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.

The Seven Biggest Final Four Storylines

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1. Gonzaga’s chance to win a national title: To me, this is the most fascinating part of the Final Four, and it’s not because Gonzaga needs to win to make the statement that they are an elite college basketball program. I don’t believe that to be true or a fair assessment of what they are right now. The Zags are a perennial top 15 team, they’ve reached 19 straight NCAA tournaments and won in 16 in those 19 dances, they recruit McDonald’s All-Americans that are talented enough to go one-and-done and they currently start an All-American point guard that began his career playing for arch-rival Washington.

They’re doing just fine.

What would make this story so incredible is the rags-to-riches ride that Gonzaga is on. 25 years ago, Gonzaga was thought of as the worst job in the WCC. They don’t have a natural recruiting base — Spokane is basically in Idaho, it ain’t Seattle — and there weren’t facilities in place to set that program apart from any other in the league. They didn’t reach an NCAA tournament until 1995, but by 1999 they were in the Elite 8, they reached the Sweet 16 in back-to-back years after that, and the rest is history. They went from a high school gym to an arena that holds 6,000 people and is a bucket-list destination for all college hoops fans. They went from not having a weight room to chartering flights for recruiting trips.

They went from the bottom of Division I to the pinnacle of the sport. Completing that journey with a national title would only be fitting.

2. North Carolina’s redemption run, Roy Williams one of the greatest ever?: One year ago, North Carolina was on the receiving end of one of the most soul-crushing title game defeats ever. In any sport. To erase a 10-point deficit in the final five minutes against Villanova, hitting a miracle three with 4.7 seconds left to tie the game, only to have it disappear with one Kris Jenkins jumper is brutal.

But the Tar Heels, despite losing Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson, are right back in the Final Four as the favorite to win the title. And if they do win, it may be time to start calling Roy Williams one of the greatest college basketball coaches of all-time. As in top five. Think about it like this: If Roy cuts down the nets again, he’ll have won three national titles in a 12-year span and become one of just six men — John Wooden, Mike Krzyzewski, Adolph Rupp, Jim Calhoun, Bob Knight — to win that many rings and one of just three to do so in the modern era of college basketball, since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

He’s won eight ACC titles in the last 14 years compared to Coach K’s three. He’s been to five Final Fours in the last 14 years and nine total, the fourth-most of all-time. Most think of Williams as a coach that just rolls the ball out there, but maybe it’s time we starting giving him credit for being one of the greatest to ever do it.

3. Frank Martin has South Carolina in the Final Four: While Gonzaga is the mid-major program in this Final Four, the “outsider” so to speak, the program that doesn’t belong here is South Carolina. The Gamecocks have little to no basketball history to speak. This is just their fifth Final Four since 1974. Prior to this season, they had never won back-to-back games in the NCAA tournament. They lucked into Frank Martin because this was a comfortable landing spot when he wanted out of Kansas State because he didn’t get along with his boss.

And now Martin, who is an underdog in his own right, is just two games away from winning a national title. Who would’ve thought that any of that was possible?

4. West Coast is back!: For the first time since 2008, we have a team from went of the central time zone playing in the Final Four; two, actually. That also means that we may end up getting our first national champion that’s further west than Kansas since Arizona won the title in 1997. Mike Bibby was the point guard of that team. His son was a freshman at South Florida this year. It’s been a while.

5. Dana Altman’s handling of the Oregon rape case: Altman probably should have been fired three years ago. The basics: days before the start of the Pac-12 tournament, three Oregon players — Brandon Austin, Damyean Dotson and Dominic Artis — were accused of sexual assault by a female student at the university. Two of those players played in the Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments, although Altman claimed he did not know details of the investigation — the allegations, the accused, etc. — only that there was an investigation, so he did not suspended his players.

Two months later, the graphic details of the allegations were released in a police report, and the three players were dismissed from the program. It also should be noted here than Austin was brought into the program despite having a previous sexual assault allegation hanging over his head, a fact that Altman also claimed ignorance of.

Altman will be asked about this.

(Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

6. The one-and-done factories aren’t in the Final Four: Duke got bounced in the second round. UCLA and Arizona lost in the Sweet 16. Kentucky and Kansas went out in the Elite 8. Markelle Fultz, Dennis Smith Jr. and Jarrett Allen didn’t make the tournament. Miles Bridges and Jonathan Isaac lost in the first weekend and no one thought much of it. Given just how loaded this freshmen class was, i’s a pretty surprising result that there are no one-and-done stars in the Final Four.

There are a couple of freshmen that may have the opportunity to turn pro this spring — Gonzaga’s Zach Collins and North Carolina’s Tony Bradley — but those two played their way into being potential first round picks coming off the bench. They weren’t recruited as one-and-dones.

What does this say about the one-and-done culture?

Probably nothing beyond the fact that Kentucky lost on a buzzer-beater and Kansas played like Kansas State against Oregon. But it is worth noting.

