The core of the Rebels' offensive philosophy is playing up-tempo. They want to be a fast-paced team that devastates its opponents in transition, and the roster is stuffed with players who have the ability to dominate in an open-court setting.
So why haven't they been able to kickstart the running game yet?
UNLV's best transition performance came on opening night, when they scored 21 fast-break points against Northern Arizona. Here are their transition points, chronologically, in the four games since: 13, 8, 8, 9.
Despite the low point totals, advanced statistics show that the Rebels have been running. Or trying to, at least — 23.1 percent of the team's possessions have come in transition, compared to 20.3 percent last year. The opportunities have been there. The problem has been execution. Last year, UNLV scored 1.147 points per possession on the fast break. This season, it has fallen to 0.868.
That's a significant drop-off. While the Rebels are running more, they're producing less. And while it's just a five-game span, UNLV has already played more than 15 percent of its regular season schedule. It's no longer a small sample size.
Senior point guard Anthony Marshall has noticed the difference from last year's stellar open-floor attack.
"I feel like we're getting stops, blocked shots, steals, all the stuff that allows us to get out in transition," Marshall said. "But we're just not executing the way we're supposed to, so those fast break points aren't up like they were last year."
The starting backcourt has been producing in transition. Freshman Katin Reinhardt is averaging 1.294 points per possession in fast-break situations, best on the team, while Marshall is at 1.043 per possession (third-best). They've also been involved in more transition plays than anyone else on the roster.
Marshall thinks that sometimes the Rebels are too generous for their own good.
"I feel like on the fast break, we're such an unselfish team that we try to make passes that aren't there instead of taking the easy layup ourselves," said Marshall. "We'll try to make the extra pass, as compared to last year when we were just getting the points. This year it seems like we're trying to make three or four passes in transition and we're getting too many turnovers."
He's got a point, as over-passing has killed more than one fast break this season. Last year, UNLV turned the ball over just 13.6 percent of the time in transition. This year, the turnover rate is up to 19.8.
How can the Rebels get their transition attack back to an elite level? Let's go inside the numbers and pinpoint three ways in which UNLV can improve the running game.
1. Moser is going to step it up
Junior forward Mike Moser has had a tough time in transition, putting up the least efficient numbers on the team. He's averaging just 0.50 points per possession (worst on the team) and turning the ball over on 33 percent of his fast-break opportunities. Those numbers are not pretty, but do you really expect Moser to perform at that level for the entire season? He'll bounce back and return to being a huge transition threat sooner or later. Don't worry about it.
2. Bennett will get more involved
Freshman sensation Anthony Bennett has been spectacular in just about every facet of the game, and transition is no exception. He's shooting 50 percent on the break and posting 1.20 points per possession, second on the team to Reinhardt. Problem is, he's not involved in enough fast breaks — five other UNLV players have gotten more transition opportunities. Part of it is because he's playing center, and that means he's usually underneath the basket on defense and unable to join the break. Once Khem Birch is eligible, it may allow Bennett to play more away from the paint and leak out more.
3. Goodman will find his footing
Freshman forward Savon Goodman was born to play in this system. He's simply exceptional at igniting the fast break — seven other Rebels have played more minutes, but Goodman is third on the squad in transition opportunities. The guy can run. But he's experiencing some freshman growing pains, shooting just 30 percent on the break and turning it over 25 percent of the time. Goodman is playing too fast for his own good, but once he gains more experience he should become a tremendous open-court threat.
All the pieces are there for UNLV to be a top-level running team. The question is when. Coach Dave Rice puts his players through extensive fast-break drills during just about every practice, and Marshall is confident that things are going to fall into place.
"I think it's going to improve quickly," Marshall said. "It comes with time and experience, but we'll get better."
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