When I tackled the first series of roster projections back in May, there were still questions surrounding the composition of the 2015-16 team. There was an open roster spot, and there were several possibilities for filling it, which led to some uncertainty in the projection.
But now that St. John’s transfer Chris Obekpa has taken the 13th scholarship, we know what the Rebels are going to look like next season. Justin Jackson won’t be here—the blue-chip recruit is staying in the Class of 2016—and Obekpa will redshirt and wait to become eligible in 2016-17.
With that final detail taken care of, let’s get started with version 2.0 of the roster projections:
ROSTER PROJECTION 2.0 — 2015-16 | 2016-17 | 2017-18
Projected Starting Five
PG — Jerome Seagears, senior
Seagears was the projected starter at point guard in version 0.5 and version 1.0, and I don’t see any reason to question his status now. He brings more offense and better size than Daquan Cook and more experience than Jalen Poyser. The Rebels will roll with Seagears throughout the preseason and hope his shooting complements the rest of the lineup.
SG — Patrick McCaw, sophomore
UNLV fans are in love with McCaw, and I can’t blame them. He was outstanding while serving in several roles as a freshman, and he still has plenty of room to improve as he becomes a bigger cog in the system. His usage rate of 14.0 percent was third on the team last year behind Chris Wood (21.5 percent) and Rashad Vaughn (17.2 percent), but I expect him to top the Rebels in that category next season.
SF — Ike Nwamu, senior
Nwamu should bring an experienced scoring/slashing presence to the wing after transferring from Mercer, where he averaged 15.1 points per game last year. He’s a career 39.0-percent 3-point shooter who also averaged 4.1 free-throw attempts per game as a junior.
PF — Stephen Zimmerman, freshman
If Zimmerman can set effective ball screens, he’ll play a huge role in the offense as a freshman. I envision an attack based around McCaw/Zimmerman pick-and-rolls, with the 7-footer popping for jumpers and cutting for open shots around rim. Zimmerman’s addition was huge, as there are no other evident frontcourt scoring options.
C — Goodluck Okonoboh, sophomore
Okonoboh is a Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year in waiting after blocking 2.9 shots per game as a freshman, and as he learns the nuances of team defense, he should turn into a terrific anchor in the middle for the Rebels. Offensively, he just has to continue dunking and working on his free throws after he shot an unconscionable 33.8 percent from the stripe last year.
G — Jordan Cornish, sophomore
There is a slight tweak here, as Cornish was listed as a guard/forward in the last projection. But the more I look at the roster, the more I see the 6-foot-5 Cornish in the backcourt, using his outside shot (a sizzling 48.7 3FG% last year) and physical frame to create mismatches. His numbers as a shooting guard were outstanding last year, and Cornish said he has been working on getting lighter and quicker in the offseason. I think he’ll be the first man off the bench and play big minutes.
F — Dwayne Morgan, sophomore
Morgan is another player looking for more minutes on the perimeter after he was stuck playing out of position as a traditional power forward as a freshman. It’s too early to say if the 6-foot-8 forward will be able to convert effectively, but he said he’s been working on his ball-handling and shooting during the offseason to make it a smooth transition.
F — Derrick Jones, freshman
In the last round of projections, I had Jones as a depth player. But with a little more time to reflect (and watch his viral dunks on a continuous loop), I have to think he’s going to get a chance to contribute early on, even if the depth chart at his position is crowded. If his defense is passable, I could see his offensive arsenal helping him secure a spot in the rotation, maybe ahead of Morgan as a small forward.
F — Ben Carter, junior
Health permitting, Carter will get as much playing time as he can handle in 2015-16. For the second year in a row, the Rebels are going to be thin at the power forward and center positions, and Carter is going to be the first (and only) true big man off the bench.
G — Jalen Poyser, freshman
Poyser is an electrifying athlete, but point guards generally need time to develop before they are ready to be impact players. That doesn’t mean Poyser will ride the bench all season—I think he’ll find 10-to-12 minutes per game, with upside to claim a larger role if he grasps the nuances of the position sooner than expected.
F — Tyrell Bellot-Green, junior
The Rebels are potentially replacing former deep-depth sharpshooter Dantley Walker with a 6-foot-7 version of Walker. Bellot-Green made 48.4 percent of his 3-point attempts during his two years in junior college, so we know he can bomb it.
G — Daquan Cook, junior
Coming off two largely ineffectual seasons and a lost 2014-15 campaign due to a knee injury, it’s hard to project Cook for anything more than spot minutes.
C — Chris Obekpa, senior
Obekpa won’t suit up this year, but he’ll give the Rebels an imposing defensive presence when he becomes eligible in 2015-16.
Open scholarships (0)
The results haven’t been there the last two years, but if you look at this roster objectively, you can see Dave Rice’s vision coming together. The starting lineup is projected to have athletic shooters at all three perimeter positions, a blue-chip stud recruit at power forward and a DPOY-caliber veteran at center. The Rebels also have young, productive veterans coming off the bench along with elite incoming recruits. In terms of talent and fit, there’s little to criticize here. Last season’s excuses of youth and inexperience will not be a factor in 2015-16.
Rice knows he’ll have to replace Seagears, Nwamu and possibly Zimmerman in 2016-17, but next year’s recruiting class is already looking promising, headlined by 6-foot-7 swingman Justin Jackson, who has already committed. Rice finally has roster continuity to go with his usual allotment of talent.
Team MVP: Patrick McCaw
He can shoot, penetrate, score off the dribble and set up his teammates, and he has the potential to be a defensive game-changer. Handing the reins to McCaw seems like a no-brainer.
Projected top scorer: Patrick McCaw
In five full games after Rashad Vaughn was lost for the season (and before McCaw suffered a concussion which limited him for the final three contests), McCaw averaged 16.2 points on 45.0-percent shooting (48.7 3FG%). He’ll be the top option this season.
Position battle to watch: Sixth man
Sophomore Jordan Cornish will likely be the first man off the bench due to his shooting prowess, but freshman Derrick Jones has the potential to steal some of his minutes.
Biggest question mark: Ike Nwamu
Nwamu posted good numbers as the top offensive option for Mercer last year, but he’ll have to adjust his game to fit in with more talented teammates at UNLV.
Weak spots: Frontcourt depth
If Ben Carter is limited by his back injury, the Rebels will have to ride Goodluck Okonoboh and Stephen Zimmerman as the sole big men.
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