Sunday, October 2, 2011

Rocky finish to the non-conference schedule - Season recap part 2

Following all the success and momentum built up over the first nine games, came a rough patch for last year’s Rebels.

Not counting the Anaheim classic, the first true road test was familiar foe Louisville, a team who at the time was 7-0 but hadn’t really played anyone of consequence yet, and hadn’t left the cushiness of playing at the KFC Yum! center. UNLV was their first real test, and unfortunately  Louisville passed the test. The game was fairly close through all but the five minutes of the second half, where Louisville pulled away. Willis and Bellfield did their best to keep it close, but Stanback had an uncharacteristic (up to this point) slump that game, shooting only 2-8 from the field.

Following the loss,( which was a bit shocking given how well the Rebels had played up to that point) UNLV came home to face UCSB. The Gauchos were at the time 4-3, but they’d been unfortunately potent when playing the Rebels, having beaten us in the last two meetings. Although Chace got his point production back, the entire team shot the ball like crap, capitalizing at only 29% from the field, vs. UCSB’s 50%. The Rebels first home loss of the season, while still ranked, came at the hands of those damn Gauchos. Let’s hope for some revenge this season.

Having unexpectedly lost to UCSB, the Rebels worked them selves into the mindset to beat  Southern Utah, at the time 3-8. Best statistical measure of the Rebels’ dominance that game- Points in the paint-SUU 20,LV 38. Points off turnovers-SUU 3,LV 22. Although it stopped the losing streak – beating SUU in our house was not a major accomplishment by Rebels standards.

Luck is a funny thing, and one of the luckiest things that could have happened to the Rebels happened last season when we traveled to Kansas to play #11 Kansas State. In a game few expected the Rebels to win (and the same team that dominated us at the Orleans the previous season), that luck came in the form of a suspension of two of K-State’s best players, Jacob Pullen and Kurtis Kelly (NCAA infraction for receiving impermissible benefits). At that point, most would have expected the Rebels not only to win, but win big (example: imagine right before we are to play SDSU last season Chace Stanback and Anthony Marshall are suspended – welcome to a slaughter) given the loss of their best weapons, and the shock of having lost them so close to game-time. UNLV did pull of the win, but only by 4 points. Still a great win, but come tournament time the ‘quality’ of the win would be diminished.  One of the main factors that prevented the Rebels from the newly anticipated landslide victory, was continued shooting woes (Rebs actually shot worse than Kansas State, 38.2% vs. 40.4%).

The Rebels came back home and then dominated lowly Central Michigan (3-9) by 26 points. While teetering in and out of the rankings, the Rebels finished the non-conference slate ranked #25. During the best times, the Rebels were ranked was #19, well behind both SDSU and BYU.

During this finish to the non-conference schedule, the Rebels were consistently inconsistent. When we were good, we were great. When we were not so good, we were terrible. The bottom fell out on the remarkable ability of the Rebels to play the frenetic defense as well as make teams pay with tenacious offense. Properly discounting what happened at Kansas State, this was not the place the Rebels wanted to be coming into the conference schedule, with the MWC as tough as it had ever been. First opponent of that schedule – BYU.

Summing up the non-conference slate, during the 9-0 run the Rebels average margin of victory was 18.2 points. UNLV was beating quality opponents in convincing fashion, both home and away. During the rocky finish, the Rebels’ shooting percentage was 41.3%. Looking back on it all now I would have to say the #19 ranking during the 9-0 run was a bit underrated, but we retained a top-25 ranking due to the potential that the Rebels could return to the dangerousness that possessed the team that won the Anaheim classic. Also, won and lost, we hung with Louisville as well as K-State who were also ranked teams.

Playing down to the competition  - ugly wins and ugly losses

Tournament time  - What effort was in Vegas, stayed in Vegas

Following those, comes the season preview

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