UNLV hasn’t had much luck with grad transfers in recent years. Ike Nwamu, Cody Doolin and Kevin Olekaibe (technically not a grad transfer, but a one-year senior transfer) all earned starting jobs and performed capably, but none really moved the needle for the Rebels.
At first glance, Uche Ofoegbu seems like he’ll fall into that category as well. The senior guard averaged an ordinary 9.2 points per game for San Francisco last season, and as we saw with Doolin two years ago, the step up in the competition from the West Coast Conference to the Mountain West can be steep. But the fact remains, there are a ton of minutes to go around in the Rebels’ backcourt and not a lot of experienced players ready to assume them.
So what should UNLV fans expect from Ofoegbu this season? In an attempt to understand his game a little better, I watched some video of last season’s San Francisco squad, paying special attention to the Dons’ two regular-season contests against Gonzaga (since they were the only two full games I could find online).
The good news for UNLV fans is that Ofoegbu had two of his best offensive performances of the season against Gonzaga, which was the best team he played against in 2015-16. In the first meeting, he posted 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting; in the return match, he went for 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting (3-of-4 3FGs).
Ofoegbu’s most attractive attribute is his long-range shooting. For the season, he shot 43.5 percent from 3-point range and posted a healthy 1.116 points per possession on all spot-up plays. That shooting touch was on display against Gonzaga, as he spotted up effectively and made four of his eight attempts from beyond the 3-point line.
In watching the games, Ofoegbu showed a good ability to subtly re-position himself on the perimeter to make himself more available for outlet passes. And once he found an open area, he was decisive in letting it fly, often with good results:
The aspect of Ofoegbu’s game that caught me by surprise was his ability to put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim. The Rebels were not good at converting layups last season, but in the two games I watched, Ofoegbu was phenomenal at it. He didn’t drive often, but of the 10 times he got to the rim, he made seven shots, was fouled on two attempts and missed just once, which is an incredible conversion rate considering he was going against the Gonzaga frontcourt, which featured NBA-caliber size and athleticism.
Ofoegbu doesn’t do it with quickness or change of direction. When he put the ball on the floor in the games I saw, he drove with power and tried to forge a direct path to the basket. He was good at making himself small to squeeze through openings, and then he showed nice touch in finishing over the big defenders, often absorbing heavy contact. For the season, he made 61.5 percent of his shots around the rim according to Hoop-Math.com, which would have been third on UNLV behind only Derrick Jones and Patrick McCaw. Against Gonzaga, Ofoegbu was spectacular:
If Marvin Menzies is serious about wanting to play fast and score in transition, Ofoegbu should fit in nicely. San Francisco was 58th in KenPom.com‘s adjusted tempo rankings, and Ofoegbu showed good awareness when transition opportunities presented themselves. He was quick to throw the ball ahead to create numbers advantages, and he pushed the ball into the frontcourt quickly to set up shots before the defense could get set:
And while it’s a skill that widely goes underappreciated, Ofoegbu looks to be an excellent screen setter. Against Gonzaga he seemed to relish popping the Zags’ big men and springing his teammates for open catches. UNLV was a poor screening team under Dave Rice, so watching Ofoegbu lean into his picks will take some getting used to:
It was hard to gauge Ofoegbu’s defensive prowess against Gonzaga because the Dons were so overmatched on the interior. San Francisco sagged all five defenders into the paint on every halfcourt possession in an effort to slow down Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis, so Ofoegbu didn’t get to defend straight up on the perimeter very often. He showed good awareness and positioning when asked to shade toward the post, but he wasn’t aggressive enough when he had chances to make a play on the ball. He allowed several easy catches and finishes by the Gonzaga big men, and considering that was the No. 1 priority for the San Francisco defense, it wasn’t a good showing for Ofoegbu.
And considering how seriously he took his screening duties on offense, it was surprising to see how frequently Ofoegbu shied away from contact on the defensive end. Several times he gave Gonzaga players an easy lane to the basket when he could have stepped in to impede their path:
All told, Ofoegbu is an excellent spot-up shooter, and while he’s not going to create his own offense very often, he does have the ability to drive and finish when presented with the opportunity. He’ll also do the little things like set good screens and move the ball ahead in transition, which should endear him to the coaching staff. If he’s surrounded by good teammates, he should be the type of player who excels at filling the cracks. Defensively, he’s not a game-changer. He’ll know his assignments and execute consistently, but he’s not going to force turnovers or make big stops.
If you think of Ofoegbu as a one-year Jordan Cornish replacement, you’ll likely be happy with his performance. He should give the Rebels a good spot-up 3-point option and passable defense on the wing, with the added bonus of being able to finish around the rim when the defense sleeps on his driving ability. If he’s the third or fourth scoring option in the starting lineup, that should work nicely. Now, does UNLV have enough scorers ahead of him to allow Ofoegbu to assume a complementary role? That’s an entirely different question.