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Analysis: UNLV’s returning players vs. the new additions would make for an interesting game

Would the talent of the incoming group, including Bryce Dejean-Jones and Khem Birch, overwhelm the veterans?


Sam Morris

UNLV’s Mike Moser (left), Carlos Lopez, Oscar Bellfield and Anthony Marshall huddle during a break in their game against Canisius on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011, at the Thomas & Mack Center. Moser, Lopez and Marshall are among eight returners who were eligible last season. The 2012-13 Rebels also welcome in eight newcomers, including previous transfers Bryce Dejean-Jones and Khem Birch.

They’re coming.

Those big-name players the UNLV basketball team seemingly signed every month since the season ended in March, the ones with the exceedingly small numbers in their recruiting rankings column, are expected to bring much athleticism and excitement to the Thomas & Mack Center next year. But how will they mesh with the returning players who helped to lay the foundation for what is likely a top-10 preseason team?

Most of the Rebels’ new faces will get to Las Vegas in early July, just before the second session of summer classes starts July 9. And once they’re here, the preparation for UNLV’s most highly anticipated season since the early 1990s will begin in full. As they prepare for an exhibition tour in Canada this August, they’ll start toying with pieces of the lineup to see which combinations work best — and the talent level will yield several possibilities.

With so many talented players on the roster — Savon Goodman, the 6-foot-6 high school forward from Philadelphia whom the Rebels landed late last week, makes it eight players who were once top-100 recruits — the practices could be as interesting as some of the games. And because of the size of the incoming class, there are enough players to form two eight-man teams — returning Rebels who were eligible in 2011-12 and the new class.

And that got me thinking: What would happen if we could stage a full-fledged game between those two sides?

I have little doubt that some semblance of this game will take place as soon as the recruits are on campus. Pickup games are a big part of the players’ offseason regimen, and in all of those games it would be very surprising if lineups at least mostly made up of returners versus new additions didn’t happen.

That alone would be interesting to see, but what I’m talking about is a full 40-minute game that, based on the reactions I’ve seen on Twitter, would come close to selling out the Mack. (Sidenote: How much would you be willing to pay to see this game in, let’s say, August?) For the purposes of this hypothetical game, let’s say the new guys get two weeks to practice together with the coaching staff while the returners have to do it without supervision.

OK, so here are the sides:

Old Guard: Anthony Marshall, Justin Hawkins, Mike Moser, Carlos Lopez, Quintrell Thomas, Barry Cheaney, Bryan Glenn and Wade Norman.

New School: Katin Reinhardt, DaQuan Cook, Roscoe Smith, Bryce Dejean-Jones, Demetris Morant, Anthony Bennett, Khem Birch and Goodman.

My first reaction is that the incoming group has way more depth. Their bench would have at least one four-star player while the returning guys would be relying on practice players in Cheaney, Glenn and Norman, the last of which I actually think could play significant minutes at a few other Mountain West schools.

But what the returners lack in depth they more than make up for in experience. Marshall and Moser started almost every game last season, and Hawkins basically played starters’ minutes.

Here’s what I’ve got for the starting lineups:

Point Guard — Marshall vs. Reinhardt

Shooting Guard— Hawkins vs. Dejean-Jones

Small Forward — Moser vs. Goodman

Power Forward — Lopez vs. Bennett

Center — Thomas vs. Birch

That’s definitely the lineup for the returners but I think on the other side you could make an argument for Smith over Goodman on the wing at small forward, or starting Cook at point guard and moving Reinhardt to shooting guard and Dejean-Jones to the wing.

It’s amazing that this is really just one team. If these were actually two separate schools — UNLV and, let’s say, Las Vegas A&M — it’s possible they would both be in the top four of the Mountain West and could even contend for the title.

Now, as for gameplay in our imaginary game…

I had this debate with a few Twitter followers Friday night, and as a group I think we all underestimated the returners. One person said the incoming class would win by double digits; another gave Reinhardt the winning shot. My first reaction was that the talent of New School would be too much over a 40-minute game. With Bennett and Birch anchoring the back line, the Old Guard would have a difficult time getting to the rim for any easy buckets.

But the more I think about this hypothetical game, the more it reminds me of the conflicting thoughts about what these guys are going to do this winter when they’re all on the same team.

There’s a ton of excitement about this upcoming season, and most of it is based on that same talent that at first blinded me in this fake game. But if UNLV is going to live up to those expectations for real, it’s going to depend on the stability and leadership of the guys who laid the groundwork.

That includes guys like Lopez and Thomas, whose roles are suddenly in question because coach Dave Rice has put together perhaps the deepest frontcourt in the country. To be successful, everybody needs to buy in.

So when I imagine this never-gonna-happen-but-wouldn’t-it-be-cool game, that’s the thought that eventually wins out. UNLV this year is not going to be about any one player but what a group of very talented players can do as a team. And if I believe that mentality will win out in the actual season — and I do — then I have to go with the guys who have actually have experience playing together as a team in real games.

Unless Birch and Bennett combine for something like 50 points and 20 rebounds. Then there’s not much you can really do.

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

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  1. You realize how much depth the team has when Roscoe Smith (Jordan Brand All-American and freshman starter for UConn's National Championship team) comes off the bench for this hypothetical game.

    Taylor concluded it well saying "To be successful, everybody needs to buy in... UNLV this year is not going to be about any one player but what a group of very talented players can do as a team."

  2. Kentucky deals with this problem every year. We should watch and learn how they integrate new talent into the roster to be successful.

  3. Practices and scrimmages should be all out wars this year. What a great thing to watch. As excited as I am about how good this team can be, I also am a little nervous about the chemistry. Who is going to redshirt, how do you split up the minutes, do we emphasize more post play and high low? Lots of questions but this sure is a sweet problem to have.

  4. I believe Roscoe will have to RS this year... I don't think he'll get the waiver. Goodman will probably play this year then (one or the other should RS), giving us enough guys that can play front court positions until Birch comes in. I believe the second RS will be Morant. We would even have room at this point to RS a third guy if needed... my guess would be D Cook if they went that route.

    But, if I were to take my best guess at this point, here's who I see playing...

    Cook (but won't see much PT), Reinhardt, J-Hawk, Marshall, Jones, Goodman, Bennett, Moser, Lopez, Thomas, and Birch coming in mid season. This gives a nice 9-10 person rotation.

  5. In terms of the old guard vs. new, I'd say the old guard wins if they slow it down a little bit and run sets, but they would seriously have to make some outside shots. There would be a pretty big difference if they get in a track meet and the new guard paired with their size will win that war...and that's what Rice has recruited for. Big Runnin' Rebels.

  6. Can not wait for this Season!

  7. I hope my season tickets are worth it , I haven't been this excited about rebel ball since the 80's and 90's . REEEEEEEEBBEEEEELLLLLS.