With two exhibition games completed, we know a little bit more about UNLV’s freshman class. Four of the five rookies have seen real game action—some for significant minutes—and with the regular season opener less than a week away, it’s time for Marvin Menzies to decide which players will be thrown into the fire and which need more development time.
Let’s take stock of where the first-year players stand after two preseason games:
Baxter was expected to be the most impactful freshman, and he’s lived up to that billing through two preseason games. The 6-foot-8 forward saw 18 minutes in each contest, and though he didn’t explode offensively (five points on 2-of-6 FGs against Dakota Wesleyan, four points on 2-of-5 FGs against New Mexico Highlands), he showed enough of a skill set to earn real playing time in real games.
He was particularly effective on the defensive end against New Mexico Highlands, blocking six shots and coming up with a steal. Baxter isn’t a natural center, but the block total showed that his athleticism will translate at the college level and allow him to play big in small lineups.
Another good sign for Baxter was his usage. He played nine of his 18 minutes in the first half, when Marvin Menzies utilized a tight eight-man rotation. If that’s any indication, it looks like Baxter will be playing important reserve minutes when the season starts against South Alabama next week.
Oh, and these were his two field goals against NMH:
Troy Baxter only made two field goals last night, but they were both pretty loud pic.twitter.com/48BVmYHgOn
— Mike Grimala (@MikeGrimala) November 6, 2016
Coupet made his UNLV debut on Friday after not getting off the bench in exhibition No. 1, and the 6-foot-7 swingman did quite well for himself. He played most of his minutes during garbage time, but his stint showed exactly what type of player he will be for the Rebels, as the Chicago native squeezed a ton of hustle plays and little things into his 13 minutes.
Coupet grabbed three rebounds, got three steals, drew an offensive foul, battled on the glass for a putback and earned 12 free throws with his hard-nosed style of play. He’s not a good shooter (0-of-3 3FGs), but that’s beside the point with a player like Coupet.
He probably won’t play a lot this season, but given time for proper development, Coupet could turn into a somewhat valuable glue guy in the years ahead.
Morgan floated through the first exhibition without making much of an impact, and Friday’s showing was more of the same. The slender point guard was passive on offense (0-of-1 FGs, one turnover) and overmatched on defense, picking up four fouls in just seven minutes. With Jalen Poyser and Jovan Mooring looking like viable options at point guard, 2016-17 is shaping up to be a development year for Morgan.
One of the things we learned on Friday is that Sljivancanin is not shy. After remaining glued to the bench in a freezing cold Thomas & Mack Center for about an hour and a half, the 6-foot-10 center finally subbed in midway through the second half and immediately launched a 3-pointer the first time he touched the ball.
The shot predictably bricked, and Menzies quickly removed Sljivancanin from the game. After a lighthearted pep talk, Menzies sent him back in a few moments later, no worse for wear, and Sljivancanin ended up playing 11 minutes in garbage time. His shooting touch never warmed up (1-of-6 FGs), however, and that may be the most we see of the Serbian Sliver for a while.
Through two exhibition games, we still don’t know much about Dembele the player, but he seems to fit the archetype of the gentle giant:
Cheickna Dembele and the ball boy are friends again 👬 pic.twitter.com/6NHG957aBi
— Mike Grimala (@MikeGrimala) November 5, 2016
Even though he hasn’t practiced in a long time, Dembele should have a role waiting for him when he gets healthy. UNLV struggled to defend the rim in exhibition play, allowing 74 points in the paint in two games, and Dembele is probably the best shot deterrent on the roster. Once he’s healthy and ready to block shots, Menzies will find minutes for him.