7. Can North Carolina win a title while waiting for the NCAA to rule on them?: This is probably going to end up being the elephant in the room every time that Roy Williams steps up to the podium to speak this week. As you are probably well aware, the UNC athletic department has been mired in a scandal involving fake classes that helped keep athletes eligible for what feels like a decade. Due to legal battles regarding the Notice of Allegations, the case has been pushed back and pushed back and pushed back again. At this point, I think that the sun will burn out and Jim Boeheim will retire before we actually get an answer here.

Here’s the better question: If Williams wins a title this season, will this be his curtain call?

Kentucky fans flood Facebook page of official John Higgins’ company with negative reviews

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Unhappy with how John Higgins performed at his part-time job, Kentucky fans did their best trash him at his full-time gig.

The Facebook page of the referee’s Omaha-based roofing company was flooded by Big Blue Nation with negative comments and reviews after they were displeased with the official’s work in the Wildcats’ Elite Eight loss to North Carolina.

Not only did fans leave obviously fake and vulgar comments on the page, they also deluged it with one-star reviews to drive down its average significantly.

Once again, the Internet is struck by its proportionality problem. What could be considered a silly bit of online pranking by a small minority suddenly turns into an avalanche of nastiness that could do real damage to someone’s life, business and family, given the importance of social media for companies in 2017. It becomes cruel when it reaches a level like this.

When there’s so many general complaints about the state of officiating in college basketball, it’s also not helpful to do something like this to one of the referees generally considered to be one of the country’s best. It’s not exactly a glowing endorsement for prospective future officials to follow the career path if it brings this level of negative attention to you off the court.

Report: North Carolina to miss out on NCAA events through 2022 if HB2 not addressed by Thursday

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North Carolina is in danger of losing out on hosting NCAA events through 2022 if the state does not make changes to HB2, the controversial so-called “bathroom bill” by Thursday afternoon, according to the leader of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance.

“I have confirmed with a contact very close to the NCAA that its deadline for HB2 is 48 hours from now,” Scott Dupree, the head of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, said, according to the Raleigh News & Observer. “If HB2 has not been resolved by that time, the NCAA will have no choice but to move forward without the North Carolina bids.”

“The NCAA has already delayed the bid review process once and has waited as long as it possibly can, and now it must finalize all championship site selections through spring of 2022.”

The NCAA, as it reminded North Carolina last week, is making its determinations on hosts for events from 2018-2022 this week. There was movement last week at the North Carolina statehouse for a compromise on the bill, but that apparently stalled out, the News & Observer reported, though there remain efforts to make progress on a pact.

Should lawmakers not reach an agreement in time, the state’s flagship basketball programs will be without an NCAA tournament home-court advantage that they have often enjoyed. HB2 just this past year moved the first and second rounds out of the state and to South Carolina, where No. 2 seed Duke lost to the seventh-seeded Gamecocks in their home state.

Clearly, there’s much more to consider here than NCAA tournament implications, but it’s another reminder of the economic impact the bill has made in North Carolina. This week, The Associated Press estimated it will cost the state $3.76 billion over a 12-year period.

Baylor’s Freeman to graduate and transfer

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Baylor is losing one of its contributors over the past three seasons.

Al Freeman, a 6-foot-3 guard, will graduate and transfer to another school, the Bears announced Tuesday.

“Al has been a tremendous student-athlete and made great contributions to our program over the last four years, and we’re thrilled that he’s going to complete his degree at Baylor,” Bears coach Scott Drew said in a statement. “He’ll always be part of the Baylor family, and we’ll be rooting for him as he continues his career.”

Freeman, who redshirted his freshman year due to a broken wrist, started 57 games during his career in Waco and averaged 8.6 points and 2.6 rebounds per game. He was a full-time starter as a sophomore, but made just 22 this past season and saw his minutes slashed.

As a graduate transfer, the Charlotte native will be immediately eligible at his next program for his final collegiate season.

Xavier sophomore Edmond Sumner declares for NBA Draft

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Xavier sophomore Edmond Sumner has declared for the NBA Draft and is expected to sign with an agent.

“First let me start by saying these three years at Xavier have been the best of my life,” Sumner said in a statement. “I have certainly been presented with some ups and downs but they have only served to make me a stronger person. This decision was very hard for me because of the love I have for X. After weighing my options with my family, I have decided to enter the 2017 NBA Draft, fulfilling a lifelong dream. I want to thank Coach Mack and the rest of the staff for believing in me and giving me a chance when no one did! I’ll always be grateful for that. Xavier Nation I will always love you!”

Sumner, a 6-foot-6 point guard with dynamic athleticism and first round potential that averaged 15.0 points, but he is coming off of a torn ACL that he suffered in January. He’s likely to be a second round pick in this year’s NBA Draft.

This is a big loss for the Musketeers, but it’s one that they planned for. After his eruption last season, most expected him to put his name in the draft this season.