After two inconsistent years spent at Connecticut, Roscoe Smith decided to transfer following his sophomore year, trekking to UNLV to continue his college career. Smith was eligible this past season, and after cementing a reputation as one of the nation’s best rebounders, Smith decided to leave Las Vegas and declare for the NBA draft.
Smith’s offense will need work at the next level, but as a forward who has shown dedication to grabbing each and every rebound that comes his way, Smith could be a valuable commodity. Smith’s offensive and defensive rebounding percentages both ranked with Ken Pomeroy’s top 60, and the junior was simply relentless on the glass. Teams will notice that skill and hustle, and while he continues to improve and develop his offense — his perimeter game is notably lacking, attempting just ten three-pointers last season — he could earn minutes (provided he makes a squad) because of his rebounding ability.
Even without Smith, coach Dave Rice isn’t lacking for frontcourt depth. It isn’t clear whether Khem Birch will return for the 2014-15 season, but Christian Wood will be joined by Dwayne Morgan and Goodluck Okonoboh in the paint, so the departure of Smith will actually open up some sorely needed minutes next fall.
Saturday afternoon UNLV put forth one of its best performances of the season, shooting 61.8% from the field and 12-for-18 from beyond the arc in their 93-67 win at Air Force. Unfortunately for head coach Dave Rice that result came at a cost, as the school announced on Sunday evening that junior forward Roscoe Smith will miss Wednesday’s game against No. 13 San Diego State due to a concussion.
“Roscoe was evaluated today and was determined to have a concussion,” Rice said in the statement. “He will be evaluated on a day-to-day basis, but he will miss Wednesday’s game against San Diego State.”
Smith left the game for good after suffering the injury with 7:15 remaining in the second half. UNLV’s been dealing with health issues at Smith’s position recently, with freshman Christian Wood missing Saturday’s win due to flu-like symptoms.
In Smith’s absence, it’s likely Carlos Lopez-Sosa will get the starting spot for senior night. As long as he’s healthy, Wood will likely get the majority of the minutes at power forward against the Aztecs, who rank first in offense rebounding percentage during Mountain West games.
Smith’s currently averaging 11.0 points and 11.0 rebounds per game, leading the Mountain West in the latter, so this is clearly a critical personnel loss with the Aztecs visiting on Wednesday night. In conference play SDSU is rebounding 36.6% of its missed shots, and UNLV ranks seventh in the conference in defensive rebounding percentage (68.7%).
Over the course of the holiday week, we at College Basketball Talk will be detailing what we believe will be the New Year’s Resolutions of some of the nation’s most talented, most disappointing, and thoroughly enigmatic teams. What can we say, we’re in a giving mood.
WHAT DOES UNLV PROMISE TO DO MORE OF?: Play efficiently on the offensive end.
Why it will happen:
Outside of their 19-turnover performance against Mississippi State, UNLV has done a good job of taking care of the basketball during their current five-game win streak. Dave Rice’s team has averaged at least 1.09 points/possession during the streak, and with four players averaging double figures (and a fifth, Jelan Kendrick, averaging 8.2 ppg) the Runnin’ Rebels have the talent to be a productive offensive team. Roscoe Smith, who’s also the nation’s leading rebounder, leads the way with an average of 12.8 points per game. Four players are currently averaging at least two assists per game, with Bryce Dejean-Jones leading the team with 3.2 apg.
Why it won’t happen:
Well in looking at that five-game streak you also have to address the level of competition, with Santa Clara and Mississippi State being the best teams UNLV has faced. In their losses UNLV averaged one point per possession just once, and that was their home loss to Arizona State. Against UCSB (0.97), Illinois (0.89) and Arizona (0.88) the Runnin’ Rebels scored less than one point per possession, although that close defeat at Arizona may have been a game in which the proverbial lightbulb went on for this group.
WHAT DOES UNLV SWEAR THEY WILL DO LESS OF?: Miss free throws.
