UNLV Basketball: Previewing the Runnin' Rebels 2011-12 Season
With their first game of the 2011-12 season already in the books for the UNLV Runnin' Rebels basketball team, there is still a whole lot that we can learn from the team going forward.
The Rebels took home a 83-66 win over D-ll Grand Canyon University, but were missing two of their top returning players in Chace Stanback and Anthony Marshall due to suspension.
Let's take a look at what's ahead for the Rebels of UNLV in their 2011-12 college basketball slate.
Key Offseason Happenings
UNLV experienced as much change and turmoil in the offseason as any team in college basketball.
Here are a the key offseason happenings that UNLV faced this past offseason.
Loss of Key Players
UNLV lost two major players over the offseason due to graduation. UNLV's star player of the last few years, Tre'von Willis, had a less-than-stellar year in his senior run as he faced offseason legal problems before the 2010-11 season and had nagging injuries throughout the year, holding back his performance overall.
Derrick Jasper is also a quality force on the court the Rebels will miss. Although he too was hampered with a nagging knee injury for much of the season, Jasper was a great presence on the court and always had to be watched, as he was known to throw down a mean alley-opp here and there.
The biggest change UNLV faced all offseason was the surprising change of the entire coaching staff.
After assuring the UNLV faithful he would stick around despite a heavy push form the Oklahoma Sooners, former UNLV head coach Lon Kruger finally got an offer he couldn't refuse and ultimately took the Sooners head coaching gig.
After a hotly debated decision between former Rebel great Reggie Theus and former Rebel player and assistant coach Dave Rice, UNLV ultimately chose Rice over Theus as the new head coach at UNLV.
Rice then brought in an entire new coaching staff with him to start off fresh at UNLV.
Rice brought in former San Diego State Aztecs assistant coach and recruiting guru Justin Huston, former Wyoming Cowboys head coach Heath Schroyer and former UNLV standout, NBA lottery pick and NBA assistant coach Stacey Augmon, to create one of the best coaching staffs in college basketball.
UNLV has two key new comers that will be added to the mix this season. One is avaliable right out the gates, and the other has to wait until midseason to step into the action.
Mike Moser, Forward
Former Mr. Basketball Oregon and top 100 recruit Mike Moser started out his college career at UCLA, but didn't find the playing time he hoped for and transferred to UNLV last season.
The 6'8", 210-pound forward sat out all of last season per NCAA rules, but has showed in the Rebels' first game of the year he had no ill effects of that long layoff.
In the Rebels' season-opening 83-66 win over Grand Canyon University, Moser more than made up for Anthony Marshall and Chace Stanback's missing the game due to separate suspensions, tallying up 16 points and 20 rebounds in his Rebel debut.
Look for Moser to be a breakout player this year, as he has the skills and the body to play at the next level.
Reggie Smith, Guard
Don't let UNLV's 6'0", 185 guard Reggie Smith's height fool you; he can play above the rim with players that tower over him.
The Marquette transfer will have to sit out until midseason, as Smith transferred to UNLV this past January, making him eligible at the halfway point this season.
At UNLV's annual open practice and meet-and-greet, Smith threw down an incredible between the legs dunk off a bounce that showed his amazing athletic ability.
Look for Smith to make an immediate impact, playing behind junior guard Anthony Marshall at the point.
The UNLV team has a tough slate this season, with many games jumping out as big time match ups.
Here are the biggest games on the Rebels 2011-12 schedule.
Nov. 14 vs. Nevada-Reno
The annual interstate rivalry game is always a fan favorite. Although Nevada-Reno lost by 22 at home to Missouri State in their home opener, don't think they won't put up a fight against UNLV.
Nevada-Reno was the preseason favorite to win the WAC, so their terrible showing last week could just be a blip on the radar.
Look for UNLV to continue their five-game win streak in the rivalry at home in the comfy confines of the Thomas and Mack Center.
Nov. 25 vs. USC
Despite an expected down year, whenever UNLV faces off with a big name school, it is imperative they have a strong showing to cushion their RPI to help them come March.
USC was picked to finish seventh in the Pac-12, but don't think the'll just lay down without a fight. Expect a closer-than-expected game.
(tentative) Nov. 26 vs No. 1 North Carolina
If the Rebels can get by USC and North Carolina can get by South Carolina on the first day of the Las Vegas Invitational, the two teams will meet on Saturday Nov. 26, obviously giving the Rebels their toughest test of the 2011-12 season.
The game would provide a great chance to find out just where the Rebels are as far as how their game stacks up against elite-tier teams in college basketball, as UNLV is expected to compete with the top teams going forward.
Dec. 10 at Wisconsin
No. 14 ranked Wisconsin will be one of the toughest road dates on UNLV's schedule outside of their Feb. 18 game at the Pit against New Mexico.
The Rebels squeaked out a 68-65 win last year at the Thomas and Mack, and Wisconsin will look to return the favor. UNLV returns most of the key players in that game, so a close game should be expected again this year, with the outcome being too close to call.
Dec. 23 vs. No. 23 California
Coming of their 81-54 blowout of George Washington in their second win of the season, the No. 23-ranked California Golden Bears will offer UNLV a tough test at home. Look for UNLV to match up well with Cal and use their hometown support to push them over the edge in this one.
Feb. 8 at New Mexico
If all goes right, by this time, both UNLV and New Mexico should be top 25 ranked teams, making their showdown at the make all the more important.
The game will be the second ever Mountain West game to be televised on CBS, and will help decide who wins the Mountain West regular season title, as UNLV and New Mexico are the top two favorites to take the Mountain West crown.
Last year, UNLV won both times the two teams met up and will do themselves a big favor doing the same this year, giving them two full games over New Mexico in the standings.
New Mexico forward Drew Gordon was a force down low last season, and this season, UNLV newcomer Mike Moser will make for a great match up between the two UCLA transfers.
Look for two knock-down-drag-out games this year, which will be decided in the final minutes of play.
The UNLV Rebels should get their new "Let's Run" style of play down within the first 10 games and be off and running towards March thereafter.
Look for the team to have less of an up-and-down season as they did the past two seasons, with a few big time wins along the way.
I expect UNLV to go 27-5 this year and win the Mountain West regular season and Mountain West Tournament titles.
The Rebels should be a six seed in the NCAA tournament this year, and I could see them winning two or three games come the big dance.
In all, it will be a great year to be a Rebel fan, which can be made even greater if No. 1 high school recruit and Las Vegas local Shabazz Muhammad signs with UNLV in the spring.