Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Learning curve – the unexpected result vs. Washburn + Taylor's recap

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UPDATE 6:00AM - Excellent news Rebel fans, you get not one but two recaps of the game from different perspectives, immediately following mine is Jason Taylor's. ENJOY!

UNLV won the game 58-50, but this game was not supposed to be about winning and losing – it was really supposed to be a test run of Coach Rice’s new look offense. With the leaving of Coach Kruger, hopes were high that some of the demons of last season had left, such as poor shooting and poor rebounding. Tonight's game is testament that changes do not occur overnight, and it will take some time for the “Runnin’ Rebels” to return. Patience will have to be another badge worn by all as this new system is implemented, and hopefully is ultimately successful.

As mentioned by the announcing crew, Washburn was not really scouted by UNLV, and it showed. Not that any meaningful scouting could occur, as mentioned in the preview of the game the team only retained a few players from years previous and this was their first game. Washburn was a really decent team, they may not have had the athleticism that UNLV had, but they were fundamentally sound and their players played smart basketball. The greatest disappointment of things that are within the Rebels control, was that Anthony Marshall and Oscar Bellfield were beaten off the dribble by Washburn guards multiple times, especially William McNeil who we had no real answer for. Washburn took advantage of every sloppy pass the Rebels threw, and also worked the passing lanes effectively generating steals. The Rebel’s lack of defensive prowess made Washburn look the likes of an Air Force or Wyoming. Give credit to Washburn to working with the tools they had, and giving the Rebels a high level of competition.

Because of the closeness of the game, including leads and ties by Washburn well into the second half, UNLV was not able to get their reserves some playing time as would be normal in an exhibition game. To to jitters, over-thinking, or pure bad luck Runnin’ Rebel shooting was abysmal, 11% from 3-point land and 31% from the field. UNLV didn’t get their first three pointer until three minutes into the second half, reminiscent of last year’s shooting woes, especially in major games such as against SDSU.

There were some bright spots in the game that ultimately swung the Rebels to the W vs. the L. Carlos Lopez continued to impress from last year, shooting 4-5 and providing consecutive dunks late in the game that dictated momentum in the Rebels favor late in the contest. Mike Moser shot the ball poorly (like most of the team) but nearly had a double-double with 14 points and 9 rebounds (7 offensive, leading the team).

According to Marshall, the Rebels were rushing and anxious from not playing for awhile that explained the result. Citing what could be improved, Marshall mentioned that they could get in better shape, learn from it, and get better from here. Despite the more difficult than anticipated game, Marshall seemed remarkable upbeat in the post-game interview. Marshall was the team’s leading rebounder with 11 rebounds, 10 defensive, 1 offensive.

Coach Rice was visibly upset with many aspects of his team’s performance, especially Washburn’s ability to get offense rebounds. Saying it was a learning experience that was a ‘free lesson’, Coach Rice said that the Rebels are a work in progress, but the team showed resolve. He said the Rebels panicked a bit not having found a shot easily, but fought though and found a way to win. Although this was a more difficult game than it should have been, Coach Rice was appreciative that his team was put in a situation where they had to fight to win. He gave a lot of praise to Anthony Marshall for stepping up and providing more when Oscar Bellfield was suffering from leg cramps. Like Marshall, he mentioned that the Rebels will need a great deal of physical conditioning to play the defense of last year combined with the new attacking offense he’s implementing. He also cited effort and the difference both Quntrell Thomas and Carlos Lopez provided, as well as Massamba. He gave a lot of credit to Washburn’s coach Chipman for the effort.

On the recruiting front, Ben Carter was seen sitting next to Coach Rice’s son during the game donning a UNLV hoodie. Surely everyone wishes Carter would have witnessed a more impressive exhibition game, but hopefully his decision is made and he’ll choose Rebel Red.

My take: While disappointing that it wasn’t a blowout by UNLV, maybe we put the cart before the horse and expected the offense to fire like a Ferrari engine without accounting for some break-in mileage. That would account for our Ferrari not blowing out Washburn’s Dodge Charger in this race. As a fan who watched last season like a hawk, I really hope that Coach Rice can work his magic and get the team rebounding and shooting the three at a respectable percentage – I’d take that over running any day.

Exhibition - Take 2
By Jason Taylor
RebelReign.com Contributor

Coming into the game, I was interested in how the rotation would develop, and, of course, how things would flow on offense.

Would Moser and Lopez rotate at power forward?  Would Massamba and Thomas rotate at Center?  Or would there be some combination of sorts, depending on the flow?

