Half the Battle

Can UNLV's halfcourt offense catch up to its transition game?

Ever since Dave Rice took over the program before last season, the emphasis has been on turning UNLV into a running team.

The Rebels pushed the pace last year and saw tremendous results. The team sported one of the most efficient transition offenses in the nation, and it propelled the squad to a 26-9 record, a top-20 midseason ranking and an NCAA tournament berth.

UNLV averaged 70.5 possessions per game, a significant increase from the year before (67.8), and their adjusted tempo rate was the 29th–fastest in the country. The efforts to turn the Rebels into a running team were, by all accounts, a success.

And Rice says he wants the Rebels to play even faster this season, which should result in better offensive numbers. But when 20.3 percent of the team’s offensive possessions come in transition, as was the case last year, that means the vast majority of possessions still come in the halfcourt.

That’s where UNLV bogged down last season. In transition, the Rebels averaged 1.147 points per possession, but only 0.879 points per possession in the halfcourt.

Can the Rebels increase their efficiency in the halfcourt? That may be the next step in becoming a true national title contender, since every close NCAA tournament game eventually ends with both teams walking the ball up the court.

The Rebels spent much of Saturday’s practice working on their halfcourt sets, and Rice believes it’s possible for the team’s halfcourt execution to be as good as it’s transition game.

“We’re always trying to develop a mindset of running on offense,” said Rice, “so sometimes the halfcourt offense lags a little bit behind, especially early in the season. But we are putting some extra time now into executing our halfcourt sets, because we realize there are going to be a lot of important halfcourt possessions throughout the course of the season.”

Lead guard Anthony Marshall will play a critical role in determining how good the Rebels’ offense can be. Besides junior forward Mike Moser, Marshall posted the second-highest usage rate on the team last year, meaning the ball was in his hands a lot.

And Marshall’s role should only increase this season, as the senior inherits the starting point guard job. Marshall is known for his athleticism and finishing ability, but he’s an effective passer, as well. Last year, he sported an assist rate of 26.5 percent.

Marshall says he’s focused on making sure the offense runs smoothly.

“With me as a point guard, I try to control the tempo of the game and put guys in the places that they need to be,” said Marshall. “It’s my job to run the offense. I have some great teammates, so I don’t have to score a lot of points. The biggest thing for me is just making my teammates better.”

The Rebels roster is improved from last season, with more than enough talent to become a good halfcourt team. While it’s not their preferred style of play, the season will at some point hinge on whether or not they can score consistently against good halfcourt defenses.

It’s too early to say how the Rebels will attack teams in the halfcourt, but there will be a variety of options.

“We’ve got one of the best rosters in the country, top to bottom,” said Marshall. “I think we definitely have the pieces. Everybody’s got to be on the same page. It just comes down to execution.”

Follow Mike Grimala on Twitter for 24/7 Rebels updates (@MikeGrimala).