Last year at this time, UNLV fans had visions of the Final Four dancing in their heads, excited by the addition of stud freshman Anthony Bennett to an already promising nucleus. Twelve months later, expectations have been tempered significantly for the 2013-14 edition, but the Rebels still figure to field a strong team capable of making noise in the postseason.
Here are five key storylines to monitor as UNLV holds its first official practice on Monday:
1. Setting the tempo
Dave Rice has been fairly adamant that this is the year his fast-paced system takes hold, and we”ll get our first look on Monday. The roster is comprised almost entirely of Rice recruits, so the personnel should theoretically fit his up-tempo vision—there aren”t many stationary, half-court players among the 2013-14 Runnin” Rebels.
Among last year”s regulars, I would have categorized Anthony Marshall, Justin Hawkins, Katin Reinhardt and Quintrell Thomas as players more suited to half-court basketball (Marshall, Hawkins and Reinhardt basically made up the entirety of the backcourt rotation, by the way). They”ve been replaced by rangy athletes who should excel in running and making plays in the open court—guys like DeVille Smith, Jelan Kendrick and Kendall Smith.
It”s up to Rice and the rest of the coaching staff to mold their guys into a quick-strike offense that thrives in transition. The Rebels coaches placed a heavy emphasis on conditioning over the summer, and it looks like they”re ready to run in 2013-14. If it”s going to happen, it”s got to start on Monday.
2. Point guard battle
The point guard position battle will play a big part in setting the tempo. The Rebels were not a good transition offense last year (.965 points per possession, with a 19.3 turnover percentage), and a lot of that was due to the fact that Marshall was not a fast-break point guard. Will someone from this year”s group step forward to produce more in the open court?
Juco transfer DeVille Smith appears to have the inside track on the starting job due to his status as a former top 100 recruit, but it remains to be seen if he can operate the offense the way Rice wants it run. Sophomore Daquan Cook has a year in the system, but he was unable to earn minutes last season. Freshman Kendall Smith could be a wild card due to his athleticism and explosive scoring ability.
3. Emerging leaders
With a full offseason to reflect, it”s clear that the 2012-13 Runnin” Rebels were lacking in the leadership department. For whatever reason, none of the players stepped forward to take control of the locker room and get everyone on the same page. And it eventually came back to haunt the Rebels in their disjointed NCAA tournament loss to Cal.
From the outside looking in, it can sometimes be hard to judge intangibles like leadership. But if pressed for a prediction, I”d say Roscoe Smith and Khem Detta ar ett casino som erbjuder spelaren att spela pa fyra casino spel samtidigt. Birch are two players with the potential to assume that kind of role for this year”s team. Smith is revered because of his experience on UConn”s 2010-11 national championship team, while Birch is a soft-spoken but hard-working player who sets a tone of positive encouragement.
It may take all season for the leadership hierarchy to emerge, but it will be interesting to see the foundation start to build in these preseason practices.
4. First look at mystery men
A majority of the Rebels” rotation players should be familiar to fans. Guys like Bryce Dejean-Jones, Khem Birch and Carlos Lopez-Sosa played here last year. Roscoe Smith practiced with the team all season. And even Kevin Olekaibe is recognizable from his time at Fresno State.
But there are also a handful of players slated to play significant roles this year who are veritable mystery men. Juco transfers DeVille Smith and Jelan Kendrick fall into that category, and both are projected starters this season. And freshmen Kendall Smith, Jamal Aytes and Chris Wood are making the leap from high school to Division I, so they”re question marks for now.
Monday will be the first chance to see how the newcomers are fitting in. The faster they”re integrated, the better it is for the entire team.
5. Individual improvements
Speaking of the returning players, Monday will also be the first time we”ve seen them since the end of last season (summer league games notwithstanding). For players like Khem Birch and Bryce Dejean-Jones, who are set to play prominent roles, it”s a chance to gauge how far they”ve come in the past six months.
The offseason is when players work on their individual skills and add new wrinkles to their games. Has Dejean-Jones refined his offensive arsenal enough to be the primary scoring option? Has Birch improved enough to be a viable NBA draft prospect? Those questions will begin to be answered during the first practice.
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