Sunday, August 28, 2011

And Then, There Was Rice; Comments from Shabazz not positive for Rebs

By Jason Taylor (rebelgrad95)
Rebel Reign Contributor

The hardest part of Lon Kruger’s departure for many UNLV fans was watching the look on the players’ faces.  A few were able to muster responses to the shocking news as other players passed by the cameras in the background, unable, or unwilling to respond.  If there is any animosity toward Kruger amongst fans, much of it would stem from remembering that moment in time… Our boys were crushed. 

In the following days players wondered if they would fit in to an upcoming, unknown system.  Fans wondered who might leave the program, and if the revived hope provided by Kruger, would begin to fade.

Then, there was Dave Rice. 

He came in a few weeks after Kruger’s departure, and not only convinced every single player on the roster to stay, but the freshman head coach formed an all-star assistant coaching staff and began signing new, elite recruits within a few weeks:  Dantly Walker (all time leading NV H.S. scorer), Bryce Jones (Top 100 recruit 2010, USC transfer), Christian Wood (Top 100 recruit, 2013), Katin Reinhardt (Top 100 recruit 2012), and DeQuan Cook, who was high on the UNLV radar for 2012. 

With Rice and company, there is a very real chance that UNLV may sign 1-3 more Top 100 Recruits for 2012.  In fact, the #1 and #7 recruits in the nation, Shabazz Muhammad and Anthony Bennet, still have UNLV on their short-lists.  When is the last time UNLV has been in this position?

There is a renewed “buzz” surrounding the program.  Not a Kruger-style buzz, but a 1990’s Tarkanian-elite program-style buzz.  Rice keeps a check on unrealistic expectations, but in-the-know fans love what they see so far!

How has he done it?  He promised to put the “Runnin” back into the Runnin’ Rebels. 

While that sounds like fun, it raises a few questions.  What does “Runnin” actually mean?  How will it be different?  What types of players are needed?  Does Rice have the right weapons with the current Kruger roster?

Lets take a look at the likely components of a “Runnin” team.

  • Quickly identify defensive seams, and attack at first light.
  • Guards run the wings looking for quick outlet passes, even on in-bound plays.
  • Players have more authority to make decisions based on flow.
  • The “Bigs” run the lanes looking for dishes and clean-up work.
  • “Offensive Sets” rely on quick lateral movement.
  • Guards/Forwards often penetrate and create the “draw and dish”, or finish.
  • “Face-up”, or “catch and shoot” jumpers become increasingly important.
  • Centers “stretch” their defenders, forcing them to guard away from the basket creating driving lanes.
  •  Deep and frequent use of the bench.
  • Occasional zone defenses, preserving “offensive legs”.

Many would assert that Kruger looked to “push” the ball as much as possible and create fast breaks, so how is the “new” style really that different?

While it is true that Kruger liked getting out on the fast break, it was usually created after a turnover, rather than after rebounds and made baskets.  Kruger’s success centers heavily on a very good turnover margin.  His teams defend with an intense man-to-man effort, and then maintain control of the ball on the offensive end, running a “safe” offensive set that eventually works the ball into a good shot.

Rice’s offense risks Kruger’s turnover margin, but adds the likelihood of higher average-per-game scores.  Kruger protected the ball with style of play.  Rice will rely more on good decision-making, especially from the guards.  Where Kruger almost always set the offense up, Rice will likely seek any crease or space in the defense and attack or shoot.

The current roster for 2011, with Bryce Jones sitting out under transfer rules, will consist of a team formed 100% by Kruger.   

Will they fit in to Rice’s Run-n-Gun scheme? 

Every single guard could benefit, according to their assets.  Outlet passes will seek out open guards on the run.  Marshall, Bellfield, Hawkins, and Smith all have very, very good speed and are good finishers.  Wallace should benefit because he can find the open spot on the 3-point line and receive the kick-out or swing pass.

Marshall will have more point guard duties and Bellfield will have more time as a shooting guard.  Who is the better shooter of the two?  Bellfield, and he loves face-up jumpers.  Who is the stronger driver with ability to draw defenders? Marshall.  If he is quick to get “the feel”, the Bellfield-Marshall combination should be more potent.

Hawkins scores best at the basket with chaos and contact.  Smith is an all-around athlete with an astronomical vertical - Reports have it measured at well over 40 inches.  This should be fun!

How about the forwards?  Mashour may get a chance to really show his stuff.  If he can play good defense and stay under control he’ll get his playing time because this kid is a shooting, slashing, dunking machine with good mid-to-long range accuracy.  Moser is supposedly a near mirror image of Stanback.  They are smooth shooters and if they are consistent, their mid-range jumpers will seal the “draw and kick” deal.  Rice should love all of these guys.

The “bigs” will be interesting.  The question for Massamba is, “can he get down court fast enough to get playing time?”  Lopez is built for Rice’s offense assuming he continues his development.  We haven’t seen much of it yet, but he actually has some range.  Thomas, like Marshall, with size and strength, can fit into just about any system.  He’ll likely lead the team in rebounds per minute played, by far.  All three are good out to about 15 ft, and they should all get a chance to utilize their jumpers more under Rice.  It wouldn't be surprising to even see Lopez start hitting some 3-pointers this year.

So the question was really answered last spring.  As the players listened to the new system and what it meant for them, they all decided to stay, and it’s easy to see why.  UNLV Basketball is evolving, more than changing.  The players “took the wheel” under Kruger… Now Rice is going to let them put the Pedal To The Metal!

Rice owes Kruger a big "Thanks".  Considering he is a new head coach, could he have found himself in a better situation?

 It should be fast and fun!  See you there!

Comments from Shabazz not positive for Rebs

Sporting news has just published a story that features comments by Shabazz Muhammad regarding where he would like to play. Muhammad is quoted as saying, "Yeah, I think (UCLA) is an option. We've (him and Kyle Anderson) been really talking about that. Pretty much he's like my best friend now, so I'm always hanging around with him. We're just talking about UCLA, what other schools he likes, what other schools I like."

Shabazz Muhammad's list of schools are: Arizona, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Memphis, UCLA and UNLV.

Kyle Anderson's list of schools are: Saint John's, Seton Hall, Florida, Georgetown and UCLA.

Nothing is final till its final, but this can't be chalked up to anything other than not-so-positive news for the Rebels...


  1. Really good article, I like your style Jason

  2. Great Article! Well written, thorough & easy read, too! Can't wait to read more from ya.

  3. Why did you bold UCLA?

  4. Thank you. I look forward to contributing more in the future.

    Regarding "UCLA in bold"... I didn't write the Shabazz update, but the reason it was in bold was to highlight the only team that is interested in both Kyle Anderson and Shabazz Muhammad.