Mike Moser, Demetris Morant, Daquan Cook

UNLV forward Mike Moser returns to practice, but will he play Saturday?

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That’s the question many UNLV fans are likely asking after hearing reports that Moser was a full go in practice on Wednesday for the first time since suffering a dislocated right elbow in a game at California on December 9.

But according to Taylor Bern of the Las Vegas Sun reported that it’s unlikely that the junior forward will be on the floor when the Runnin’ Rebels take on North Carolina in Chapel Hill, even adding that Moser said “no way” when asked about the possibility of playing against the Tar Heels.

“He’s worked hard with his rehab and we’ll just see,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “He’s day-to-day. He’s got a ways to go to be in game shape.”

After an immediate fear that the injury could sideline Moser for the remainder of the season the timeframe changed to four weeks, with a January 9 game against New Mexico working out to be exactly four weeks after the injury occurred.

But even with the allure of adding another talented player to the rotation in advance of Saturday’s tilt, does it benefit UNLV in the long run to have Moser return ahead of schedule?

Make no mistake about it Saturday’s game is big especially when looking at North Carolina’s resume, which features losses to Butler, Indiana and Texas with their best win arguably being a 78-63 win at Long Beach State on November 16.

But for UNLV, which has designs on winning the Mountain West and making noise in the NCAA tournament, does the reward of a non-conference victory outweigh the risk of a rusty Moser re-injuring his elbow?

Keep in mind that he’s also missed the win at Portland due to a hip injury, so in Moser’s case the more rest UNLV can get him the better at this point in time especially when considering Rice’s comment in regards to Moser not being in “game shape.”

With Anthony Bennett playing as well as he has and Khem Birch coming off of his best game at the collegiate level (20 points, eight rebounds and six blocked shots in a win over Canisius) UNLV doesn’t lack for options in the front court (Carlos Lopez-Sosa and Quintrell Thomas also factor into the rotation).

The excitement of Moser being able to participate in practice may lead some to hope that he plays on Saturday, but the prospects of what a full-strength UNLV team can achieve down the line is of more importance.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Battle 4 Atlantis title proves Syracuse will be relevant this season

rad Horrigan/The Courant via AP
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Michael Gbinije scored 20 points and Trevor Cooney added 15 points and five assists as Syracuse left the Bahamas with a title, beating No. 25 Texas A&M 74-67 in the finals of the Battle 4 Atlantis.

I guess it’s time to start taking the Orange seriously.

There’s a lot to like about this group. Gbinije and Cooney are both fifth-year seniors that not only understand how to operate at the top of the 2-3 zone that Jim Boeheim runs, but they both have developed into versatile offensive weapons. Cooney was known as nothing more than a jump-shooter when he arrived up north, but he’s now averaging 3.5 assists on the season.

And Gbinije?

He has been one of the best players in the country through the first two weeks of the season. Through six games, he’s averaged 19.7 points, 4.2 assists, 3.0 boards and 2.8 steals while shooting 51.3 percent from beyond the arc.

Freshman Malachi Richardson, who had 16 points in the win over A&M, has scored double-figures in all six games this season while another freshman, Tyler Lydon, was against terrific on Friday, finishing with 13 points and eight boards. He’s now shooting 58.8 percent from beyond the arc this season.

And that’s where this team is going to do the majority of their damage this season.

Through six games, they’re shooting 41.1 percent from beyond the arc. In the three wins in the Bahamas, the Orange knocked were 34-for-73 from beyond the arc, a 46.5 percent clip. The question isn’t whether or not that rate can continue — four of the six players that saw action on Friday are dangerous three-point shooters while the other two, Tyler Roberson  and DaJuan Coleman, aren’t going to be shooting threes — but what happens on the nights where the threes aren’t going down.

There are going to be nights where they shoot 5-for-25 instead of 11-for-25. Will they have enough firepower then? Will their defense be good enough? Will guys like Roberson and Coleman be able to supply a scoring punch? Will Cooney, Gbinije and Richardson attack the paint instead of settling for jumpers?

Because at the very least, these three games in the Bahamas have proven that the Orange are going to be relevant this season, even in the loaded ACC. Whether that means they’re going to push for a top four finish or simply end the year as a tournament team remains to be seen, but this much is clear: Jim Boeheim has himself a squad Upstate.

No. 10 Gonzaga outlasts No. 18 UConn despite late offensive struggles

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No. 10 Gonzaga survived a furious rally from No. 18 UConn to win the third place game in the Battle 4 Atlantis, 73-70.

The Zags were up by as much as 21 points early in the second half, leading 48-27, but UConn slowly chipped away at the lead. Kyle Wiltjer led four players in double-figures with 17 points while Eric McClellan added 15 points, making a number of key plays in the second half when it looked like the Zags were in danger of giving away the lead.

As good as Gonzaga looked in the first 22 minutes of this game — and they looked really, really good — the second half exposed the concerns that many had with this group entering the season. Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., who both shot around 40 percent from beyond the arc and started for four years, graduated, meaning that Gonzaga’s point guard situation is, more or less, Josh Perkins.

Perkins was terrific in the second half of a loss to Texas A&M on Thursday. He played 17 foul-plagued minutes against UConn. When UConn’s defense ratcheted up during the second half, Gonzaga struggled finding a way to consistently get good shots on the offensive end. Part of that was due to ineffective point guard play and part of it was a result of not really having anyone on the offensive end that can create a look on their own. As skilled as Wiltjer is, his impact can be limited when pick-and-pop actions aren’t working and he’s getting doubled in the post.

Perkins is talented, but this is essentially his first season of college basketball; he was a medical redshirt last season after breaking his jaw last November. There are going to be ups-and-downs, and that’s problematic on a team where he is essentially the only point guard on the roster.

The good news?

Gonzaga beat a good UConn team on a day when their best players struggled in crunch-time. It was McClellan and Kyle Dranginis that made the big plays down the stretch, not the big names on the Gonzaga roster.