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.

Four-star 2019 forward flips commitment from Big Ten to SEC program

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Four-star 2019 forward Tray Jackson flipped his verbal commitment from Minnesota to Missouri on Friday night.

The 6-foot-8 forward announced his decommitment from the Golden Gophers on Twitter and then announced a commitment to Missouri a little more than two hours later. Regarded as the No. 96 overall prospect in the Class of 2019, Jackson reclassified from the Class of 2018 and saw his recruitment blossom in the summer.

While decommitting happens in basketball recruiting semi-frequently, flipping a commitment to a new school within a matter of hours is a very uncommon practice. Typically associated with football recruiting, Jackson’s switch is a big deal for Missouri.

His pledge gives head coach Cuonzo Martin an athletic and versatile frontcourt player with upside as Jackson could play multiple positions. The Tigers missed on E.J. Liddell, but Jackson is a nice prize to land instead. Missouri now has two four-star prospects in the Class of 2019 as Jackson joins four-star guard Mario McKinney.

Minnesota needs to replenish its recruiting efforts as they are now without a commitment in the Class of 2019. With head coach Richard Pitino facing pressure to win this season, this isn’t good for the future of Golden Gopher basketball either.

West Virginia lands five-star 2019 center Oscar Tshiebwe

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West Virginia pulled in a major commitment on Saturday as five-star 2019 center Oscar Tshiebwe pledged to the Mountaineers.

A late-developing, high-motor big man who ascended into a national recruit this summer, the 6-foot-8, 230-pound Tshiebwe represents an important grab for West Virginia. Tshiebwe represents a potential replacement for Sagaba Konate in the middle as the Mountaineers beat some pretty impressive programs to land him. That includes Baylor and Kentucky.

Tshiebwe is quick off the floor and a good athlete, as he could be a very dangerous player in Bob Huggins’ system because of his brand of basketball. Regarded as the No. 21 overall prospect in the Rivals Class of 2019 national rankings, Tshiebwe also took official visits to Baylor, Illinois and Kentucky during the recruiting process.

Tshiebwe joins three-star guard Miles McBride in West Virginia’s 2019 recruiting haul.

VIDEO: Marshall’s Taevion Kinsey easily clears three teammates on ridiculous dunk

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Marshall freshman Taevion Kinsey put down one of the preseason’s best dunks on Friday night. With the Thundering Herd hosting Herd Madness, the 6-foot-5 Kinsey put down a ridiculous dunk that easily cleared three teammates.

Most dunkers use an arm on the shoulder during the dunk. Kinsey didn’t need any sort of help as he glided over his teammates.

Kinsey is going to be a dunker to keep an eye on in the future. His teammates certainly think highly of his dunking ability, as most of them projected Kinsey to win the dunk contest before the event even started.

VIDEO: Zion Williamson impresses Duke fans in Cameron Indoor debut, downplays link to trial

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Duke freshman Zion Williamson made some ridiculous dunks look effortless in his Cameron Indoor Stadium debut on Friday night. As part of Duke’s annual “Countdown to Craziness” event, Williamson took part in a scrimmage against his Blue Devil teammates.

That included Williamson going head-to-head with fellow freshman R.J. Barrett in a scrimmage. And more absurd dunks in the warm up line.

But besides for the on-court action, Williamson was also asked about his family’s link to the college basketball corruption trial. On Tuesday, a transcript of calls was read to the New York courtroom that allegedly included Williamson’s stepfather on FBI tapes asking for money and a job from Kansas men’s basketball coaches. The tapes were not admitted as evidence.

“Honestly, I’ve paid no attention to it,” Williamson said to reporters, including ESPN’s David M. Hale, about the trial. “I’m just a college kid, out here having fun with my classmates, looking forward to stuff like Countdown and our first game. You only get one chance at the college experience, and I want to enjoy it.”

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski also downplayed Williamson’s link to the trial, pointing to the NCAA eligibility center’s “exhaustive” process to vette incoming recruits.

“They have an eligibility center now that these kids and their parents go through — and they go through everything,” Krzyzewski said. “We feel very comfortable with him and all our freshmen.”

We’ll likely hear more about Williamson, Kansas and this trial, as time goes on. Williamson also might legitimately not know much about this if it was his stepfather on the call. For now, Williamson is making a huge impression with Duke fans every time he steps foot on the floor.

(H/t: Lawrence Davis III and Duke men’s basketball)

Louisville lands commitment from Irish basketball star

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For the sixth time since Chris Mack took over the Louisville program, the new Cardinal head coach has landed a commitment from a member of the Class of 2019.

On Friday, it was Aidon Igiehon, a top 50 recruit, that announced he will be playing his college basketball for the Cardinals.

He followed in the footsteps of fellow four-stars Samuell Williamson, David Johnson, Jaelyn Withers and Josh nickelberry, not to mention three-star forward Quinn Slazinski.

And all this has happened over the course of the last five months.

Mack got the job in April, after he finished his final run with a Xavier program that he had been in charge of for the last nine years. That came just six months after Hall of Fame head coach Rick Pitino was fired for a series of scandals that had enveloped the university in the last few years, not the least of which was their involvement with the FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball.

That may be the most impressive part of all of this.

No one really knows what is going to happen with Louisville and the NCAA as a result of the way that they were able to entice Brian Bowen on campus. What we do know is that while Louisville was on probation due to the fact that a member of their coaching staff was paying for strippers and sex workers for players and recruits, an agreement was made for Adidas to pay the family of Brian Bowen $100,000 to get him to enroll at Louisville. Bowen’s father said under oath that, in addition to that money, he also accepted at least one $1,300 payment from former Louisville assistant Kenny Johnson.

Those are NCAA violations committed while the program was on probation.

And those are the kind of things that the NCAA does not take lightly.

Everyone involved with the reason that Louisville was on probation and that actually committed those violations has moved on, but that hasn’t stopped speculation that the Cardinals could be facing even more punishment from the NCAA, which is what has made this recruiting job by Mack so impressive.

He’s filled up an entire class of prospects before he’s even coached a game for the program all while this nonsense is swirling around his program.

Was there ever any doubt that the Cardinals hired the right guy?