2) plays host to UNLV on Wednesday. “The first thing I learned in college was to not like the University of Arizona,” Jones said. He was visibly upset when, at the UNLV banquet last spring, Arizona made the NCAA tournament. “We were both on the bubble,” Jones said. “They made it, and we beat them … I didn’t like that too much.” Will he bring a little extra Wednesday night? “I’ll have a little more juice for that one,” Jones said nearly in a whisper … Santee’s plus-25, and emotional 13 points and 5 rebounds Saturday against Louisville, have impressed Kruger. For now, though, sophomore Brice Massamba (plus-8) will continue to start. “He had a great game,” Kruger said of Santee, “with his energy and aggressiveness on the offensive end.” Kruger liked the way his three centers (Santee, Massamba and Matt Shaw) battled Cards power forward Samardo Samuels and picked each other up.