Analysis: Projecting UNLV basketball’s player rotation for 2017-18

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Steve Marcus

Brandon McCoy calls out to teammates during UNLV Runnin’ Rebels basketball practice at Mendenhall Center Monday, July 31, 2017.

If you need a quick refresher on how much the UNLV basketball landscape has changed since the end of last season, just take a look at our last roster projection. That analysis was done just a few days after the 2016-17 campaign wrapped up with a loss to San Diego State in the Mountain West tournament, and the Rebels of mid-March are almost unrecognizable from today’s team.

Brandon McCoy and Shakur Juiston have been the biggest agents of change. We’ve got the two spring signees slotted in as starters at center and power forward, respectively, and they will go a long way toward stabilizing the rotation and providing UNLV with a defensive backbone. Both are huge talent upgrades and immediate difference-makers.

On the other end of the spectrum, you won’t see junior forward Dwayne Morgan in this roster projection. He’s still suspended from team activities due to his legal issues, and with the Rebels needing to free up a scholarship before the start of the season (there are currently 14 scholarship players on the roster; the NCAA limit is 13), Morgan seems the most likely to be the odd man out.

Before we dive in, remember that situations are always fluid. Things can change rapidly during the season, and especially on a team with so many new faces. At this time last year, Jovan Mooring was a D-II junior college reclamation project who figured to fill out the end of the bench. By the end of the season, he was UNLV’s best and most indispensable player.

Is there another Mooring on this team, just waiting for a chance to climb the depth chart? We won’t know until the season is underway, but until then we can try our best at projecting how the roster will shake out:

Starting lineup

Point guard: Jordan Johnson, senior

Johnson should be a pretty sure bet to lead the Mountain West in assists when factoring in his vision, passing ability and the heavy minutes he’ll be logging.

Shooting guard: Jovan Mooring, senior

After a year spent playing point guard, Mooring will shift to a more natural wing-scoring position. He should top out as UNLV’s leading scorer while filling a secondary playmaking role and taking his share of charges.

Small forward: Kris Clyburn, junior

This will be the biggest position battle of the preseason. With the Rebels looking like one of the biggest, strongest teams in the league at center and power forward, Menzies could use this spot to put an extra shooter on the floor. If Clyburn knocks down 3-pointers at close to 40 percent, he can win this job.

Power forward: Shakur Juiston, junior

Juiston will do all the dirty work in the paint, giving UNLV a physical defender and a dominant rebounder on a nightly basis. Juiston is also a smart offensive player who knows how to pass and rarely takes bad shots. He’s a sharp fit next to…

Center: Brandon McCoy, freshman

The centerpiece of the lineup, McCoy may only be at UNLV for one year, so look for Menzies to pump him for as much production as possible during that time. McCoy will get a lot of post-up opportunities, and his size and shot-blocking will make him an important backstop in the Rebels’ defensive sets. The big question is McCoy’s conditioning — he’s looked good during the summer, so 28 minutes per night should be reasonable to expect.

Bench (rotation)

Guard: Amauri Hardy, freshman

The Rebels are short on ball-handlers, so look for Hardy to see plenty of action. He’s a pure scorer who can heat up from 3-point range in an instant, which is pretty much the definition of a good sixth man. He can play 20-plus minutes per game off the bench while being groomed as the 2018-19 starter at point guard.

Forward: Cheickna Dembele, sophomore

Dembele made huge strides last season and turned into a nice shot-blocking presence. Coming off the bench and playing a specific role, his strengths can be amplified while his weaknesses can be hidden.

Forward: Mbacke Diong, freshman

If Diong is as versatile defensively as some evaluators think, he could jump over Dembele on the depth chart by the end of the year.

Forward: Tervell Beck, freshman

Beck has the size and tweener skills to play in big and small lineups, so that should help him get on the court as a freshman. If he shoots 3’s at an efficient rate, he’ll play more (but that goes for everyone).

Bench (depth)

Forward: Ben Coupet, sophomore

Coupet didn’t show a whole lot as a freshman, but there’s some glue-guy potential if he continues to progress. He’s a good defensive prospect but a weak shooter.

Forward: Anthony Smith, junior

Smith’s surest path to playing time is energy. He’s not a shooter or a ball-handler, but he plays extremely hard and could contribute short minutes off the bench while the rest of his skills develop.

Guard: Jay Green, freshman

Green will have to prove he’s quick enough and a good enough ball-handler to earn minutes in the backcourt. For now, he looks like a depth player and a long-term project.

Forward: Djordjije Sljivancanin, sophomore

The Rebels added three big men with more potential than Sljivancanin in one offseason alone, so it looks like another year of bench duty for Georgie.

Redshirts (1)

Guard: Noah Robotham, senior

Robotham will pay his own way as he sits out this season as a redshirt, so he won’t count against the scholarship limit. The senior transfer was a productive three-year starter at Akron, so he should have a spot in the rotation next year whether he’s a scholarship player or a walk-on.

Predictions

Team MVP: Shakur Juiston

Brandon McCoy, Jovan Mooring and Jordan Johnson can all make a case for preseason MVP, but Juiston is the most likely to impact winning on both ends of the floor consistently.

Projected top scorer: Jovan Mooring

Mooring tallied a team-high 12.6 points per game last year and made 37.2 percent of his 3-pointers, and that was with very little help around him. His efficiency should improve as a senior.

Position battle to watch: Small forward

Clyburn is penciled in as the starter here, but Marvin Menzies could go any number of ways with that position. If he wants more ball-handling, rookie Amauri Hardy could get the nod. If he wants size, Tervell Beck or Anthony Smith could be the man.

Biggest question mark: Outside shooting

UNLV finished 306th in the nation in 3-point accuracy last year (32.0 percent); if the Rebels shoot that poorly again, defenses will collapse and make life in the paint tough for McCoy and Juiston.

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

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