Less than a week after five-star forward Stephen Zimmerman announced that he’ll attend UNLV, the Runnin’ Rebels lost its most productive front court option.
Christian Wood, a second team All-Mountain West selection, has decided to forego his final two seasons of eligibility and enter the 2015 NBA Draft. Wood announced it in a video sent out over social media Wednesday night. Wood averaged 15.7 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game last season, taking over as the Runnin’ Rebels’ primary interior option following the departures of Khem Birch and Roscoe Smith.
Draft Express projected Wood to be a first round pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, and amongst college sophomores the site ranks him ahead of both Bobby Portis and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
Without Wood UNLV will be young in the front court, but they’ll have more experience than they did a season ago. Goodluck Okonoboh and Dwayne Morgan will both be sophomores, and Oregon transfer Ben Carter is eligible after sitting out last season per NCAA transfer rules. Add in freshmen Zimmerman and Derrick Jones, and UNLV won’t lack for depth in the front court.
But even with that being the case, this is a group that had the potential to comprise one of the best front court units in the country had Wood decided to return for his junior season.
UNLV awaiting two important personnel decisions in its front court
UNLV’s efforts to rebound from a disappointing 2014-15 season received a considerable boost late Thursday night, as five-star 7-footer Stephen Zimmerman announced his decision to remain home and play for the Runnin’ Rebels. With his skill set UNLV will have a talented front court next season. But how talented will this group be? That question remains unanswered, as head coach Dave Rice and his staff are still awaiting two important decisions.
The most important decision is that of 6-foot-10 forward Christian Wood, who was a second team All-Mountain West selection and finished the year with averages of 15.7 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game. With Khem Birch and Roscoe Smith moving on Wood was the leader in the front court for a young UNLV team last season, and that would once again be the case if he were to return for his junior season.
But according to Matt Youmans of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Rice believes that Wood is torn in regards to whether to stay in Las Vegas or move on with the NBA’s early entry deadline of April 26 on the horizon.
“I’m quite sure he’s undecided,” coach Dave Rice said.
If Wood declares, he is projected to be a late first-round pick. If he stays in school, he could lead one of the tallest and most talented front lines in college basketball. So it’s obvious his decision is an important one for the Rebels.
With Wood undecided UNLV is sure to have five players in its front court: freshmen Zimmerman and Derrick Jones, sophomores Dwayne Morgan and Goodluck Okonoboh and redshirt junior Ben Carter, with Carter eligible after sitting out the 2014-15 campaign following his transfer from Oregon. Those bodies give Rice a number of possibilities from a skill standpoint. But without Wood, UNLV would be in a similar position to last season from an experience standpoint even with Carter having two years of Division I experience under his belt.
And Wood isn’t the only question mark in the front court either, as 6-foot-7 small forward Justin Jackson is reportedly considering a move into the 2015 class. Jackson attended Findlay Prep last season, and if he were to move up a year the Canadian would join Morgan and Jones in the competition for minutes at the three.
Having a surplus of talented options certainly isn’t a bad thing, and it isn’t as if UNLV would be in panic mode when it comes to available bodies if Wood were to leave and Jackson were to remain at the prep level. But it’s clear that, at the very least, retaining Wood would be a major boost for a program looking to once again be a factor in the Mountain West and make some noise nationally as well.
Weekly Awards: Temple, UNLV earn wins that will get them into bubble contention
UNLV had not played well at all this season entering the week. They were just 7-3 on the year, having blown a huge lead in a 22-point loss to Arizona State and already dropped games against Stanford (by 29) and Utah (by 13). They were ranked 132nd on Kenpom and looked like they were headed for, at best, a middle of the pack finish in the Mountain West and a trip to the NIT.
That all changed two days before Christmas, as the Rebels knocked off No. 3 Arizona in Vegas. They followed that up by pasting Southern Utah, a game they could have easily overlooked. And the star of the week has been the breakout star for UNLV this season, as Christian Wood averaged 23.0 points, 12.0 boards and 2.5 blocks in the two wins. Wood, an athletic 6-foot-11 forward with three point range, has played his way onto NBA Draft boards.
Who knows what will come of the Rebels this season, but they now own one of the best non-conference wins of any team in the country. That’s a great starting point for building a tournament-caliber resume in Mountain West play.
