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Analysis: Reevaluating UNLV basketball’s starting lineup

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Wade Vandervort

UNLV Head Coach Marvin Menzies talks with his player UNLV Rebels forward Shakur Juiston (10) during a game at the Thomas & Mack Center Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018.

The Rebel Room

Robotham Report

Should UNLV bench Noah Robotham? How long will his three-point shooting slump continue? Mike Grimala and Case Keefer discuss the polarizing point guard after dissecting other parts of the roster and the Rebels' three-game losing streak.

Would the Rebels be better off with a new starting lineup?

Head coach Marvin Menzies has shown a preference for stability during his time at UNLV — last year, he made just one change to the starting lineup throughout the course of the entire season and only six players started a game — but the numbers show that the current starting five could be in need of a tweak.

For all eight games this season, Menzies has rolled out seniors Noah Robotham and Kris Clyburn in the backcourt, with freshman Joel Ntambwe at small forward, senior Shakur Juiston at power forward and sophomore Mbacke Diong at center. It’s a traditional lineup on paper, with five clearly defined positions. It just hasn’t worked for UNLV.

That five-man combination has played more than 65 minutes together this year, and during that time opponents have outscored UNLV, 118-93. That works out to a plus/minus rating of minus-15.3 per 40 minutes.

In six of eight games, that unit has been outscored by the opposition. The only game UNLV’s starters performed positively was against Pacific, a team they outscored 26-23 over 10:28 of game time. They were even in eight minutes against Cincinnati, 6-6.

Offense has been the main issue, as that quintet has made just 30-of-86 attempts from the field (34.9 percent) and scored at a rate of only 57.0 points per 40 minutes.

There are a few possible ways to pump more offense into the starting five. Simply swapping out Ntambwe for sophomore Tervell Beck at forward has produced good results so far; in 13 minutes together, the four starters and Beck have outscored opponents, 25-11. That unit has shot 11-of-19 from the floor (57.9 percent).

Another option could be to sub out Robotham and insert sophomore Amauri Hardy at point guard. Robotham has struggled to find his 3-point shot (23.8 percent), while Hardy appears to be in the middle of a breakout season (10.4 points, 2.1 assists per game). Hardy at point guard with the other four starters has yielded good results (albeit in a very small sample): In 3:41 with Hardy running the show, UNLV has outscored teams, 11-4.

Another route would be replacing Ntambwe with a third guard, either Hardy or freshman Bryce Hamilton. UNLV has had tremendous success with three-guard lineups this season, outscoring opponents 183-157 in 101 minutes (plus-10.3 per 40 minutes).

It’s still early in the season, but not too early to start thinking about putting the best lineups on the floor as much as possible. Whether it’s Hardy at point guard, Beck at forward or a three-guard look, if Menzies does eventually make a move with his starters, expect it to be one of those options.

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

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