Previewing the 2012-13 Runnin’ Rebels

Looking ahead to an anticipated season of UNLV basketball

2011-12 W-L: 26-9
Mountain West W-L:
Biggest win:
vs. North Carolina, 90-80 (Nov. 26)
Worst loss:
vs. Colorado, 68-64 (NCAA 1st round)

Departures: G Chace Stanback (12.5 ppg), G Oscar Bellfield (5.4 apg), C Brice Massamba (6.4 ppg).

Additions: F Anthony Bennett (Fr.), C Khem Birch (So.), G Bryce Dejean-Jones (RS So.), G Katin Reinhardt (Fr.), F Savon Goodman (Fr.), G Daquan Cook (Fr.), F Demetris Morant (Fr.).

Three key storylines to watch:

Can Mike Moser keep it up for a full season?
Moser was a revelation in his debut for the Rebels last year, leading the team in scoring and rebounding (14.0 points, 10.5 rebounds per game), but he was unable to keep up that pace for the entire season. He leveled off down the stretch, averaging 10.8 points in the Rebels’ final eight games, with just one 20-point effort in that span. Moser attributed the drop-off to fatigue. The 6-foot-8 junior forward is on the short list for All-America consideration this season, and the Rebels will need that level of play from him through the end of March.

Are the newcomers ready to contribute?
Impact freshmen are almost a necessity for any team that wants to contend for a title in today’s NCAA, and UNLV has a couple potential game-changers. Power forward Anthony Bennett is tailor-made to play in an up-tempo offense, and he should start right away. Guard Katin Reinhardt was arguably the best high school shooter in the country last season, so his 3-point range should earn him significant minutes. And look for sophomore transfer Bryce Dejean-Jones to challenge for a starting job in the backcourt once he overcomes the broken hand that’s currently keeping him sidelined.

The Marshall Plan
Senior guard Anthony Marshall has been through this before, as he dabbled at point guard last season. But with Oscar Bellifield graduated, Marshall is the only returning player with PG experience on the roster. He averaged 4.5 assists per game last season, second on the team, so he’s capable. But Marshall will have to excel as the full-time point man if UNLV is going to play deep into March.

X-Factor: Chemistry is tricky business. Rice appears to have UNLV on the right track toward national prominence, but a bad start this season can derail everything. Mike Moser was the team’s best player last year, but Anthony Bennett’s arrival could push him from power forward to more of a small forward role. What happens if the team starts slowly and Moser’s effectiveness is down? Will Bennett start taking away some of his shots? Will players start thinking about their NBA lottery stock? That’s just one example of how things can turn if losses start piling up. The potential for conflict is there, but some early-season blowout wins will keep everyone happy.

Bottom line: The Rebels appear to be on the verge of something special. They had all the makings of a dominant team last year — an undefeated home record, an All-American-caliber superstar, a marquee win over the No. 1 team in the country — but a disappointing upset loss in the first round of the NCAA tournament put a damper on everything. Now the Rebs are back with an upgraded roster. Actually, make that a supercharged roster. UNLV will be one of the deepest teams in the country, boasting a potential Wooden Award finalist in Moser and a pair of McDonald’s All-Americans in Anthony Bennett and Khem Birch. The talent level is as high as it’s been since the Tark era, and the expectations have been raised to an Elite Eight or Final Four level. Look for the Rebels to push toward 30 wins and a date in the second weekend of the NCAA

Projected regular season W-L: 26-4