Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Monday, March 4, 2013 | 12:11 a.m.
CBSSports.com's Jeff Borzello joins Las Vegas Sun reporter Taylor Bern to discuss UNLV's seeding possibilities in Part One, and then at the 15:30 mark Taylor is joined by SI.com's Andy Glockner who offers his insight to the Mountain West's collective standing as we approach tournament time. All rights for the intro, outro and intermission music to alt-J, so go buy their album.
- Moser opens March with a return to form in UNLV’s romp at UNR
- Rebels preparing to win eighth straight game against UNR with or without Bennett
- Rebels in good tournament seeding position with chances left to improve
- UNLV’s Bennett day-to-day with nerve pain in his left shoulder
- Las Vegas sports books benefitting from volatile college basketball season
- How does Rebels’ Bennett stack up against nation’s elite freshmen?
- All UNLV men's basketball coverage
Second place is in the Rebels’ hands. Considering the swoon UNLV endured in the middle of the league schedule, that’s a remarkable statement.
With Colorado State’s loss at Boise State on Saturday night, the Rebels moved into a tie for second place at 9-5 in Mountain West Conference play by virtue of their 80-63 victory at UNR earlier in the day. The first tiebreaker after head-to-head matchups is record against the Mountain West leader; UNLV split with league champ New Mexico while the Rams were swept, giving the Rebels the leg up for the 2 seed.
This is a big deal, because while the 2 will play Wyoming (4-11), UNR (3-11) or Fresno State (4-11), the 3 seed will likely face Air Force (7-7) or Boise State (8-6). That’s a big difference, especially when NCAA Tournament seeding may change based on how far each team advances in its conference tournament.
All the Rebels have to do to guarantee themselves the 2 is win at home Tuesday against a Boise State squad that’s likely one more quality victory from securing an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament, then wrap up the regular season on senior night Saturday against Fresno State. UNLV has already lost to both teams, but playing at the Thomas & Mack Center is a different animal.
If offered this scenario two weeks ago, the Rebels and their fans would have jumped at the opportunity. The best possible outcome is within their control.
Can Bennett/Moser coexist for a tournament run?
I think this is the most important question left for the Rebels, other than whatever lingering doubts you may have about them playing quality competition outside of Las Vegas.
Junior forward Mike Moser’s recent surge has possibly added another dynamic (pending his consistency) but it came in a game in which freshman Anthony Bennett basically didn’t play and then one in which he played the complementary role Moser filled for much of the year. It’s possible this is the perfect balance between them, and UNLV doesn’t need both to put up big production in the same game to win.
However, when Moser’s healthy, these are arguably the Rebels’ two best players. To go into a game basically conceding that only one has a chance to go off for a big game seems like a limitation of resources. That’s kind of the deal with both playing power forward, though.
Before Khem Birch was eligible, Bennett put in a lot of minutes at center and Moser played power forward, and they occasionally had great success with that. And it’s not that that scenario doesn’t happen at all anymore; it’s just rare because Birch’s defense is such a valuable asset you want him out there as much as possible.
The thoughts of all three of those guys anchoring the 3, 4 and 5 spots at the same time are all but gone. It’s now Moser and Bennett at the 4, and on a given day UNLV coach Dave Rice may just ride the hot hand. That’s not necessarily a bad plan, and it’s undoubtedly the best thing to do for UNLV’s defense. It’s just hard to accept the inherent limitations.
Moser wasn’t the only one with a stellar game against UNR. In fact, Bryce Dejean-Jones put together arguably the best game of his UNLV career, because there was nothing he didn’t do.
He was incredibly efficient on offense, scoring 17 on 7-for-9 shooting (his 167 ORating was the highest of the conference season for a Rebel playing at least 30 minutes). He grabbed five rebounds and had three assists versus two turnovers. And defensively he guarded multiple positions, including moving over to defend UNR point guard Deonte Burton when Anthony Marshall left the game with three fouls.
“I was out there just playing,” Dejean-Jones said. “Whatever the coaches asked me to do, that’s what I was out there doing.”
Dejean-Jones played 37 minutes in the victory; Rice can play him that much because of the sophomore’s versatility on defense. Obviously when someone is shooting as well as Dejean-Jones was, you’re not going to take him out unless he asks to come out. But when Dejean-Jones plays defense like he did Saturday, it may buy him more leeway on offense. That’s big for a guy who won’t be accused of having the most stringent shot selection.
Odds and ends
• Whether you really believe UNLV is peaking at the right time or not, it has to be a good sign that both Moser and Dejean-Jones played their best games in at least the past month or two in the first game of March.
• A combined four turnovers from Dejean-Jones and Katin Reinhardt is the biggest reason the Rebels were able to commit only nine of them in the game. If those two keep control of the ball, UNLV is going to have four or five more possessions in a game.
• There was a really strange moment during Bennett’s first free-throw attempt in the second half. He had just taken a forearm to the face and looked like he was still trying to shake it off as he stepped up to the line facing the UNR student section. As soon as the ref bounced him the ball, the fans went nuts and Bennett actually looked back, toward Rice and the scorer’s table.
It was really bizarre, almost like he was looking for help. Needless to say, he missed that free throw, but after the refs conferred about a possible whistle in the crowd (most likely the reason Bennett looked away) the freshman regained his composure and hit the second one.
Whistle or not, it was a good example of the benefits of having the opposing team shoot into the student section in the second half, when every shot potentially means more (hint hint, Thomas & Mack Center).