Then there are the smaller guys.  How would minutes be distributed amongst Marshall, Bellfield, Hawkins, Wallace, and Mashour. 

The starting line-up was a bit telling about how Rice is feeling about some of the players.  Chase is suspended for this game and the opener, and with Marshall moving towards the point, Mashour was physically the most likely to fill the small forward spot...  but here’s how Rice lined them up to start: Marshall, Bellfield, Hawkins, Moser, and Massamba. 

As a disclaimer regarding accuracy, I’ve been known to get distracted… But I did try to keep track of subs for most of the first half.   The first sub I recorded came at about the 16:18 mark.  Thomas replaced Massamba.  About 30 seconds later, Wallace came in for Hawkins (still a 3 guard offense).  Almost 2 minutes later, Hawkins came back to give Marshall a breather.  Then, Mashour got a chance, and subbed for Moser.  This, as I have it, lined us up with OB, JH, KW, KM, and QT… a very small lineup. 

Marshall came in for Bellfield, and Moser re-entered to replace Mashour, who only played about 2 minutes.  That was the last time I saw him in the game.  I think that lets us know how the coaches are feeling on the “Mashour” front, for the time being.

Interestingly, we didn’t see Lopez until about the 6:40 mark in the first half.  Moser replaced Massamba about 20 seconds later, and signaled Lopez to move to center.  This was the first time we saw the two “4’s” in, and the two “5’s” sitting.  So that answered one of my curiosities… Rice will mix and match depending on flow, and we’re probably much more likely to see a combination of the “4’s” in at once, rather than 2 “5’s” (Bryce and Q) . 

It was very comfortable to watch Lopez and Moser play together.  Lopez provided a huge spark in the second half where he came in and scored 4-5 points very quickly.  He ended up with 11 points in only 15 minutes of playing time.  I don’t know how many minutes Moser played, but it felt like a lot.  He struggled with his outside shot, but still ended up with 14 points and 9 rebounds.  I see lots of double-doubles coming for this kid, and he’ll have plenty of 20+ scoring nights, I believe.

The flow was interesting as well.  The first half I noticed Bellfield was bringing the ball up more often than Marshall.   That had me puzzled.  As Marshall has been touted as the point guard, I even seem to remember once or twice when Marshall got the rebound and still handed it to Bellfield in the backcourt. 

The first half was a serious struggle, mainly due to terrible shooting.  Washburn’s defense transitioned back very well, and left little opportunity for us to push the ball ahead.  There was no lack of effort, but the Rebels just couldn’t crack the defense and get into any kind of comfort zone at all.   As measured against the hopes of “run-n-gun”, it felt more like “gum-n-mud”.   With 17.4% first half shooting and 0% from beyond the arc, it was tough to watch.  At half, it was Rebels 20, Ichabods 21.

The game loosened up in the second half, however.  Both teams accelerated point production.  Marshall began bringing the ball up more regularly, and his anticipated assets began showing.  He drove, he banged, he dished, and the Rebels began to score.  He put the defense on alert with a driving blow-by left-hander that went high off the backboard for a score.  With respect, the defense began drawing in as Marshall drove the lane, and twice in a row he quickly found Lopez solo camping down low, just to the right of the basket.  Lopez then aided Anthony’s assist count with a pair of two-handed, no-doubt-about-it dunks.

Rice then put a combination of players in.  He almost always had 2 Bigs in at all times.  He emphasized defense by relying on Hawkins over Mashour, and stomped his feet at missed rebounding opportunities.  Overall, he seemed to manage the game like the pro we expected.

So, a few pieces of the Rebel puzzle have fallen into place.  Rice will move the Bigs around according to flow.  Of course, we’ll see a lot of Stanback at small forward after the Grand Canyon game, and he’ll be welcomed, for sure.  We’ll see Bellfield run the point at times, but I am hoping the Marshall argument was proven to a degree… he’s going to be a handful at PG, so use him there.  Hawkins saw good minutes and deserved them.  Wallace didn’t have a great night, but it’s also fairly apparent Rice has confidence in him with the minutes he received, and as Wallace and Lopez were subbed into the offensive sets at the end of the game.  Hawkins and Thomas replaced them on defensive sets.

While it wasn’t the prettiest effort, I am glad I was able to make it.  It is going to be fun to watch this team develop.  Like Rice has said, “it’s a work in progress”.  I’m patient, but hopefully we’ll be quick to see more Progress and less Work!

Want to share your own take and talk about it? Come to the Forums!

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