After their third straight demoralizing road loss, the Rebels are clearly searching for answers. Since winning at San Diego State, their next four road performances have gotten progressively worse, culminating in Wednesday’s 71-56 rout at the hands of Air Force.
After examining the numbers, I don’t know if there are any easy solutions for UNLV. But there are a few different problem areas that seem to consistently hinder the Rebels on the road:
The Rebels have actually played pretty good defense on the road. In MWC road games, opponents are shooting 42.6 percent (compared to 38.8 percent overall on the season), and that number is skewed by Air Force shooting 51.8 percent in the last contest. And though it might be hard to accept after watching Air Force backdoor UNLV to death, defense has not been the Rebels’ problem. Rebounding, on the other hand, has been a killer.
UNLV is ninth in the nation in rebounding (40.7 per game), but the Rebs have been beaten on the boards in four of their five road losses. Away from Las Vegas, they’ve allowed 55 offensive rebounds and pulled down just 46 of their own. Khem Birch averages 6.0 rebounds at home and 4.5 on the road. It may not seem like much of a difference, but think about it — away from home, the Rebels’ starting center averages 4.5 rebounds per game. Birch has many talents (help defense, shot blocking, running the floor), but he’s not a good rebounder yet.
Could the Rebels benefit from giving senior center Quintrell Thomas more minutes? His defensive rebounding percentage of 17.5 would be a step up from Birch (15.4), and you wouldn’t be losing much on the defensive end, since Thomas can more than hold his own in the post. Dave Rice seemed to give this a shot against Fresno State, as he started Thomas and brought Birch off the bench, but Thomas wasn’t especially productive (two points, two rebounds in 12 minutes).
However he does it, Rice has to figure out a way to get his team more competitive on the boards.
Shoot Less, Shoot Better
Twenty-five games into the season, it’s safe to say that the Rebels are not a good shooting team. In fact, they’re a bad shooting team. Really bad. UNLV is ranked 189th in the country in 3-point shooting (33.4 percent), and that number is even worse on the road — in Mountain West play, the Rebels have hit just 29.6 percent of their threes. Anthony Marshall is the team’s only reliable outside shooter (42.1 percent). Katin Reinhardt (35.4 percent) and Anthony Bennett (35.2 percent) are passable. Everyone else is a liability. These are the facts.
And yet, here are the Rebels’ total 3-point attempts in road games (in chronological order): 23, 13, 18, 24, 21, 19. The outlier is the 13 attempts, and not surprisingly, that was their lone win (at San Diego State). This has been a talking point all season, but it’s still true now — UNLV should not be shooting so many 3-pointers, especially on the road. Rice’s official stance is that he wants players to have freedom to shoot whenever they have a good look, but maybe he should revise that doctrine when it comes to road games. That would be the single easiest way to improve the team’s offensive efficiency.
What’s up with Bennett?
The elephant in the room here is Anthony Bennett. He just doesn’t look like the same player away from the Thomas and Mack Center. He’s been held to single-digit points just three times this season, and all three games have come on the road against Mountain West teams. He’s averaging 17.3 points and 10.5 rebounds at home in conference play, and those numbers drop to 13.0 points and 6.2 rebounds on the road. At home, he shoots 52.8 percent; on the road, 47.6.
It’s hard to pinpoint a reason for Bennett’s exaggerated home/road splits. Perhaps opposing defenses are allowed to be more physical with him on their own home courts. He could be nursing some unknown injury that affects his performance on a game-by-game basis (he receives some type of medical treatment after almost every practice). Or maybe it’s as simple as a freshman not being comfortable in unfamiliar surroundings. Bennett isn’t allowed to talk to the media very often, so I don’t know much about him besides what I see on the court: On the road, the energy level dips and the production goes down.
In Bennett’s defense, this is the risk you take on when you make a freshman the focal point of your team. No matter how talented he may be, very few first-year players are capable of being leaders at this level. Experience and mental toughness win on the road, and unfortunately for the Rebels, Bennett will be long gone by the time he develops those traits.
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