Hard as it may be to believe, the Rebels (8-1) have already played 30 percent of their regular-season schedule. It’s not early anymore. And from the fans’ perspective, clear storylines have emerged.
What are the burning topics at this point in the season? Let’s find out what Rebels Nation has on its mind by taking some questions in this edition of “Words with Fans.”
Note: Some questions have been edited to clean up Tweet-speak.
WORDS WITH FANS
How does Khem Birch look out there? To what degree do you think he changes the defense going forward?
This was the most popular question over the past week. Birch is set to make his UNLV debut against UTEP on Monday, and people are excited about finally seeing the former McDonald’s All-American in action. As well they should be — Birch has the potential to be a MWC Defensive Player of the Year type, and adding that kind of talent to the middle of the Rebels’ defense could be a game-changer. He’s looked good in practice, blocking shots regularly and running the floor effectively. I think fans are going to be surprised at how quickly he gets off the floor to keep offensive rebounds alive. And maybe most importantly, he’s a true defensive center who would protect Anthony Bennett and allow him to play power forward full-time. Birch told me he expects to come off the bench for now, and said he’s comfortable with that. Look for him to get his feet wet with 10-15 minutes against UTEP.
Do you think pulling Cook’s redshirt has anything to do with Katin Reinhardt struggling at the point when Anthony Marshall isn’t on the floor?
It’s possible. I think the original decision to redshirt Cook was made because: A) the coaching staff wanted to preserve his eligibility because they see him as an excellent four-year player, and B) because they have a crowded, veteran backcourt this year. But Anthony Marshall has been playing a ton of minutes, and the coaches don’t want to burn him out. Reinhardt is valuable in the backcourt because of his shooting ability, but I think the coaching staff wants him to play with a green light mentality whenever he’s got a good look. That’s more difficult to do at point guard, where Reinhardt has to look for his teammates first. I think giving Cook some backup point guard minutes solves two problems, as it allows Marshall to rest and allows Reinhardt to focus on scoring.
Do you think this MWC/Big East super conference is going to save the Big East, or will Mountain West teams say no way?
This rumor emerged after the Big East’s basketball-only schools announced they were forming their own league, but I’m not putting too much stock in it yet. On the surface it makes sense — nation-wide “super conferences” seem to be the way everything is moving, and we’ll probably end up there eventually. Personally, I don’t see the big deal when it comes to realignment. I’m sure the money is a big deal to the schools, and TV contracts rule all, but I promise you that there are high school recruits who couldn’t tell you what conference UNLV belongs to right now.
I like Daquan Cook, but UNLV really needs to sign a talented true point guard, not combo guards or point forwards. What’s the latest on recruiting?
I have a feeling you’re not going to like the answer, as the 2013 recruiting class includes a combo guard, a point forward and no true point guards (yet). Dantley Walker is the combo guard, though he’s a bit of a mystery man at this point (see next question), and Jelan Kendrick is the point forward. So there’s that. But there’s still room to sign one or possibly two more players, so you may get your wish yet. I know the staff is interested in Deer Valley (Calif.) point guard Kendall Smith, though they haven’t offered a scholarship yet (Note: Smith was offered a scholarship just after this story was posted). Smith is killing it so far this season, averaging 24.1 points and 7.0 assists per game against some pretty good competition. He posted back-to-back triple-doubles last week and had a 48-point game earlier in the year. But the main recruiting target remains power forward Jermaine Lawrence of Pope John XXIII (N.J.), who visited UNLV a couple weeks ago. If they can get a commitment from Lawrence, you may have to wait until next year to sign the point guard you want.
I don’t see any way that Dantley Walker can play on this team. I don’t think Rice would pull his scholarship, but does he have a plan?
I might not agree with the negative tone, but I agree there is definitely a question as to how Walker fits in with this Rebels team. Dave Rice inherited him after taking over for Lon Kruger, and the fact that Walker hasn’t played in two years (Morman mission) clouds the situation. But Dave Rice has honored his scholarship and always includes him whenever he talks about the incoming class, so I have to believe he’ll be here next year. And let’s not sell Walker short as a player — he may not be the type of athlete the Rebels are recruiting under Rice, but he can shoot the ball like few others. And shooters will always have value. I don’t know if Walker will be a star, but I expect him to carve out a niche.
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