Top 25 Countdown: No. 14 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 26-9, 9-5 MWC (3rd); Lost in the Opening Round of the NCAA tournament to Colorado

Head Coach: Dave Rice

Key Losses: Chace Stanback, Oscar Bellfield, Brice Massamba

Newcomers: Anthony Bennett, Katin Reinhardt, Daquan Cook, Demetris Morant, Savon Goodman, Khem Birch (transfer), Bryce Jones (transfer)

Projected Lineup:

G: Anthony Marshall, Sr.
G: Justin Hawkins, Sr.
F: Mike Moser, Jr.
F: Anthony Bennett, Fr.
C: Khem Birch, So.
Bench: Bryce Dejean-Jones, So.; Katin Reinhardt, Fr.; Savon Goodman, Fr.; Carlos Lopez, Jr.; Quintrell Thomas, Sr.

Outlook: From a talent perspective, UNLV has enough pieces on their roster to legitimately warrant consideration as a Final Four contender heading into the 2012-2013 season.

Their front line is as good an any in the country. It starts with Mike Moser, who was named to the NBCSports.com Preseason All-American Second Team. At 6-foot-9, Moser is one of the most talented combo-forwards in the country. After redshirting the 2010-2011 season following his transfer from UCLA, Moser not only averaged a double-double — 14.0 points and 10.5 boards — while collecting team-highs of 68 steals and 35 blocks on the year, he also showed off his dangerous, albeit inconsistent, three-point range.

By the time conference play rolls around, Moser will be joined in the front court by two newcomers — Anthony Bennett and Khem Birch. Bennett has a similar skill set to Moser in that he’s a double-double threat with three-point range. Where their game differs is in their physical traits. Bennett, who was a top ten recruit that UNLV beat out, among others, Kentucky to land, is a burly, 6-foot-8 and a load on the block. Moser is more perimeter oriented on the offensive end. Like Bennett, Birch was a top ten recruit in the Class of 2011, landing with UNLV after transferring out of Pitt last winter.

How good is UNLV’s front line? UConn transfer Roscoe Smith, who has to redshirt this season, was almost considered overkill when he committed to the Rebels. Kansas transfer Quintrell Thomas, junior big man Carlos Lopez and top 75 recruit Savon Goodman will all struggle to find minutes. Rice has more options in his front court rotation this season than he has a use for.

The back court has plenty of talent as well. Anthony Marshall and Justin Hawkins will be the senior leaders. Where Hawkins is a defensive stalwart, Marshall will be the guy who has the ball in his hands the majority of the time. He’s a terrific penetrator and an athletic finisher around the basket, but his decision-making — shot selection, turnovers, over-penetration — is a bit of a concern. Like Hawkins, Marshall is an excellent defender.

Rice will have a couple of quality options on his bench as well. USC transfer Bryce Dejean-Jones entered college with the reputation of being a quality scorer on the wing, but it will take him time to work his way into the rotation as he battles a broken hand. The guy to keep an eye on may end up being freshman Katin Reinhardt, a 6-foot-5, top 50 scoring guard out of Mater Dei High School. Reinhardt’s a terrific shooter with a bit of flair to his game; he’ll make a few people look silly with his handle and passing ability.

I have concerns with this group, however, which is why we’re probably ranking them slightly lower than other publications.

For starters, I’m not convinced that Moser is going to be able to make the transition to playing on the perimeter full-time. When UNLV plays San Diego State, he’ll be matched up with Jamaal Franklin. When they play New Mexico, he’ll be guarding Tony Snell or, at times, maybe even Demetrius Walker or Kendell Williams. Is that a favorable matchup for UNLV on the defensive end? Will the Rebels have an advantage there is Moser isn’t on the block, utilizing his size?

That leads into one of the other issues with this group: who gets the minutes? Moser will probably be playing 30 minutes every night, and if Bennett is as good as advertised, he will be as well. Will Lopez be ok if he loses his starting spot to a transfer (Birch) in the middle of the season? Will Thomas, a guy that played at Kansas, be alright with becoming the fourth or fifth post player in the rotation? What happens to Goodman’s attitude if his most important minutes this season are on the practice court? Will Jones, who caused his fair share of trouble while at USC, be OK if he finds himself buried behind Marshall, Hawkins and Reinhardt? It’s better to have too much talent than not enough talent, but it takes a certain kind of coaching skill to keep everyone on an overloaded roster happy.

But the biggest concern that I have for this UNLV team is that I’m just not positive that they are going to blend together the way that Rebel fans believe. One of the reasons that UNLV underperformed last season was that they had some issues with shot selection (selfishness) and decision-making (too many turnovers). And as much as I love Anthony Marshall’s game — and I do — I am not convinced that he is the kind of point guard that settle for simply being a distributor. He can make plays off the dribble and get shots for his teammates, but the ball was in his hands far too much on the offensive end last season. Can he simply be a facilitator?

And it should needs to be noted that simply adding a couple of talented transfers and freshmen won’t automatically make UNLV capable of winning on the road.

