Analysis: Projecting the Rebels’ roster for 2017-18

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L.E. Baskow

UNLV forward Dwayne Morgan (15) enjoys a laugh while looking to the bench versus UC Riverside at the Thomas & Mack Center on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016.

If there’s one thing we know about UNLV following the conclusion of the 2016-17 campaign, it’s that the roster needs to be dramatically overhauled in coming seasons. After losing 21 games and finishing in last place in the Mountain West, there are many needs (both short-term and long-term) that will have to be remedied before the Rebels can start winning again.

The rebuilding job is already underway, with at least four new recruits set to join the program next season and more personnel moves likely on the way. The good news for Rebels fans is that there is a pretty decent nucleus in place, with Dwayne Morgan, Jordan Johnson and Jovan Mooring giving the team an experienced core around which to build next year’s team.

How will Marvin Menzies fill out the rest of the roster? That’s the question I’ll try to tackle here. It’s still too early to say with any certainty which players will transfer, which recruits will sign or how the lineup will shake out, but with the offseason officially underway, this roster projection can serve as a useful snapshot of how the team is shaping up for next year and beyond.

Presented with a mixture of speculation, educated guessing, tea leaves and common sense, let’s take a crack at projecting UNLV’s roster for 2017-18:

Starting lineup

Point guard: Jordan Johnson, senior

The 5-foot-11 floor general is set to take over and should be an immediate impact player and the leading contender for All-Mountain West honors at his position. His ball-handling, vision and creativity will make the Rebels a better offensive team.

Shooting guard: Jovan Mooring, senior

Mooring was a revelation in his first year at the Division I level, leading UNLV in scoring (12.6 points per game) and leading the Mountain West in assists (4.7 per game). He should work off the ball more next year, giving the Rebels a rangy perimeter scorer and secondary playmaker.

Small forward: Tervell Beck, freshman

Beck will have to beat out two returners with starting experience (Kris Clyburn, Jalen Poyser) in order to win this job, but he’s not a typical freshman. He has the scoring touch to contribute offensively, and after a year of prep school he has the body (6-foot-7, 230 pounds) to play right away.

Power forward: Dwayne Morgan, junior

After taking a medical redshirt in 2016-17 (pending approval by the NCAA), Morgan should still have two more years of eligibility remaining, and he’ll give the Rebels rock-solid defense in the frontcourt while he’s here. If he’s healthy, Morgan is a huge upgrade at this spot.

Center: Cheickna Dembele, sophomore

If four-star recruit Brandon McCoy signs with UNLV, he’ll take this spot, but Dembele is a good Plan B. Dembele made big strides as a freshman and projects to be a useful rim protector.

Bench (rotation)

Guard/forward: Kris Clyburn, junior

The sixth-man role could be a perfect fit for Clyburn, who excelled at the little things in 2016-17 but struggled when he tried to do too much.

Center: Mbacke Diong, freshman

Menzies loves developing big men, and Diong gives him another athletic 6-foot-11 post player to mold. There’s a decent chance Diong ends up starting at center over Dembele at some point next year.

Guard: Jalen Poyser, junior

Poyser's status is up in the air after seeing reduced minutes down the stretch, and a transfer is a real possibility. If he returns and rediscovers his outside shot, more playing time awaits.

Bench (depth)

Forward: Anthony Smith, junior

Juco swingman has been productive at lower level of competition, but his game is still rough around the edges. If he can finish around the rim, he’ll push for minutes.

Guard: Zion Morgan, sophomore

Defensive specialist has to prove he can shoot before he cracks the rotation.

Guard: Jay Green, freshman

Will have to show up on campus willing to work in practice before earning a shot.

Open scholarships: 2

In addition to the three seniors set to graduate (Christian Jones, Uche Ofoegbu, Tyrell Green), I’m projecting transfers for the freshman trio of Troy Baxter, Ben Coupet and Djordjije Sljivancanin.

Coupet and Sljivancanin are obvious transfer threats, considering their lack of playing time last year and the fact that Menzies has recruited over them with multiple players at their positions. Baxter’s situation is more complicated. The four-star freshman was put on ice down the stretch due to a series of nagging injuries, but even before then Baxter wasn’t playing as much as his recruiting status would indicate. He may envision a bigger role at another school, and if he decides to test the transfer market, he’ll have plenty of suitors.

That calculus would leave UNLV with six scholarship players departing. Four incoming recruits have already committed, leaving two open roster spots. Menzies could look to fill those holes with late-signing high school prospects from the 2017 class (such as Brandon McCoy), or he could hold onto the scholarships and try to scoop up experienced college players later this summer via transfer (like the additions of Jones, Ofoegbu and Johnson last year).

Needs: Point guard, perimeter scoring

Johnson and Mooring will combine to give UNLV a good playmaking backcourt in 2017-18, but both are seniors, and there is little depth behind them heading into 2018 and beyond. Adding a developmental point guard from the Class of 2017 with one of the open scholarships should be a priority. Let him learn behind Johnson and Mooring for a year and get him ready to take the reins in 2018-19.

The Rebels also need someone who can score from the wings. Another shooting guard or small forward would be welcome, especially one with 3-point shooting ability.

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

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