Sunday, October 23, 2011

Season preview 2011-12

UNLV Coach Dave Rice being interviewed post-scrimmage. Credit to Jason Taylor

Welcome to the season preview! The chosen format is a series of questions about the upcoming season, followed by answers from myself, Jay Raman, and Jason Taylor. Hope you are as excited as we are to get this season started, if you missed the announcement buy your single game tickets now!

Given that the Rebels will win 20+ games again, what match-ups are toss-ups or losses?

Jay Raman: The tough games on the schedule are the following, USC, UNC (if we play them), UCSB, Wichita State, Wisconsin, Illinois, Cal, UNR, SDSU, CSU, and New Mexico. That’s 14 of the 32 games on the schedule.

Of that list, UNC is the overwhelmingly voted #1 college basketball team by pre-season poll, and Cal checks in at #24. Other teams getting votes that we play only include New Mexico.

Being realistic of the hard-list of teams we play, here’s how I see it:
UNC – loss (they’re just too good and we’ve not had good luck at the Orleans)
USC – win
UCSB – win
Wichita State – toss-up (loss)
Wisconsin – toss-up (loss)
Illinois – win (revenge)
Cal – toss-up, win
UNR – toss-up, win
SDSU – win, both times
CSU – win, both times
New Mexico – split series (home win, road loss)

Ok, so that would make the record 28-4, maybe a bit too optimistic – but why not?

 Jason Taylor: New Mexico provides the obvious toss up games.  Steve Alford is in his 5th year and has carefully crafted a solid line-up.  The difference in these games will likely come down to free throw percentages, rebound advantages, or a turnover or two.  Of course, Wallace catching fire against them again wouldn't hurt... he hit seven 3's the last time he played at the Pit, and he handily delivered the win.

I look forward to USC... In theory, we should win by a decent margin, but we should have beaten them last time we played them and they cleaned our clock.  North Carolina is the obvious "over-dog" if we get a chance to play them in the LV Invitational.  They have 9 players that were in the ESPN top 100 as recruits.  The worst of the 9 was the 32nd best recruit in the nation.  They're stacked taller than a Sunday morning table at IHOP! 

Wisconsin jumps out.  We play them "away" this year, and even though we edged them out early last year in our 9-0 run, they ended up ranked higher than UNLV over the long haul, and deserved it.  Illinois destroyed us so thoroughly in the tournament, I cringe to think we'll be playing them "away" as well.  Hopefully we learned some lessons... we actually won the second half of that game by 3 points (How's that for lookin' at the bright side?).  Cal seems to have our number over the years as well.  I don't know their ins and outs, but my sense is that we should edge them out. 

Then, of course, comes UC Santa Barbara, who has eternally held "our number" firmly in its grasp.  Can we please scribble their names off of all future schedules???

The MWC is weaker this year, so we shouldn't lose more than 2-3 conference games, hopefully.
My guess:  28-5 thru the MWC Tournament.

Will the Rebels actually run?

Jay Raman: Yes, they will definitely run. Coach Rice showed at BYU that he can run an up-tempo offense with remarkable efficiency and success, he should be able to do the same at UNLV. As long as UNLV defense remains hated by opponents and we generate an alert transition offense, then we’ll run. The Rebels definitely have the athletes to make it happen, and this is a much more athletic team having lost Willis and Jasper, and gaining Moser and Smith. Provided there are no injuries to key guys the team has the potential to be something very special, they can win games, entertain fans, and attract recruits. I don’t know whether it was part of their practice game plan, or if it was just to entertain the fans but the 10 second shot clock during the scrimmage was a step in the right direction.

Jason Taylor: Paradoxically, yes. 

Why "paradoxically?"  Kruger often ran "smaller" with 3 guards and 1 "big", and now Rice will run with a pair of guards, a true small forward, like Chase, and 2 bigs.  So, we'll be playing bigger and faster. 

Coach Rice has stressed style of play since day 1, and his style "Runs"!

Will this year's schedule be the RPI builder of years past?

Jay Raman: Hard to say, I don’t have the math but I feel that last year’s non-conference schedule was consistently better, meaning more overall quality opponents. This years is a mixed bag of some very good and very terrible teams. The conference schedule is weaker this year as well, so that hurts it too. Sports Illustrated has said that we have a weak schedule, whereas ESPN has said we have one of the hardest. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Provided we win all the games we are supposed to win and win at least half of the games that are hard, it should give us some credibility come tournament time. At least it isn’t a Utah State kind of schedule.

