Overall Rank: #85
Conference Rank: #3 Mountain West Conference
2008-09: 21-11, 9-7
2008-09 postseason: NIT
Coach: Lon Kruger (112-42 at UNLV, 430-286 overall)
UNLV started out the 2008-2009 season very well, beating teams like Louisville and Arizona, but things did not work out too well after that and the team ended up in the NIT. Without Wink Adams, Rene Rougeau and Joe Darger, three of the team’s top four scorers, the expectations are a little lower heading into the 2009-2010 campaign, but a talented group of newcomers has the folks in Las Vegas looking for another postseason berth.
Key Losses: G Wink Adams, F Joe Darger, G Rene Rougeau, G Mareceo Rutledge
The Runnin’ Rebels have three transfers eligible this year from Division I programs. Derrick Jasper is a big point guard out of Kentucky, Chace Stanback can score in bunches and Arizona State’s Steve Jones will provide more experience to the backcourt. The group of freshmen are not bad either and the future looks very bright with guards Todd Hanni, Justin Hawkins and Anthony Marshall headed into the program. Marshall, a 6-3 shooting guard, is the best of the bunch and could work his way into the regular rotation right away. Forward Carlos Lopez could end up playing an important role in the frontcourt as well.
UNLV will miss their departed players on the perimeter, but it is not like the cupboard is bare. Tre’Von Willis tallied 11.4 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists last year and will take over the leadership role on this team. He is a decent outside shooter, but if he starts knocking down the long ball with a little more consistency he will turn into a superstar in the Mountain West Conference. Oscar Bellfield is not much of a scorer, but he is a great passer and a decent defender. Add Jasper as the leader of the unit, along with all the other newcomers, and this is a very talented group on the perimeter.
It is in the frontcourt where there are more questions than answers. Darris Santee started 21 games, but rarely put up big numbers. Brice Massamba is a big body who can clog the paint, but he averaged less than ten minutes per game last year. The best news is Matt Shaw is back after missing last season with an injury. He tallied 6.9 points and 4.0 rebounds per game two years ago and the Rebels might have to rely on him to be their interior scorer…if he can remain healthy. Coach Lon Kruger will not need his frontcourt to do much scoring, but somebody needs to step up and at least play solid defense and block a few shots and grab a few rebounds.
Who to Watch:
The size of Stanback should make it a little easier for the frontcourt to be productive. Stanback is really a tall wing, but at 6-8 and 210 pounds he can play at the power forward position when necessary. If he can spend most of his time there, it will allow UNLV to rotate Massamba, Santee, Shaw and Lopez at the five spot and those four should be able to handle the job. And it would not be a bad thing if one of those four had a breakout year and allowed Stanback to move to the wing where he could simply shoot over smaller defenders.
Last year was disappointing, but this year could be much better if Jasper and Stanback live up to their potential. There is plenty of firepower on the perimeter and Jasper, Bellfield and Willis can all handle the ball and, once again, the Rebels should have one of the best assist-to-turnover ratios in the nation. That will keep them in most games and allow them to pull off some upsets. Just like last season, it will come down to whether or not they have the mental toughness to win games on the road.
Projected Post-season Tournament: CBI/CIT
Projected Starting Five:
Derrick Jasper, Junior, Guard, DNP last season
Oscar Bellfield, Sophomore, Guard, 6.2 points per game
Tre’Von Willis, Junior, Guard, 11.4 points per game
Chace Stanback, Sophomore, Guard, DNP last season
Darris Santee, Senior, Forward, 5.3 points per game
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