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Analysis: Donnie Tillman factors into latest UNLV roster projection

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Wade Vandervort

Donnie Tillman (2) goes for a lay up against Vitaliy Shibel (22) during practice at Mendenhall Center at the UNLV campus, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019.

After such a long, eventful offseason for the Runnin’ Rebels, it’s hard to believe there will be a college basketball game played this week, but here we are. UNLV will host West Coast Baptist College at the Thomas & Mack Center on Friday, and while it will take much more than one exhibition game for new coach T.J. Otzelberger to settle on his rotation, we do have some idea of how the roster looks after four weeks of practice.

For the final time before the 2019-20 season tips off, let’s analyze the Rebels’ potential lineup with a 1-through-13 roster projection:

Starting lineup

Guard: Elijah Mitrou-Long, senior

Mitrou-Long profiles as a solid defender, but the major mark against him is his outside shooting, as he made just 32.0 percent from 3-point range last year at Texas. The Rebels are hoping that number is deceptively bad, however, as Mitrou-Long actually shot well on open catch-and-shoot jumpers (45.2 percent).

Guard: Amauri Hardy, junior

Hardy has the skills to excel in Otzelberger’s offense—if he can adapt his style of play. He’s used to taking his time and stringing together dribble moves, but his new coach will want him to play faster and be more decisive with his driving and passing. Hardy is capable of star-level production if it all clicks.

Wing: Jonah Antonio, junior

More than anything, Otzelberger needs outside shooters ringing the perimeter in order to keep defenses honest, and Antonio fits that description better than anyone on the active roster. Because he is the best bet to hit 40 percent from 3-point range, Antonio gets the starting nod over Bryce Hamilton.

Wing: Donnie Tillman, junior

He’s listed as a wing in this lineup, but Tillman will see a bunch of minutes as the Rebels’ nominal power forward in smaller alignments. His spot-up shooting will make him a difficult matchup for opponents, and he defends and rebounds well enough to pass for a 4 on the defensive end.

Center: Mbacke Diong, junior

Diong is another Marvin Menzies recruit who will have to adjust his game to fit the new system. His post touches will be minimized, but he’ll see reps as a roll man against scrambling defenses. His calling card remains his ability to move his feet and protect the rim on defense, which should translate to any coach’s scheme.

Bench (rotation)

Guard: Bryce Hamilton, sophomore

Hamilton might need to put in more work to adapt his game than any other returning player. His bread-and-butter mid-range game is now out of favor; he’ll have to polish up his 3-point stroke in order to earn big minutes under Otzelberger. His ability to drive to the rim will be welcomed, but like Hardy he’ll have to re-learn to do everything faster. If it comes together, Hamilton still has the upside to be a prolific scorer in the Mountain West.

Forward: Nick Blair, senior

Blair profiles as a similar player to Tillman, but Tillman does everything just a little bit better, so Blair will likely settle into a key reserve role. If he can get his 3-point accuracy closer to 40 percent (he shot 33.3 percent last year), Blair will earn minutes at both forward positions.

Guard: Marvin Coleman, sophomore

Otzelberger has said he wants two primary ball-handlers on the floor at the same time, so when Hardy or Mitrou-Long get a breather it looks like Coleman will fill in.

Forward: Vitaliy Shibel, senior

Shibel is more of a small-ball forward than a center, so if he’s in the game the Rebels will probably be spreading things out and parking him in the corner for 3-point kickouts.

Bench (depth)

Center: Cheickna Dembele, junior

Dembele provides size, but his limited mobility and lack of touch make him an iffy play in the new system. Leadership is probably his greatest contribution now, as his teammates love him.

Guard: Jay Green, sophomore

Green is a mystery, as we haven’t seen much of him over his first two seasons. After redshirting last year, he’ll start the season behind Coleman on the depth chart.

Redshirts

Guard: David Jenkins, junior

Jenkins is a spectacular shooter—maybe the best in America—but that won’t help UNLV this season, as he’ll sit out after transferring from South Dakota State. He’ll be the Rebels’ top scorer in 2020-21.

Forward: Moses Wood, sophomore

Notice a pattern? Wood is another plus shooter who will fit into the new offense when he gains eligibility next year. As a freshman at Tulane in 2018-19, the 6-foot-9 swing forward hit 38.3 percent of his jump shots and 37.3 percent of his 3-pointers.

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

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