Why it will happen:
Interestingly enough junior forward Khem Birch has been UNLV’s best foul shooter amongst the regulars, knocking down 77.9% of his attempts on the season. But overall UNLV ranks 316th nationally in free throw percentage, and in the close games they’re likely to play in the Mountain West that could be the difference between winning a conference title and merely contending. They’ve got players capable of shooting a solid percentage from the charity stripe, which should lead to improvement in this area as the season wears on.
Why it won’t happen:
The two perimeter players with the highest number of attempts, Dejean-Jones (34 attempts) and Kendrick (30), are shooting just 61.8% and 53.3% from the foul line respectively. And amongst the guards in Dave Rice’s rotation Kevin Olekaibe’s been the best foul shooter, and he’s shooting just 63.6% from the charity stripe. When your guards have issues at the foul line it’s tough to make the strides needed when it comes to the team’s percentage, especially when considering how much they’ll be asked to handle the ball in late-game situations.
In two seasons at UConn, forward Roscoe Smith was a contributor on two NCAA tournament teams, with his freshman season featuring improbable runs to the Big East and NCAA tournament titles with guard Kemba Walker leading the way. After averaging 6.3 points and 5.2 rebounds per game as a freshman and tallying 4.4 points and 3.4 rebounds per contest as a sophomore, Smith made the decision to transfer with the hope of enjoying a greater role on the floor.
Smith would wind up at UNLV, and after sitting out last season few people expected him to be as productive as he’s been through 11 games. The Baltimore native’s averaging 12.8 points and 13.2 rebounds per game, with the latter also being the nation’s best by nearly a full rebound per game. While the greater number of opportunities that have come in Dave Rice’s system can be cited as a reason for the jump, there’s also the fact that Smith made good use of his season away from game action.
And while there were physical strides to be made, Smith used the time in which he could only practice with his teammates to become a better player mentally as well.
“In my year off I really just focused on my game mentally,” Smith told NBC Sports following the Runnin’ Rebels’ 82-50 win over Sacred Heart on Friday night. “Nothing too specific physically, I just really worked from a mental standpoint because sitting out is extremely hard.
“Playing college basketball nonstop for two years at UConn and then sitting out,” continued Smith. “It was definitely hard, so I really had to come in and be mentally strong and be a leader for the young guys who were on the team as well.”
Last season Smith had the chance to compete against players such as Anthony Bennett, Mike Moser and Khem Birch, testing them as a member of the scout team while also honing his craft with an eye towards the 2013-14 campaign. And the results have been remarkable, as a player who tallied just one double-double and three double-digit rebounding performances in his entire UConn career has seven double-doubles this season. He’s been aggressive on both ends of the floor, especially when it comes to attacking the boards.
“I think that his experience is huge for us,” Rice said of Smith following Friday’s win. “He thinks that every loose ball is his, and it just seems as if he gets a double-double every night. To have a guy like that is big.”
One question that was asked when Smith made the decision to leave UConn was what position does he play. Was he best utilized as a three or a four? At which position did he hope to be utilized? At UNLV it can be argued that he’s played the four primarily, forming a talented and productive partnership with another Big East (at the time) transfer in Khem Birch. But Smith doesn’t exactly subscribe to the rigid positions that many have grown accustomed to in basketball.
“I’m a basketball player,” Smith said with a smile when asked about his position. “I do anything the team needs in order to win. Whatever coach needs me to do I’ll do. I don’t go home every day wondering what position I am because that doesn’t define me. I’m just trying to do whatever it takes to win basketball games.”
Now 7-4 on the season entering Monday night’s game against Mississippi State, the majority of UNLV’s issues have been on the offensive end of the floor. And given the number of newcomers looking to establish their roles that’s to be expected, even with the amount of talent that the Runnin’ Rebels possess. Defense hasn’t been an issue however, and UNLV has its two transfers to thank for this. UNLV currently ranks sixth nationally in effective defensive field goal percentage, and they’re tops in defensive free throw rate.
