#103 UNLV Men's Basketball 2017-2018 Preview

UNLV Runnin’ Rebels


2017-2018 Overall Rank: #103

Conference Rank: #5 Mountain West

UNLV fans saw what a full rebuild looks like during the 2016-2017 season. The Rebels finished tied for last place in the Mountain West with a roster that fell victim to player defections. Marvin Menzies took over the coaching duties from Dave Rice and while his first season in Las Vegas was not encouraging, he has the Rebels rapidly moving in the right direction. Menzies has signed a top 20 recruiting class, which is amazing considering UNLV is coming off an 11-21 season. He will hope to end the trend of UNLV signing highly ranked recruiting classes and producing NBA players, but not winning enough to get to the NCAA tournament. In Dave Rice’s last few seasons, Pat McCaw, Stephen Zimmerman, Rashad Vaughn, Derrick Jones, and Christian Wood all made it to the NBA, but the team’s success did not match the talent of its players. UNLV is the epitome of a wildcard team and could finish anywhere in the Mountain West. The Rebels have the talent to win their conference, but a roster with so many new faces could lack chemistry and cohesion. It will be interesting to see where they finish in the 2017-18 season.
2016-17 Record: 11-21, 4-14
2016-17 Postseason: None
Coach: Marvin Menzies
Coach Record: 11-21 at UNLV, 209-132 overall
Who’s Out:
The Rebels lose three players to graduation who played significant minutes: Tyrell Green, Christian Jones and Uche Ofoegbu. Tyrell Green was one of the few returning players on UNLV’s 2016-17 roster. The 6-7 combo forward took advantage of the rebuilding season by increasing his scoring from 2.0 to 11.7 points per game and his rebounding from 1.3 to 5.5 per game. Green was also a threat from beyond the arc since he made 47 threes at a 34.1% clip. Christian Jones was a grad transfer from St. John’s who started down low for UNLV. Jones has great physical tools which he uses to score around the rim and attack from the high post. He often played center despite being undersized at 6-7 and averaged 10.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. UNLV had a second graduate transfer in the starting lineup, former San Francisco wing Uche Ofoegbu. Ofoegbu, listed at 6-4 and 220 pounds, used his wide frame to drive to the basket on smaller defenders and chipped in 7.1 points per game. Ofoegbu shot the ball well in his final season at San Francisco (43.5% from three), but his percentage dropped dramatically to 32.1% during his lone season at UNLV. While all three players were productive, there are more talented newcomers who should be ready to take their minutes.
Three players have decided to transfer out of the UNLV program including combo guard, Jalen Poyser. Poser began the season in the starting lineup, but was moved into the sixth man role as the season progressed. The 6-4 guard was thrust into a substantial offensive role which he was not ready for. Poser averaged 10.4 points per game, but only shot 35.3% from the field and 28.8% from three. He was often UNLV’s primary ball handler, but struggled with his decision making, averaging 2.6 assists and 1.9 turnovers per game. Despite his struggles, Poyser has the potential to be a very good player and he should benefit from sitting out this season at his new school, St. Bonaventure, where he will have two seasons of eligibility. Troy Baxter is an athletic, 6-8, power forward who is transferring after playing one season at UNLV. Baxter, a former top 100 recruit, averaged 4.3 points in just over 13 minutes per game. His decision to transfer makes sense because his minutes would decrease with the addition of Shakur Juiston and return of Dwayne Morgan. He will continue his career at Florida Gulf Coast where he should be a great fit in Joe Dooley’s up tempo offense. Zion Morgan played a small role in the rotation in his freshman season. The 6-5 freshman wing will transfer to junior college, probably due to an unclear path to playing time.
Who’s In:
UNLV’s frontcourt received a major boost this spring with the unexpected commitments of highly touted recruits Shakur Juiston and Brandon McCoy. Juiston was ranked #1 out of all junior college players according to jucorecruiting.com and McCoy is a consensus 5-star recruit. These additions immediately give UNLV one of the best frontcourts in the Mountain West. Juiston is an athletic power forward who is a double-double threat every game. Last Season, he averaged 17.1 points, 12.3 rebounds and recorded 27 double-doubles in 37 junior college games. McCoy is a 6-11 center who chose UNLV over many big-time programs like Oregon, Arizona and Michigan State. He has a soft touch and a jumper that extends out to the three-point line, but he can also score with his back to the basket inside. McCoy made the USA U-19 team, which is extremely impressive given how many talented players were cut. That experience should further his development and make UNLV even more dangerous. Both Juiston and McCoy should allow UNLV to climb out of the MWC basement and further the Rebel’s rebuilding process.
