Sunday, July 31, 2011

The push for ‘two-bigs’ meets the push for uptempo

Brice Massamba   Quintrell ThomasCarlos Lopez

The 2010-11 season saw freshman Carlos Lopez, who redshirted his first year and transfer Quintrell Thomas, who sat per NCAA transfer rules, join big man Brice Massamba in UNLV’s pool of big-men. Almost instantaneously, many of the fans began to ask, ‘when is Coach Kruger going to play 2 big men at once?’ Coach Kruger normally only played one of these guys at a time, using them in short bursts, especially Massamba and Lopez. Thomas gained more minutes when he overcame his propensity to commit fouls, which thankfully was over by before the conference schedule started. Nonetheless, despite the Rebels success (or because of lack of success dependant on your perspective) all year the same question, when are they going to play two bigs at once? A lot has changed in the off-season, let’s examine if this will be a possibility under Coach Rice.

Coach Dave Rice’s stated mission is to win basketball games, and do so by playing up-tempo Runnin’ Rebels basketball such as the style made famous under Coach Tarkanian. Does having two big men in your starting lineup make sense in an up-tempo game?

NBA examples

Some of the most obvious examples of the two-bigs scenario come from former NBA teams. The Duncan-Robinson era Spurs are one of the successful – but they didn’t win by playing up-tempo basketball, they did it by shutting down the paint, and relentless defense. In their seasons together, the team never cracked the top-ten in points-per-game scored, but they did hover around #1 in least points allowed.

An earlier example of the two-bigs or “twin towers” as they were more commonly referred to pre-9/11, was Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson together on the Houston Rockets. They collaborated from 1985-88 and produced deep pushes into the post-season, they also did so by having respectable middle-of-the-pack team points per game levels.

Bill Cartwright and Patrick Ewing pulled off the duo in 1986-88, but like the Spurs had back-of-the-pack offensive production, yet some success. No surprise, Knicks basketball has remained slow until D’antoni took the helm, but now the defense sucks so they continue to lose.

As seen by the professional level, two bigs can be seen as an asset and quite effective – if the defense makes up for the lack of offense. With few exceptions such as Shaq and Dirk Nowitzki, the guy playing center normally does not account of the bulk of points. If you are essentially playing two centers, that puts the scoring burden more on the three perimeter players. Granted, having two big guys in the lane does shut down the paint, but unless they are especially good offensively, nobody is doubling them and they aren’t really opening up much for the others. Normally, the bigger the player the slower they are. Coaches also want their centers to put on muscle and not be stick figures so they can bang in the post and rebound, that tends to slow them down ever further. This does not normally bode well for fast-break basketball.


UNLV’s three bigs are Carlos Lopez, Brice Massamba, and Quintrell Thomas. Thomas is actually only 6’8, so he is more of a power-forward sized and type player who has volunteered to play starting center. The good thing is that at 6’8” he has a better chance of being able to run up and down the floor. Playing Thomas along side Lopez or Massamba is a possibility, but that would put Thomas filling the roll of a power-forward, which right now, may be not the most comfortable for him. Playing Lopez and Massamba together would be a disaster, that would slow things down to a Utah Ute’s pace and put a tremendous scoring burden on the other three.

My take on it, is although UNLV has three big-men on their bench, it is unlikely that Coach Rice would play two of them together at once. Playing two together runs contrary to his style of play. The only scenario under which I see Coach Rice doing it, would be Lopez and Thomas together, if our team is being severely beaten by the other teams offense and we need to employ a gimmick defense.

Otherwise, we will likely see these three players swapped out more consistently, as they will be tired quickly under the fast-break style. In fact, look for Coach to go deeper into the roster on every position on a regular basis, running all the time will wear out even the best conditioned player.

Once Coach Rice’s brand of basketball is seen and proves successful, nobody should be asking about two bigs again.

Update: 2011-12 Schedule page updated
New polls posted
Oscar Bellfield's twitter feed located:!/odyebeeisback


  1. Dude Lopez is not slow so him and massamba would-be fine. Also you forgot about one important team that not only played two bigs but three. The 91 rebels ran more then anyone and started Johnson, Stacy , and ackels. So your kinda wrong and that team produced rice so expect to see at least two bigs at once. Excpecially when he gets his own recruits in there.

  2. That's a good point, but I believe only Ackles could be called a center. Stacey Augmon was only 6'6", so how is he a big? (I know we're calling Thomas a big, but only because Coach K played him in the center spot). For the sake of argument, Larry Johnson could be classified as a big because of his monster presence in the paint.

    I don't have a ton of first hand knowledge about the 90, 91 Rebels (due to my age) and couldn't find a ton on the internet about their starting linueps, minutes played, or offensive contributions, so yes - my knowledge on this subject regarding our champion-level Rebels teams is lacking, so any input is appreciated! -RebelReign

  3. The only thing that you have to remember with rice system is it starts with rebounding. It's the same thing Roy Williams from unc will say. You have to have at least two bigs because transition is started off of missed shots and rebounding. Look at byu's rebounding before they lost Brandon Davies. They averaged like 41 a game (in the top 40 in the country). Unlv averaged like 36ish. So to run a perfect transition system you have to have high rebounding and that means big men. I'm not trying to trash your stuff. I read it every week but I just want to put in my opinion when I can.

  4. Rebaholic, you make valid points about the rebounding. Your opinions are just as valid as mine, thanks for contributing!