They may not turn teams over, but with Smith and Birch leading the way the Runnin’ Rebels have made life difficult for teams in the half court. And those two have a competition of sorts when it comes to rebounding, and it’s one that has benefitted both players to this point in the season.
“It’s always a good thing when you have a guy who wants to out-rebound you every night,” Birch said of Smith. “Usually guys don’t want to go after every rebound, but playing with Roscoe is a blessing because he wants to get every rebound.”
UNLV didn’t get off to the start that many expected when the season began, but the way in which they’ve overwhelmed opponents they should beat convincingly is a positive sign for this group moving forward. And for that they’ve got Smith to thank, as he’s been a valuable commodity for UNLV both physically and mentally. With the start of Mountain West play right around the corner, his championship experience will be something the team can draw from as it looks to make a run at a conference title especially when it comes to the development of a young player like Christian Wood.
“I just tell Christian that it’s a process,” said Smith. “You have to take things one day at a time. I know he wants to run before he walks, so I just tell him to slow down a little bit and let the game come to him.”
With the improved production and leadership abilities Smith has found a concrete role in the desert, even if we can’t affix a specific label to him in regards to the position he plays. And whether he’s a three or a four, Roscoe Smith’s been an integral player for UNLV and that will continue to be the case as the season wears on.
The 5-foot-10 dynamo from Arizona State scored 40 points on 16-25 shooting and handed out seven assists to lead the Sun Devils to an impressive 86-80 win over UNLV at the Thomas & Mack Center.
He really did everything you could ask for out of a point guard. He led the break, he scored out of the pick-and-roll, he broke down defenses at the end of a clock, he created for his teammates (if Jonathan Gilling could hit a shot, Carson would have had a lot more than seven assists), and most importantly, he hit big shots when his team needed them.
The two threes that Carson hit in the second half after UNLV opened up a seven-point lead kept the Rebels from running away with this.
There were other promising signs for the Sun Devils as well, as Jermaine Marshall played excellent in the final minutes and Jordan Bachynski — who finished with 17 points, 15 boards and four blocks — looked like a real low-post presence. But those three scored 77 of Arizona State’s 86 points. They’ll need balance if they don’t want to count on Carson going for 40 every night.
The bigger story here may actually be UNLV, who actually looked better than they did in either of their last two games. The talent is there for the Rebels. Bryce Dejean-Jones is a big-time scorer, Roscoe Smith and Khem Birch make up a very long and very athletic front line, and Kendall Smith looks like he could be the answer at the point guard spot.
UNLV will lead the country in ill-advised shots this season. This is not a smart basketball team. They have a penchant for taking quick shots early in the clock, opting for contested jumpers off the dribble instead of, well, anything else.
They’ll be able to hang with anyone in the country, but can they string together enough quality possessions late in a close game to rack up the wins?
It’s not surprising that UConn is losing players left and right following the news that the program will be banned from the 2013 NCAA tournament. The only surprise is that it’s taking so long for some of the team’s most talented players to make the decision to flee the sinking ship.
Per Jeff Goodman at CBSSports.com, the latest departure billet has been filled out in the name of Roscoe Smith. The junior-to-be has never really thrived as a Husky, averaging under 10 points per game, but his improving rebounding skills made him an important role player in the recently concluded season. Smith’s decision-making skills may have held him back more than anything, however. He became a youtube sensation as a sophomore, thanks to his affinity for launching full-court shots with plenty of time left on the clock.
Smith is 6’8″, 205 lbs. and has the long arms that make him a valuable defensive presence. He was born in Baltimore, so don’t be surprised to see Mark Turgeon make a run at him. Smith could be a valuable cog in Maryland’s rebuilding process, and could achieve his star potential if his brain catches up with his body – a situation tailor-made for a transfer who will be required to sit out a season before he can play again.
Still, this is Roscoe Smith we’re talking about. He may zig when we expect him to zag.
Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He likes to crack wise and talk college hoops @stfhoops on Twitter.