UNLV Runnin’ Rebels
Overall Rank: #67
Conference Rank: #3 Mountain West
2006-07: 30-7, 12-4, 2nd
2006-07 postseason: NCAA
UNLV had a terrific season last year, but losing four starters will certainly make the Rebels need a little time to adjust. Coach Lon Kruger has plenty of talent on hand and has done a great job bringing the team together throughout his reign in Las Vegas, yet it remains to be seen if he can do it again. UNLV will have problems early and as long as some non-conference struggles do not damage the team morale, the team will battle for a MWC title.
Sometimes losing four starters can be misleading, but that is not the case here. All five started at least 30 games last year and were the top five players on the team in minutes per contest. While a few other players earned a handful of starts, the Rebels are losing four big time players in Wendell White, Kevin Kruger, Michael Umeh and Gaston Essengue. White, a 6-6 guard who played power forward, led the team with 14.4 points and 6.1 rebounds. Kruger was the team’s most dangerous long range threat and averaged 5.1 assists per game. Umeh’s production decrease during his senior year, mostly due to a knee injury suffered during the 2005-2006 campaign, but the 6-2 guard still had the ability to put up some big scoring numbers. At 6-8 and 245 pounds, Essengue was a force under the basket. However, the team’s best defender in the paint was Joel Anthony. Anthony averaged nearly three blocks per game and his ability to come off the bench and make a big impact on the game will be missed. Guard Efrem Lawrence will not be returning to the team after playing in just two games last year.
Just about every starting position is up for grabs and all the newcomers will have the opportunity to earn a starting job. The most likely starter is forward Lamar Roberson. The 6-8 transfer from Houston is a good athlete and can score from anywhere on the floor. Roberson made seven three-pointers in one game during his freshman campaign with the Cougars and UNLV will take numbers like that any day. Adding needed bodies up front are centers Beas Hamga and Emmanuel Adeife. Hamga, a seven-footer, does not have much of an offensive game to speak of, but he will grab some easy put-back buckets. His rebounding and shot blocking abilities will be enough for the Cameroonian to earn major minutes as a freshman. Hamga may be the more talented player overall, but Adeife has the experience. Adeife played, albeit rarely, at Houston as a freshman and at Polk Community College in Florida last year. The battle for playing time on the wings will be fierce and Troy Cage and Mareceo Rutledge will be in the mix. Rutledge will score in a variety of ways. He is a tremendous outside shooter and will use his the strength to get to the basket. With his experience, Rutledge is expected to at least provide a spark off the bench. Kendall Wallace will be in a battle for a starting position as well. The 6-4 combo guard will use his intensity to battle for the starting point guard position.
Who to Watch:
For now, the starting point guard spot is Marcus Lawrence’s to lose. Lawrence was stuck down the depth chart, but still managed to earn seven starts as a freshman. The highly touted recruit has a nice shooting touch, but he is a pure point guard who will look to pass first. If Lawrence can live up to his prep potential sooner rather than later, UNLV will have its steady floor leader. Shooting guard Wink Adams is the lone returning starter and averaged 13.9 points per game last season. His outside shooting may be a little inconsistent, but Adams will find other ways to score if his shot is not falling. Curtis Terry, Joe Darger and Corey Bailey have important roles to fill at the small forward spot. Terry will not put up big numbers, but he is a senior leader and a prototypical glue guy. Darger is a solid outside shooter and will at least be a sharpshooter off the bench. Bailey showed promise during his first year at UNLV after spending two years at Butler Community College in Kansas, but was rarely given the opportunity to reach his full potential.
Without White, Essengue and Anthony, the frontcourt is full of questions. Matt Shaw, at 6-8, is the tallest returning player and he only averaged 4.1 minutes per game in 21 contests as a freshman. If the newcomers cannot hold down the post, the Rebels could be in trouble. However, with Roberson, at least there is an experienced frontcourt option at this level. If Roberson can be a solid scorer, the incoming centers can at least grab some boards and a floor leader emerges at the point position, UNLV will be near the top of the MWC standings.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NIT
Projected Starting Five:
Marcus Lawrence, Sophomore, Guard, 1.4 points per game
Wink Adams, Junior, Guard, 13.9 points per game
Curtis Terry, Senior, Guard, 4.5 points per game
Lamar Roberson, Sophomore, Forward, DNP last season
Beas Hamga, Freshman, Center, DNP last season