UNLV is also adding one of the best mid major point guards in the country, Milwaukee transfer Jordan Johnson. Johnson sat out last season at UNLV and will have one season of eligibility with the Rebels. During his junior year at Milwaukee, Johnson ranked second in the country with 8.1 assists per game and scored 12.5 points per game. Johnson will be invaluable for UNLV because he can create easy baskets for McCoy and Juiston and he will bring stability to the PG position. Amauri Hardy is a strong, lefty, 6-2 guard who seems to be the heir to Johnson at the PG position. He is a top 150 recruit and was committed to Oklahoma State when Brad Underwood was the coach. Hardy is adept at using his size and strength to finish at the rim and should be a valuable reserve for the Rebels.
UNLV’s other four additions, Jay Green, Anthony Smith, Tervell Beck, and Chieckh Mbacke Diong look to be a year away from playing major minutes. There may be space for one or two of these guys to make the rotation, but they will all have a legitimate chance to play a more substantial role in 2018-19. Tervell Beck has the best chance to crack the rotation. The 6-6 freshman has a versatile skillset and his ability to play multiple positions could earn him playing time. Anthony Smith is an elite athlete who is known for his tremendous leaping ability and highlight dunks. The 6-6 wing is a junior college transfer and will have two seasons to play at UNLV. Jay Green is a 6-5 freshman guard. Green will most likely provide depth as a freshman. Chieckh Mbacke Diong is the final member of UNLV’s massive incoming class. The 6-10 center is very raw and will provide depth in a crowded frontcourt as a freshman, but his high upside should allow him to make a serious impact as an upperclassman. Diong is very mobile and athletic for his size and should develop into a great rim protector.
Who to Watch:
Starters Jovan Mooring and Kris Clyburn return for their second seasons in the UNLV program. Mooring is a 6-2 combo guard who led the team in scoring and assists at 12.6 and 4.0, respectively. Mooring is not a natural point guard and should thrive moving off the ball. Playing next to a talented passer like Jordan Johnson will allow Mooring to be a more efficient scorer and will give him more open looks. He was the team’s best three-point shooter, making 58 threes at a 37.2% clip. Kris Clyburn joined the starting lineup towards the end of the season, and the junior wing can regain his starting spot if Dwayne Morgan cannot transition to the wing. Clyburn is a good athlete and plays very aggressively, but struggled with his jump shot (29.1%). The 6-6 wing can be considered a glue guy and averaged 7.3 points and 5.3 rebounds. If Clyburn can improve his shooting then he will be a fixture in the lineup.
Dwayne Morgan missed a majority of last season with an injury and, if healthy, could rejoin the starting lineup. The 6-8 forward averaged 9.4 points and 7.3 rebounds in his shortened 2016-17 season. Morgan is a former top 50 recruit who has yet to live up to those lofty expectations that come with being so highly ranked coming out of high school. While he is not a prolific long-range shooter, he does have a solid mid-range game and is athletic enough to potentially play on the wing. Morgan would be better at power forward, but with the addition of Juiston, there will be more available minutes on the wing. Chieckna Diembele is a 6-11 center who showed flashes of potential in his freshman season. Diembele is a good athlete, but is very raw and needs to become more comfortable on the court. He averaged 4.0 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game as the backup center and will play a similar role this season behind McCoy. The two centers could play together for small stretches if McCoy’s shooting translates to the college level. Center Djordjije Sljivancanin and forward Ben Coupet will provide frontcourt depth and should play sparingly.
Final Projection:
Even though the Rebels finished in last place, they have the necessary pieces to be relevant in the MWC. Jordan Johnson gives them a veteran point guard who can run the offense and set up his teammates, something that UNLV desperately needed last season. The transformation of UNLV’s frontcourt is also a major story. With the additions of Juiston and McCoy and the return of Morgan, UNLV adds more talent to their frontcourt than almost any team in the entire country. The major question mark for UNLV is their three-point shooting. The Rebels only shot 32% as a team and will need guys like Clyburn and Mooring to be threats from beyond the arc. This will provide more spacing on offense and make UNLV a dangerous offensive team. The Rebels have a chance to return to the NCAA tournament if their new pieces can play cohesively. However, it is more likely that they finish in the middle of the Mountain West, which would still signify a solid step forward in their rebuild.
Projected Postseason Tournament: CBI/CIT/V16
Projected Starting Five:
Jordan Johnson, Guard, Senior, DNP Last Season
Jovan Mooring, Guard, Senior, 12.0ppg
Dwayne Morgan, Forward, Junior, 9.4ppg
Shakur Juiston, Forward, Junior, DNP Last Season
Brandon McCoy, Center, Freshman, DNP Last Season
By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 68.8 (277th in nation, 10th in conference)
Scoring Defense: 75.2 (251, 11)
Field-Goal Percentage: 39.5 (336, 11)
Field-Goal Defense: 45.1 (239, 9)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 6.7 (236, 9)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 32.0 (302, 10)
Free-Throw Percentage: 69.6 (192, 10)
Rebound Margin: -0.3 (208, 9)
Assists Per Game: 12.9 (215, 7)
Turnovers Per Game: 12.8 (146, 7)
Madness 2018 NBA Draft Rankings:
#48 Brandon McCoy
Madness 2017 Men’s Basketball Recruit Rankings:
#11 Brandon McCoy