Jason Taylor: The RPI gives heavy weight to home vs. away games.  Neutral games, for instance, are factored by 1, which means they are not weighted.  Away wins and home losses are multiplied by 1.4, so home wins and away losses are multiplied, conversely, by .6.  Then, heavy weight is given to the record of our opponents, and then, to a lesser degree, the records of our opponents' opponents. 

Now that that is perfectly clear (ya, right!)... It's important to play quality teams.  If you lose to a really good team, their record will help offset the loss, especially if it's an away game.  If you can beat really strong teams in away games, you're RPI will skyrocket.

We have the ability to build a quality RPI the first half of the season with a possible UNC neutral game, and away games at Wichita St (picked to win their conference), Wisconsin, and Illinois.  Cal is one of the few possible RPI building home games.  The rest of the non-conference games are dangerous because we play some very weak opponents... we must win pretty much all of them to even maintain an RPI position.  Some games we'll win, and still go backwards in the RPI (i.e. Louisiana-Monroe at home). 

RPI watchers hope teams in your conference win all their non-conference games.  This year, that's questionable.  New Mexico will be a potential RPI builder, but UNLV likely cannot lose more than 2-3 conference games in a weakened MWC and hold on to a good RPI. 

Overall... It's fragile.  We will likely need to win 24-26 games to generate a strong season-end RPI, and we can't drop "easy" games.

Last year the average attendance at the T&M was one of the best on the west coast at 13253.  What will the average attendance be this year?

Jay Raman: The average attendance should be closer to 15,000 this year. There are some factors that hold that number down (it should actually be higher).

It should be higher because our home schedule is much weaker than our away schedule, which will hurt attendance. Additionally, we lose BYU and Utah – two teams that normally bring a lot of their fans to the arena and energize our base (to root against them), the rest of the MWC with the exception of New Mexico does not inspire attendance, and our best possible opponent, North Carolina, (should we play them) will be unfortunately at the Orleans. The number will be higher than last season because the team is overall better, and Coach Rice’s brand of up-tempo has already inspired this city and will spur more ticket sales than before.
Jason Taylor: As a fan, I want to say the Rice "Runnin' Era" attendance is going to skyrocket.  However, I don't think the T&M will get much of a boost this year.

The USC and UNC games will be played at the Orleans, which is a "neutral" court.  Our other big opponents are away games.  Cal, arguably our biggest home opponent in the non-conference schedule, will play at 2:00 pm on FRIDAY, of all days.  Reno, our in-state "rival", plays at the Mack on a Monday night... Grrrr. 

To add to it, the first time UNLV plays at home on a Saturday... January 21st, against New Mexico.

BYU is gone too.  So, New Mexico (Sat), SDSU (Sat), and Colorado State (Wed) will be our best T&M conference games. 

I really don't like to undercut the excitement of the Rice Era, but I think increased interest in the team will be offset by a lack of quality home games.  We'll still be one of the best attended basketball arenas on the west coast, but I think we'll maintain attendance numbers - until next year.

Will Marshall be a better PG than Bellfield?

Jay Raman: Not better, not worse, but different. I believe they are both good in the PG roll, but Coach Rice saw something in Marshall from a far, because the PG switch decision was implemented almost immediately. Individually, Bellfield could probably use a break from running the point with the amount of minutes he has logged in his career, and he gets to show everyone how he can be a good shooting guard. The opposite for Marshall, he needs more minutes, and more opportunities to show he can be a floor general. Bellfield’s assist to turnover ratio last season was 1.7, down from the previous year when it was 2.5. Whoever runs point needs to be extra-careful with the ball as the quicker pace greatly increases the potential to make mistakes. The one thing I would hate to see is Marshall as a PG who no longer looks to create his own shot – one of the few members of last year’s team who could do that.

Jason Taylor:  Putting the ball in Anthony Marshall's hands more often, I believe, offers up a pair of Loaded Diapers for defenders... Try guarding him one-on-one and he'll end up cramming it down your throat with his speed, strength, and explosiveness.  Apply "help D", and he'll dish or kick. 

AM:  "Excuse me, Sir Defender:  Would you like Loaded Diaper A, or Loaded Diaper B?"

