Let’s face it, we all knew this was going to happen at some point this season, and probably sooner rather than later.
The Rebels, no matter how talented they are (and they have a lot of good players), were bound to suffer a “surprising” loss or two before the start of conference play. There are simply too many moving parts right now as the team attempts to develop its identity. There are four players in the core rotation (including three freshmen) who weren’t on the team last year, and it’s going to take more than a couple games against Norther Arizona and Jacksonville State for everything to come together.
So UNLV looked disjointed for long stretches in their loss to Oregon on Friday, but that’s just a step in the process. The next step is getting back out there against Iowa State and continuing to build a true team identity. You could tell how much the Oregon loss stung the players, and Anthony Marshall noted how glad he was that the Rebels would get a chance to redeem themselves almost immediately against Iowa State.
Here are five key storylines to watch as the Rebels attempt to get things rolling on Saturday.
1. Patience makes perfect
Shot selection seems to be the biggest concern for the UNLV offense at this point in the season. Dave Rice wants all of his players to have the green light to shoot, but that doesn’t mean it’s a mandatory green light. UNLV took 30 shots from beyond the arc against Oregon and made just eight. As a team they’re shooting just 28.9 pecent from distance. Passing up the first available 3-pointer and working the ball inside to Anthony Bennett and Mike Moser seems like a good idea right now.
2. Feed the beast
Speaking of Bennett, the freshman center looked unstoppable on Friday. Oregon couldn’t contain him, as Bennett was simply too quick and too strong around the basket. He finished with 22 points, but the Rebels seemed to go away from him in the second half, even after Bennett basically fouled out both of the Ducks’ starting frontcourt players. We’ll see how Bennett responds to his first back-to-back games, but if he’s effective early against Iowa State, the Rebels should keep riding him until the defense stops him.
3. More Moser
Mike Moser didn’t attempt a shot until more than eight minutes had been played against Oregon, and he stayed in the background for most of the night. He attempted just two shots in the second half (six for the game) and finished with nine points. Moser should be forming a destructive big man combo with Bennett, but instead he’s been an offensive afterthought in two of the three games this season. Let’s see if the Rebels give him more touches in the mid-post today and let him go to work.
4. Team defense
The Rebels suffered some serious breakdowns late against Oregon, but it’s nothing that can’t be corrected. Help was slow to come on a string of late-game isolation plays targeting Katin Reinhardt, and the Rebels allowed Oregon to grab 15 offensive rebounds. Tightening the cracks on defense would help spark a little transition offense, which leads us to…
5. Get it and go
UNLV shot just 35.8 percent from the field against Oregon, and the halfcourt offense looked ragged at times (the Rebels went scoreless over one 6-minute stretch in the first half). The easiest way to improve against Iowa State would be getting out in transition. UNLV scored just eight fast break points against Oregon, and the Ducks did a great job of slowing Anthony Marshall in the backcourt by trapping and forcing the ball out of his hands. The Rebels need to rebound more efficiently (board specialist Quintrell Thomas can’t afford to foul out in 12 minutes again) and get the ball up court before Iowa State can set its defense.
Prediction: UNLV 78, Iowa State 70
Player of the Game: Mike Moser — 18 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block
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