With a slew of touted newcomers joining an already talented (and tournament-tested) core, the excitement level is high for the 2012-13 Rebels. As in, towel-chewing high, L.J. and Plastic Man high. It’s a lot for a community to ask of a team, and it’s important to separate the hype from the fact. Below are four statements whose truthiness could determine just how far the Rebels will run this season.
Katin Reinhardt is the next Jimmer Fredette
It’s hard to ignore the similarities between Reinhardt, the Rebs’ incoming freshman sharpshooter, and NBA lottery pick Fredette. Dave Rice was an assistant coach at BYU when Fredette was at the height of his powers, and Rice’s recruiting pitch to Reinhardt was simple: Run the floor, find an open spot and let it fly. There’s no doubt Reinhardt will knock down shots—he’s an absolute flamethrower, with the ability to heat up as quickly as anyone in the country—but the freshman’s handle and shot-creation aren’t at Fredette’s level … yet. So, for now, this is FALSE, but that’s OK. He’ll stretch the floor, and that’s exactly what this UNLV team needs after shooting just 37 percent from 3-point range last season (58th in the nation).
Khem Birch is the next Anthony Davis
We’re not crazy—it’ll be a loooong time before the next Anthony Davis comes along, so this is obviously FALSE. But Birch can probably pull off being the next Alex Oriakhi (a Connecticut starter who transferred to Missouri), and he can definitely be the next Brian Zoubek (the Duke big man). And if there’s one thing the last three NCAA champs have had in common, it’s been a defensive anchor at the center position. Birch, a 6-foot-9 shot-blocking and rebounding specialist, can be better than Oriakhi and Zoubek were when they dominated the paint for UConn and Duke in the 2010 and 2011 NCAA tournaments, respectively. He won’t be eligible until mid-December, but he’ll be at full steam for conference play.
UNLV will have the best frontcourt in the nation
This statement is TRUE. Birch will give the team an elite defensive center, and freshman Anthony Bennett was the top-ranked power forward in the Class of 2012 after dominating the high school ranks with his burly, physical offensive game. The key to this group is Mike Moser. Bennett’s arrival kicks the 6-foot-8 Moser to small forward, and it remains to be seen if his game can translate to the perimeter. He shot 33 percent from 3-point range last season as a sophomore, but those numbers can improve after an offseason of shooting. Plus, Moser’s game is varied enough—he can be a slasher, a banger or a shooter—to make the transition work. Add in freshman Savon Goodman, who should see minutes at both forward spots, and you’ve got the country’s No. 1 frontcourt.
The Rebels will be a Final Four team in March
While UNLV may have the best frontcourt in the nation, old basketball wisdom says guards win in March. And that may end up being a problem for the Rebels. Point guard is a question mark, and while Anthony Marshall will probably end up seeing most of those minutes, he’s an athletic slasher who’s has not yet been a primary distributor. Reinhardt has some point-guard skills, but he’s a freshman. Incoming USC transfer Bryce Dejean-Jones is explosive, but the sophomore is a straight-up scorer. The lack of a true point guard is a problem, but the overall talent level throughout the roster is hard to ignore. Marshall will hold down the fort just enough to help the Rebs play through the end of March, and maybe even all the way into April. That’s right, we’re going TRUE on this one. See you in Atlanta.