Predictions?: I don’t think any of those concerns are unfair, but they also aren’t a guarantee. And even if they are, this group still has enough talent to win a lot of games even if they aren’t maximizing their potential. The Mountain West is going to be strong this season, especially at the top, so even if everything plays out to a best case scenario, the idea of UNLV doing anything more than fighting, tooth and nail, to finish at the top of the MWC is out of the question. My best guess? They’ll finish first or second in the conference with around four losses, which will be enough for the Rebels to earn a four or a five seed in the NCAA tournament.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Grand Canyon lands Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson

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Grand Canyon landed an important piece for its NCAA tournament push on Saturday night as Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson pledged to the Antelopes.

The 6-foot-3 Benson will be eligible right away as spent the past three seasons with the Ducks as a key reserve guard, helping Oregon to multiple deep NCAA tournament runs. Benson picked Grand Canyon over Wisconsin for his final season of college basketball as Benson’s brother, T.J., is an assistant coach with the Antelopes.

Benson shot 40 percent from three-point range last season while also being a steady ball handler over the course of his career at Oregon as he has only 81 career turnovers in over 2,600 career minutes with the Ducks. While Benson wasn’t asked to score a lot for a loaded Oregon team that featured multiple bucket-getters, he could be asked to do more at Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon is eligible for the NCAA tournament for the first time next season as the addition of Benson gives them an experienced guard who should be more of a factor in the WAC. The Antelopes are coming off of a 22-9 season in which they finished 11-3 in conference play.

With great facilities and a quickly-growing fan base, head coach Dan Majerle has the potential makings of a perennial mid-major conference contender if he continues to recruit well to Grand Canyon.

Colorado adds commitment from Class of 2017 point guard McKinley Wright

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Colorado landed one of the best available point guards for next season on Friday as Class of 2017 floor general McKinley Wright committed during an official visit.

A former Dayton commit who opted out of his recruitment after former head coach Archie Miller took the Indiana job, Wright was one of the best available point guards left as he played last weekend on the adidas Gauntlet in front of college coaches with D1 Minnesota.

The 6-foot-0 Wright gives the Buffaloes another ball handler and distributor as he was Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball during this past season. As a senior, Wright averaged 22.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game.

It’s always hard to say if spring recruits who elevate a level in recruiting after decommitting are making the correct decision, but Wright looked the part of a high-major lead guard last weekend, and Colorado wasn’t the only high-major program that was pushing hard to add Wright at this late stage.

Oral Roberts to hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills

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Oral Roberts has found its new head coach as they will hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills, as first reported by NBCSports.com’s Rob Dauster.

Mills had been on staff with the Bears since 2003 as he’s been a big factor in why head coach Scott Drew has been able to turn around that program. A graduate of Texas A&M, Mills has been a full-time assistant at Baylor since the 2009 season.

“I am honored to accept this role of representing this historic institution, its students and its mission,” Mills said in a release. “Making this commitment today is a highlight of my career and I look forward with excitement to the basketball season directly ahead. Go Golden Eagles.”

Mills will replace former head coach Scott Sutton, who was relieved of his duties this offseason after 18 years at the helm.

 

Iowa commit Connor McCaffery to redshirt in basketball to pursue baseball

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Iowa commit Connor McCaffery is in a unique spot when he starts his freshman year in Iowa City next year.

Not only is the 6-foot-4 guard the son of basketball head coach Fran McCaffery, while being a four-star national basketball prospect, but Connor also has a bright future in baseball.

There was a lot of speculation as to what Connor might do for his future in athletics and he gave more clarification on what he might be looking to do on Friday.

McCaffery has decided to redshirt in basketball next season to focus on the beginnings of his baseball career at Iowa. A walk-on for both sports, the move enables Connor McCaffery to potentially play three years of basketball with his younger brother, Patrick, who is also a heralded basketball recruit for Iowa. This move also gives Connor the best chance to pursue both sports while he’ll also help out a young Iowa basketball team with its tough scholarship scenario.

Butler, Chris Holtmann agree to a contract extension

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Butler has agreed to a contract extension with head coach Chris Holtmann, the school announced on Friday, that will keep him under contract through 2025.

“Butler truly is a special place, and my family and I are thankful to be part of a great academic institution and an athletics department that is a source of pride for those who embrace Butler and The Butler Way,” said Holtmann. “Our student-athletes, our staff, and so many throughout our campus are remarkable at what they do, and I’m excited to continue to work alongside them.”

Holtmann was named Big East Coach of the Year after leading the Bulldogs to a 25-9 record and a spot in the Sweet 16. In three years with the program, Holtmann has a record of 70-31.

“Chris is a tremendous ambassador for Butler and the Butler Way, and his leadership has resulted in success both on and off the court for the talented young men in our program,” said Butler Vice President/Director of Athletics Barry Collier. “This commitment – both by our university and by Chris – allows the momentum within our program to continue.”

Holtmann was in the mix for a couple of jobs this spring, including N.C. State and Missouri.