THE ALL THEY WERE GOOD, TOO TEAM
Sir’Dominic Pointer, St. John’s: How about this stat line in two wins: 17.5 points, 5.5 boards, 5.5 assists, 4.5 steals and 2.5 blocks.
Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga: Pangos finished with 21 points and seven assists with just one turnover as the Zags went into Provo and knocked off BYU.
D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown: Smith-Rivera scored 24 of his 29 points in the second half and overtime as Georgetown overcame a big second half deficit in a win over Indiana at Madison Square Garden.
Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: Kaminsky had 14 points in a win at Cal and followed that up with a dominating 25-point, 11-boards, six-block performance in a win over Buffalo where he shut down star forward Justin Moss.
Kris Dunn, Providence: Dunn has put up some impressive stat lines this year, but the 15 points, 13 assists, five boards and three steals he had against Miami was one of his most important, as the Friars have bounced back from their slump earlier this month.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Temple Owls
The Owls made the nation take notice of them this week as they beat the brakes off of No. 10 Kansas, 77-52, on Monday night. Entering the season, Temple wasn’t thought of as more than an afterthought in the American, a team that got mentioned as, at best, a potential sleeper behind the likes of UConn, SMU and Memphis. But this win coincided with the addition of transfer Jesse Morgan and Devin Coleman, meaning that it may be time to start taking Fran Dunphy’s club a bit more seriously.
Are they good enough to make a run at an NCAA tournament berth? That’s unclear at this point. But if they can put together a few more performances like the one they had against the Jayhawks, there’s no reason that they can’t make a run at one.
THEY WERE GOOD, TOO
George Washington: GW was impressive out in Hawaii for the Diamond Head Classic, as they won the event by knocking off both Colorado and No. 11 Wichita State. Kevin Larsen looks like he’s shaken off some of his early-season struggles.
Kentucky: The Wildcats took a huge step towards a perfect regular season when they went into the Yum! Center and knocked off arch rival Louisville.
Hawaii: Hawaii finished in third place in the Diamond Head Classic, but they did it by beating Nebraska and Colorado, their only loss coming by one point in overtime against Wichita State.
Stanford: The Cardinal got exactly what they needed on Tuesday, a road win against No. 9 Texas. Anthony Brown and Chasson Randle combined for 47 points.
Stony Brook: The Seawolves went into Seattle and knocked off Washington, handing the Huskies their first loss of the season. They also beat Patriot League favorite American.
SET YOUR DVR
Davidson at No. 5 Virginia, Tue. 6:00 p.m.
No. 15 Maryland at Michigan State, Tue. 7:00 p.m.
No. 13 Washington at Cal, Fri. 10:00 p.m.
No. 22 Baylor at No. 19 Oklahoma, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
UNLV at No. 10 Kansas, Sat. TBD
UNLV’s Christian Wood throws down a nasty windmill (VIDEO)
UNLV sophomore Christian Wood has always had a lot of upside and he’s a fluid 6-foot-11 forward. Against Southern Utah last night, Wood threw down this nasty windmill. For a big man, it’s impressive how fluid this play looked and Wood made it look easy.
As one of the most improved sophomores in the country, Wood is averaging 14.6 points, 10 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game on 51 percent shooting.
Ty Wallace, Cal: I’m firmly entrenched on the Ty Wallace bandwagon, having said repeatedly that there is no player in the country as underrated as Cal’s star point guard. Look at this stat line: 19.3 points, 8.8 boards, 4.2 assists and 46.9 percent shooting from three.
Justin Anderson, Virginia: Anderson’s emergence into Virginia’s leading scorer has been the biggest surprise of the season for me. Always known as a great athlete and teammate, Anderson is now averaging 15.1 points and shooting 60.0 percent from three. He’s not a go-to guy, but he’s been Tony Bennett’s most valuable weapon thus far.
Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: Cauley-Stein is starting to live up to his potential this season, becoming the nation’s most versatile defender while anchoring on college basketball’s best defense. A 7-foot-1 center, he can switch ball-screens and has been tasked with stopping an opponent’s best wing scorer at times this season.
Robert Upshaw, Washington: Washington’s emergence as a top three team in the Pac-12 can almost entirely be credited to Upshaw, who has become the nation’s premiere shot-blocking presence. He’s averaging 4.6 blocks in just 20 minutes and has completely changed the way that Washington is able to defend. I’d argue he’s one of the ten most valuable players in the country right now.
