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Bern’s-Eye View: 21-win regular season not out of Rebels’ reach in 2014-15

UNLV Basketball Team Players Scrimmage

L.E. Baskow

UNLV basketball team players huddle during a timeout at a scrimmage on Saturday, November 1, 2014.

The Rebel Room

UNLV's Got (Don't Say) Talent

On this episode of UNLV's Got Talent, Rebels beat writer Taylor Bern tells colleagues Ray Brewer and Case Keefer why they need to stop using that word as the go-to for UNLV's basketball program.

There’s nothing quite like the promise of potential, and a team that has yet to play a game is filled with it. Guessing how much of that potential will turn into reality is what preseason predictions are all about.

The Rebels’ season starts tonight against Morehead State, and quickly ramps up with games next week in New York, against Stanford and either Temple or No. 5 Duke. Top-5 matchups against Arizona and Kansas await later in the nonconference schedule, and on paper it’s going to be a competitive race in the Mountain West.

As coach Dave Rice prepares to tip off his fourth season at UNLV, we’re going to have some have some fun by tossing a few predictions against the backboard and seeing what sticks once the regular season gets going:

Over/Under (regular season numbers only)

29.2 minutes per game for Rashad Vaughn

• That’s the most minutes per game for a freshman in the Rice era at UNLV, and they happened to be given to the last heralded freshman shooting guard the staff brought in. That guy, Katin Reinhardt, is now preparing for his first season at USC, but the Rebels feel like they have a better option in Vaughn.

The Findlay Prep product will be a starter from opening night and should contend for the team lead in both minutes and points.

Pick: Over

124 combined blocks for Christian Wood and Goodluck Okonoboh

• Khem Birch’s decision to leave early left a giant hole in UNLV’s production, particularly at the last line of defense. His combined rebounding totals with Roscoe Smith (21.1 per game) are numbers the Rebels can only dream about getting from a duo this year, but does the same go for his individual block numbers?

Birch finished the year second in the nation in blocked shots per game (3.76). With Birch gone, Wood is the only returner who had double-digit blocks (29) last season. That certainly figures to jump along with his minutes, and while I’ll take him and Okonoboh to combine to reach Birch’s season total of 124 blocks, they might not do it by much.

Pick: Over

279 assists for Cody Doolin

Click to enlarge photo

The UNLV basketball team's Dantley Walker #30 defends against teammate Cody Doolin #45 during a scrimmage on Saturday, November 1, 2014.

• Rice loves assists, which is why it was so disheartening for him to see his team plummet from one of the nation’s most prolific assist teams his first two years to one of the worst last season. Last year was the first time since 2001-02 that UNLV didn’t have at least one player with 100 assists.

That’s going to change this season but what average to expect from senior point guard Doolin? I’ve set the line at 9 assists per game, a figure Doolin could reach because he’s a pass-first guy who’s going to get a ton of minutes.

I’m leaning toward the conservative side, but I admit it’s possible Doolin will blow out my line and eclipse 300.

Pick: Under

15.5 made 3s for Dantley Walker

• This works out to 0.5 made 3-pointers for every regular season game. While Walker certainly isn’t going to appear in every game he should benefit early from UNLV’s short 10-man roster of available scholarship players, and when he does get run the shots could come in bunches.

Ultimately this is going to be all about playing time, and while I don’t think he’ll get enough to pull it off I guarantee that’s what fans want to see.

Pick: Under

And the big one … 19.5 victories

• Last year’s team went 19-12 in the regular season, but there’s not much similar this year from the roster to the schedule.

A seemingly more cohesive team is taking on a decidedly tougher nonconference schedule and still will face the same rigors of Mountain West play, especially the difficultly of winning on the road.

So to best answer this question, let’s take the 2014-15 schedule game-by-game and see what we end up with at the end in the box below. If nothing else, this should provide ample material for people to later point out how wrong I was:

Friday vs. Morehead State

• Nice test out of the gates against a middling Eagles team that returns some pieces from a 20-win season. UNLV 84, Morehead State 72

Sunday vs. Sam Houston State

• Rebels start the same way they’d like to finish: two games in three days. UNLV 87, Sam Houston State 70

Nov. 21 vs. Stanford (at Barclays Center in Brooklyn)

• Coming off a Sweet 16, Cardinal expect to compete for Pac-12 crown with help from three Vegas high school grads. UNLV 73, Stanford 69

Nov. 22 vs. Duke/Temple (at Barclays Center in Brooklyn)

• There’s no scenario where a UNLV-Temple matchup isn’t a disappointment. Duke 80, UNLV 72

Nov. 29 vs. Albany

• If it’s going to be a good season, nights like this need to be drama-free. UNLV 81, Albany 65

Dec. 3 at Arizona State

• Good test against a rebuilding Sun Devils team that features former Rebel Savon Goodman. UNLV 69, Arizona State 67

Dec. 5 vs. St. Katherine (at Orleans Arena)

• Let’s get this over with. UNLV 105, St. Katherine 62

Dec. 13 vs. South Dakota (at Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D.)

