Thursday, March 22, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Coming off a rebuilding season that somehow managed to be both encouraging and disappointing at the same time, the 2018-19 campaign is shaping up to be hugely important for UNLV. In-state rival UNR is dancing in the Sweet 16 and will bring its entire roster back next year, San Diego State is coming off an NCAA bid and is building around a terrific young nucleus, New Mexico is on the upswing again, and, oh yeah, juggernaut Gonzaga could be joining the conference.
Can the Rebels expect to stack up with that kind of competition in the Mountain West? The Rebels will lose a significant amount of talent. Freshman center Brandon McCoy is almost certain to declare for the NBA draft any day now, and senior guards Jovan Mooring and Jordan Johnson are graduating, so they're not part of this projection. Also, we're projecting that suspended forward Anthony Smith will not rejoin the team for his senior year after being deactivated for the final 17 games.
And those probably won't be the only departures — every college basketball team deals with transfers during the offseason, so expect one or two additional Rebels to exit for greener pastures. The good news for head coach Marvin Menzies is that UNLV will be importing some newcomers capable of providing an instant impact, with highly-rated recruits Bryce Hamilton and Trey Woodbury leading the way.
So what will UNLV look like in 2018-19? An early look at the projected roster:
Point guard: Noah Robotham, senior
College basketball players don't come much more experienced than Robotham, a former Bishop Gorman star who started 84 games at Akron before transferring to UNLV. A career 38.5-percent 3-point marksman, Robotham will bring a steady hand and pinpoint shooting accuracy to the Rebels' backcourt. The UNLV coaching staff loves his demeanor, and as of now he looks to be the favorite for the starting point guard job.
Shooting guard: Amauri Hardy, sophomore
Hardy wants to play point guard, but a year apprenticing aside Robotham should only help his long-term development. In the meantime, the 6-foot-3 lefty will give the Rebels a skilled penetrator on the wing. Hardy made just 29.4 percent of his 3-pointers as a freshman, so his outside touch needs to improve. Other than that, he is a natural-born scorer who could put up 12-to-15 points per game next year.
Small forward: Bryce Hamilton, freshman
The Rebels need perimeter firepower, and that should give Hamilton every opportunity to earn a starting role as a freshman. The 6-foot-4 wing is a skilled ball-handler and shooter, with the ability to score from all three levels. He'll have to beat out some returning players to win this job, but his ability to put the ball in the basket gives him an early advantage over senior Kris Clyburn.
Power forward: Tervell Beck, sophomore
He did it quietly, but Beck ended his freshman season as UNLV's most efficient offensive player, averaging a team-high 1.119 points per possession. He made 70.1 percent of his shots around the rim and 36.0 percent of his 3-point attempts, so expectations will be high for his sophomore campaign. At 6-foot-7, there's some question about whether Beck can provide interior defense, but his potential to be an efficient, floor-stretching power forward means he'll open the season as a frontcourt starter.
Center: Shakur Juiston, senior
Like Beck, the question here is whether Juiston can defend the paint as a center at 6-foot-8. His block rate was a miniscule 1.9 percent last year, so he's definitely not a rim protector, but he was so efficient offensively — 14.6 points per game on 1.035 points per possession — that he needs to play big minutes. He can rebound like a center (10.0 per game), so for now let's pencil him in here in order to get both he and Beck on the floor together.
Guard: Trey Woodbury, freshman
The Rebels desperately need outside shooting, and Woodbury projects as a plus in that area, so he could very well end up in the starting lineup at some point during his freshman year. For now, he'll bring some attitude to the reserve unit.
Guard: Kris Clyburn, senior
Clyburn showed flashes throughout last season, but never seemed to put together more than a couple good games in a row before falling into a slump. That makes him a good seventh man, where he won't be counted on every night (and his contributions will be viewed as a bonus).
Center: Mbacke Diong, sophomore
There may not be an athlete on the roster with more potential than Diong. If he continues to develop, he'll be a defensive difference-maker as early as 2018-19. If he really impresses, he could end up starting as a true center (6-foot-11) and push one of Juiston or Beck to the bench.
Forward: Joel Ntambwe, freshman
It's hard to predict what UNLV is getting in Ntambwe, a late riser on the recruiting trail who comes with a reputation as a lively defender and willing passer. With his length (6-foot-9) and ability to swing between multiple positions, Menzies probably envisions him developing into a key chess piece down the line.
Center: Cheickna Dembele, junior
Dembele clearly fell behind Diong on the depth chart last year, and unless something dramatic happens, he'll be a depth big man, with some extended minutes possibly hinging on specific matchups.
Guard: Jay Green, sophomore
The coaching staff likes his work ethic, but the jump from practice player to rotation player is not an easy one. It's safe to slot Green in for another year on the scout team.
Forward: Ben Coupet, sophomore
Coupet redshirted last year, so it will be interesting to see if he has improved since his freshman year (when he shot 31.8 percent from the field and missed all 10 of his 3-point attempts).
Forward: Djordjije Slijivancanin, sophomore
Slijivancanin barely played as a freshman in 2016-17, then redshirted last year. With his long-term prospects not looking great at UNLV, he could be a transfer candidate.