Christian Wood, UNLV: Wood is playing like a first round draft pick, averaging 13.9 points, 9.6 boards and 3.0 blocks for the Rebels. He had 24 points and 10 boards in UNLV’s win over No. 3 Arizona on Tuesday night.
Terry Rozier, Louisville: Rozier has done much of what was expected of him this season. His scoring is up to 16.5 points from 7.0 as a freshman, and while he’s not shooting quite as well from the perimeter this season, his percentages are up overhaul and he’s turned into one of the nation’s best, and most important, secondary options.
Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse: Someone had to become a scorer for Syracuse this season, and thus far in the year it’s been the senior big man that’s done it. He’s averaging 16.5 points and 8.7 boards, a bright spot in an otherwise frustrating season for the Orange.
Zach Auguste, Notre Dame: Auguste has always had the potential to be a big-time scorer in the paint for the Irish, and he’s finally reaching it this year. Auguste’s averaging 14.8 points through the first month, although it will be interesting to see what happens when the Irish start to play some tougher competition.
Levi Randolph, Alabama: Randolph has become a go-to guy for Alabama as a senior, as he’s now posting some impressive numbers: 16.5 points, 4.9 boards and 3.1 assists for the 8-3 Tide.
Dylan Ennis, Villanova: Who saw this coming from Ennis? He’s Villanova’s leading scorer, their most dangerous three-point shooter and one of the best defenders on the roster.
Stefan Nastic, Stanford: With so much of Stanford’s front line graduating, Nastic’s role has been dramatically increased this year, and it’s paying off. Nastic is averaging 14.5 points and has become one of the better low-post scorers on the west coast.
Justin Moss, Buffalo: As a sophomore, Moss averaged 3.8 points and 3.2 boards playing behind Javon McCrea. As a junior, those numbers have bumped up to 17.3 points and 10.2 boards. Oh, and he did this.
Malcolm Hill, Illinois: Hill started a handful of games as a freshman, but as a sophomore he’s moved into a major role for John Groce. His scoring has bumped up to 12.8 points this year, as the Illini look like they could contend for a spot in the NCAA tournament.
Damian Jones, Vanderbilt: Jones has developed into the star we expected him to be as a sophomore, averaging 16.5 points and 7.1 boards.
Denzel Valentine, Michigan State: The Spartans have been a disappointment through the season’s first month, but Valentine has been terrific. These numbers are nothing to joke about: 14.5 points, 5.5 boards, 4.3 assists, 50.0 percent from three.
UNLV upset No. 3 Arizona, 71-67, on Tuesday night at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, handing the Wildcats their first loss of the season.
Christian Wood scored 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Rashad Vaughn added 21 points. The two combined to shoot 50 percent from the field. All five starters for Arizona scored in double figures led by T.J. McConnell with 14 points and seven assists.
With 40 seconds remaining, Arizona had three chances, and came up short each time. Stanley Johnson poked away a pass to the high post. McConnell hit the streaking Johnson on the 2-on-1, but Johnson missed the layup. After UNLV a missed free throw, the Wildcats settled for a Brandon Ashley three rather than go for the tie, which rattled off the rim.
Patrick McCaw split a pair of free throws, giving UNLV a 70-67 lead. Johnson committed a turnover before Arizona could get a shot off.
This was an important win for a young UNLV roster. The Runnin’ Rebels are in the middle of stretch where they play three ranked teams in 16 days. On Saturday, No. 14 Utah took down UNLV, 59-46. On Jan. 4, the Rebels go on the road to play Kansas. Let’s see what UNLV does with this signature, non-conference victory when the team travels to Lawrence.
For Arizona, this was the second road test in the span of five days. On Friday night, the Wildcats got a fight from a talented UTEP team in El Paso. Given the circumstances, a talented team in need of a non-conference win, and the issues the Wildcats faced — foul trouble Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Kaleb Tarczewski and freshman mistakes from Johnson — on Tuesday night, they were still in a position to force overtime or win in the final minutes.
UNLV has Southern Utah on Saturday. Arizona has time to regroup with its next game on Jan. 4 against Arizona State, the start of Pac-12 play for the conference favorites.