• Suggested game tagline: the Ryan Miller Homecoming Invitational. UNLV 74, South Dakota 66

Dec. 17 vs. Portland

• See: Nov. 29 vs. Albany. UNLV 83, Portland 72

Dec. 20 vs. Utah (at MGM Grand Garden Arena)

• First-ever UNLV game on the Strip, and it comes against a formidable Utes squad. Utah 71, UNLV 70

Click to enlarge photo

UNLV guard Jelan Kendrick shoots over Arizona guard Nick Johnson and center Kaleb Tarczewski during the first half of their game at the McKale Center in Tucson Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013.

Dec. 23 vs. Arizona

• Rebels nearly won at Arizona last year; any chance they can finish the job this time around? Arizona 80, UNLV 73

Dec. 27 vs. Southern Utah

• Wedged in between the conference opener and two of the biggest nonconference games in recent history, UNLV can afford to sleepwalk through this one. UNLV 100, Southern Utah 70

Dec. 31 at Wyoming

• “Oh, my New Year’s plans? I’ll be in Laramie. … Why are you laughing?” Wyoming 57, UNLV 54

Jan. 4 at Kansas

• Can’t wait (Bart Scott voice); Rebels trying to duplicate San Diego State’s win last year in the Phog. Kansas 79, UNLV 69

Jan. 7 — vs. UNR

• Wolf Pack not the same without Deonte Burton, but Rebels still need to save face after being swept last year. UNLV 76, UNR 67

Jan. 10 vs. San Jose State

• All the talk about so many different teams being able to win the league this year, but everyone agrees on who’s going to finish last. UNLV 82, San Jose State 62

Click to enlarge photo

UNLV players Kevin Olekaibe, from left, Daquan Cook, Christian Wood and Kendall Smith are stunned by the ending of UNLV's 91-90 overtime loss to Boise State at Taco Bell Arena in Boise on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014.

Jan. 13 at Boise State

• Kind of surprised the Leon Rice dance hasn’t taken over Vegas clubs since last year’s meeting in Boise. UNLV 76, Boise State 73

Jan. 17 at San Diego State

• Yes it’s enemy territory, but if you’re a UNLV fan and haven’t been to Viejas Arena you need to get that on your schedule. San Diego State 67, UNLV 60

Jan. 21 vs. New Mexico

• Lobos coach Craig Neal was one of four coaches (including Rice) to get an offseason extension, which was good timing since his team might take a big step back this year. UNLV 75, New Mexico 67

Jan. 24 Utah State

• After a tough stretch to open league play, this is where UNLV really needs to get on a roll. UNLV 77, Utah State 65

Jan. 27 at UNR

• I know Reno isn’t the main basketball rival, but it still seems strange to play both games before February. UNLV 70, UNR 66

Jan. 31 vs. Air Force

• Should be an improved Falcons team but still clearly outside the top five. UNLV 83, Air Force 71

Feb. 7 at Colorado State

• Uneven schedule means this is the only UNLV-Colorado State game of the regular season; both sides need to make it count. Colorado State 72, UNLV 71

Feb. 10 vs. Fresno State

• These teams have swapped sweeps the past two seasons but are only meeting once this year, and home court means Rice should get the better of Rodney Terry. UNLV 73, Fresno State 70

Feb. 14 at Air Force

• Rice is 0-1 in Valentine’s Day games, in case you were curious. Air Force 67, UNLV 63

Feb. 18 vs. Boise State

• Small sample size (four games) but UNLV has never lost to the Broncos in Las Vegas. UNLV 80, Boise State 75

Feb. 21 at New Mexico

• Does the Pit hold the same advantage without the three NBA players who made it so fearsome? New Mexico 68, UNLV 65

Feb. 24 at Utah State

• Rebels need to stay mentally focused in possible trap game. Utah State 70, UNLV 66

Click to enlarge photo

UNLV forward Carlos Lopez Sosa guards Wyoming forward Larry Nance Jr. during their game Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014 at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV won 48-46.

Feb. 28 vs. Wyoming

• I hope the Cowboys are relevant down the stretch; bad decisions (Luke Martinez’s bar kick) and bad luck (Larry Nance’s knee injury) have tanked decent squads the past two years. UNLV 60, Wyoming 58

March 4 vs. San Diego State

• Dream scenario: Mack sells out for game that decides regular-season champ and player of the year. UNLV 76, San Diego State 69

March 7 at San Jose State

• Don’t slip on the banana peel. UNLV 77, San Jose State 57

Projected record: 21-10

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

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