I think Marshall has a higher overall ceiling than Bellfield.  He reminds me a lot of former Rebel Marcus Banks, who went the way of the NBA.  He lacks Banks' outside game, but makes up for it with hops and pecks!  If Marshall can build his way into the NBA, the Point is the perfect position for him to do it from. 

Bellfield is a very good "face-up" jump shooter, so I believe he'll actually benefit as well.

With that said, I don't think the switch means as much under Rice as it would have under Kruger.  Rice's offense will rely on multiple transition ball handlers, all the way up through the power forward position.  Guards, including Wallace, will immediately turn up court as they rebound, so Marshall will bring the ball up less often under Rice, I believe, than Bellfield brought it up under Kruger.

Which assistant coach are we likely to see standing up and being the most vocal during games?

Jay Raman: I think they all will be vocal, but I doubt we’ll see any standing from the assistants. Everyone has something to prove despite their accomplishments – Schroyer wants another HC job and by associating himself with UNLV and our success, he should be able to do that shortly (1-2 seasons). Hutson and Augmon both want to be head coaches, and part of getting there is being really effective assistants (see Dave Rice). I think players will hear from all of them from the bench, but likely mostly Hutson while the team is playing defense (if I have to pick someone).

Jason Taylor: My only guess is a long shot - Heath Schroyer.  He was a bit of a foot stomper as head coach at Wyoming, but who knows how he'll be as a non-alpha dog?  I have no idea about Augmon.  He seems generally reserved to me.  Same with Hutson... I just don't remember him jumping off the SDSU bench, but maybe anyone would seem quiet next to Steve Fisher, who would run the baseline if he could.

Whose game will improve the most over last season?

Jay Raman: Karam Mashour due to lack of previous playing time. I think he can be a really good roll player on this team subbing in behind Chase Stanback and Mike Moser. He should average at least 5-6 ppg, if not more.

As far as players we’ve seen last season, I’ve always thought Carlos Lopez has the ethic and talent to be really special, like NBA bound. Provided he can stay out of foul trouble I expect an impressive season from him, even in light of last season’s impressive season.

 Jason Taylor: Marshall may have a break-out year at Point Guard.

Quintrell will likely receive more minutes than Massamba at the "5", so there will be lot of opportunity to shoulder the effort.  I see him getting  8-10 more minutes per game than last year, greatly improving his overall stats.

Carlos Lopez is a late developer with a really high upside.  He'll be playing the Power Forward slot with Moser, and I think this is a great position for him and his skills. 

However, I'm going to cheat on this one a little bit and look at a transfer.  For comparison, since he sat out last year, I'm borrowing UCLA's stats from 2009-10.  My prediction:  Mike Moser WILL WIN this category, assuming he stays healthy.  He didn't get much playing time at UCLA... only 4 minutes per game.  He shot 20% from the field and made less than 10% of his 3's.  My prediction:  Moser will go from averaging less than 1 point per game for the Bruins, to leading the Rebels in rebounding and scoring for UNLV this year, and will compete for "MWC Newcomer of the Year" honors.

Crazy?  Maybe, but I'm stickin' with it!

Is bringing back ‘the shark’ the right thing to do moving forward?

Jay Raman: What I don’t understand is that it seems they have already brought back the shark under Coach Kruger, and I feel as though I’ve occasionally seen it on the regular since they dedicated the court to Coach Tarkanian – so I don’t know why Coach Rice or his people say they’re bringing back the shark, its already back. What I originally assumed he meant, was that he was bringing back the guy in the shark suit, the pseudo mascot. Evidence the Shark is back 1) Court named Tarkanian Court and has a shark logo; 2) Shark projection and jaws music has been used; 3) The slow shark clap has been done by the fans. Unless we’re talking about bringing back the guy in the suit, it’s more of a ramping up of something that’s already being done – featuring it every game.

I just want to make sure it remains a motivator and intimidating, rather than purely nostalgic.

Jason Taylor: OK... At the risk of being a bit corny here, there are a few things I envisioned when Rice came back and all of the sudden, it felt like old times.  Sights of Tarkanian, Augmon, Larry Johnson... it just feels like the good-ole-days.  So, YES!  BRING BACK "THE SHARK"!  Duh-da. DUh-da.  DUH-Da.  DUH-DA!

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