Las Vegas Sun

May 26, 2022

Currently: 82° — Complete forecast

rebels basketball:

Analysis: Five reasons to be optimistic about UNLV basketball next season

The 2011-12 season laid a solid foundation for what should be an even better outcome in Dave Rice’s second year

NCAA - UNLV vs. Colorado

Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV guard Justin Hawkins celebrates his three-point shot that brought the Rebels to within two points of Colorado during their second round NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship game Thursday, March 15, 2012 in Albuquerque. It was the closest the Rebels got as UNLV lost the game 68-64.

The dust has already begun to settle from the UNLV basketball team’s collapse to close the season.

The Rebels were nearly a top-10 team in opening the year with a 21-3 record, but couldn’t duplicate the favorable results down the stretch. What started out with such high hopes — remember storming the court after beating No. 1 North Carolina? — wound up being just like the past two seasons with the team coming up short.

However, not all is lost. The foundation was firmly established for the future of the program. It’s a future that looks bright.

Despite the rough ending, and all sorts of questions trying to dissect the late-season struggles, it’s pretty obvious UNLV returned to national importance. While that status didn’t result in a NCAA Tournament win, it’s a sign the program is heading in the right direction. Even the most pessimistic fan has to feel better about the state of the program, right?

Here are five reasons to be optimistic about the upcoming season:

    • UNLV sophomore guard Bryce Jones, left, works against sophomore forward Karam Mashour during the first team workout of the fall on the UNLV campus Thursday, Sept. 15, 2011.

      UNLV sophomore guard Bryce Jones, left, works against sophomore forward Karam Mashour during the first team workout of the fall on the UNLV campus Thursday, Sept. 15, 2011.

      More talent

      Remove seniors Brice Massamba, Oscar Bellfield and Chace Stanback from the UNLV starting lineup, replace them with Bryce Jones on the wing, Katin Reinhardt at guard and Khem Birch (after the fall semester when the transfer is eligible) in the post, and the Rebels are instantly a more athletic, aggressive and an overall better team. Sure, losing Bellfield’s reliability and decision making in the backcourt won’t be easy to replace, but give the 6-foot-4 incoming freshman Reinhardt a few games, and you’ll realize it’s a major upgrade. All three players were top 100 recruits, including Birch in 2011 being McDonald’s All-American and Reinhardt a top-50 recruit from powerhouse Mater Dei in Southern California. The rising sophomore Jones, a 6-foot-5 wing who will take over for Stanback, is a transfer from USC who several feel is one of the program’s most talented players in two decades. He’ll have the same impact Mike Moser did this year.

    • UNLV forward Mike Moser dunks on New Mexico during the first half of their game Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012 at The Pit in Albuquerque, N.M.

      UNLV forward Mike Moser dunks on New Mexico during the first half of their game Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012 at The Pit in Albuquerque, N.M.

      Mike Moser

      Having the 6-foot-8 Moser penciled in at the four-spot is a great starting point for the upcoming season. He’s athletic, plays with passion and intensity, finds success offensively with his inside and outside game, and fits perfectly into the Rebels’ up-tempo offensive philosophies. Moser, who this season averaged 14.1 points and 10.6 rebounds per game, will likely be the league’s top returning player and a big reason why UNLV will again be a top-25 team. Moser was four times named the Mountain West Conference’s player of the week, taking the honor in consecutive weeks in late November in bursting onto the scene as one of the nation’s best. Like the Rebels’ hot start, Moser also fizzled out — if just briefly. A two-week stretch of bad performances in February — and the Rebels’ poor end to the season — will give him motivation to make improvements this offseason. Look for Moser to add bulk to his lanky 210-pound frame and fine tune other aspects of his arsenal in becoming an even more complete player.

    • UNLV's Anthony Marshall takes a photo with a young Rebel fan before boarding a bus to Albuquerque for the NCAA Tournament, Tuesday March, 13 2012.

      UNLV's Anthony Marshall takes a photo with a young Rebel fan before boarding a bus to Albuquerque for the NCAA Tournament, Tuesday March, 13 2012.

      Solid leaders

      Anthony Marshall and Justin Hawkins will be seniors next year, and make no doubt about it, they will be the Rebels’ unquestioned leaders. That’s a good thing because they are hard working, likable and talented. Marshall, a local product, has long been the face of the program and cherishes his role in being someone others look up to. He made tremendous strides in his game from his sophomore season to this winter and will continue to progress in potentially becoming a first-team all-league pick. Hawkins was UNLV’s unsung hero this year, typically the first player off the bench in playing several productive and quality minutes. He’s a top-notch defender, isn’t prone to mistakes and has developed a nice jump shot. It’s a pretty safe bet that both these players will be rolling up their sleeves in the offseason to ensure their final season with the scarlet and gray is a memorable one.

    • UNLV coach Dave Rice calls a time out as Colorado goes up by 10 during their second round NCAA Men's Basketball Championship game Thursday, March 15, 2012 at The Pit in Albuquerque.

      UNLV coach Dave Rice calls a time out as Colorado goes up by 10 during their second round NCAA Men's Basketball Championship game Thursday, March 15, 2012 at The Pit in Albuquerque.

      Dave Rice will be better next year, too

      When UNLV opened the season with 21 victories in its first 24 games, rising to No. 11 in the Associated Press rankings, it was easy to forgot that the man calling the shots for the Rebels was making his head coaching debut. Dave Rice, despite the collapse to end the season, had a tremendous first season. And not just on game day. He landed top recruits in Jones, Reinhardt and Birch, embraced the community obligations associated with running a program, and didn’t flinch when dealt with the adversity of poor play. All in all, a great effort in taking the program to another level — yes, even with the first-game NCAA Tournament exit, the program took a gigantic step forward. Rice’s first go-round will serve as a learning experience for upcoming seasons, with the coach surely going to take a long look in the mirror when evaluating the season. Rice is known for his work behind the scenes in preparation and should come back next year a more versed coach.

    • Fans in the student section wear white during the white out during the UNLV game against Wyoming at the Thomas  & Mack Center in Las Vegas on Saturday, March 3, 2012.

      Fans in the student section wear white during the white out during the UNLV game against Wyoming at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas on Saturday, March 3, 2012.

      Unbeatable at home

      With Rice, a member of the 1990 national title team, calling the shots and bringing an exciting brand of fast-paced basketball back to UNLV, the scarlet and gray faithful returned to religiously following the team. There were three sellouts this year (more than the past 19 years combined) to create a true home court advantage in helping the Rebels post a perfect regular season record at the Thomas & Mack Center. The band seemed to play louder, the fans didn’t miss a word in the fight song and those crazy students were surely creative in making sure the opposition felt at a disadvantage. Welcome back, UNLV basketball. Just like the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Mack is the place to be. Don’t expect that to change next winter, giving UNLV a leg up in complete its return to prominence.

    Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

    Join the Discussion:

    Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

    Full comments policy