Dwayne Morgan is back. The junior—and crowd favorite—missed the first game of the season and returned for 14 minutes in game two against UC Riverside. But on Saturday he played 21 minutes and appeared ready for full duty.
At the least, Morgan is an experienced body in a depleted frontcourt. Aside from Morgan, Christian Jones is the only frontcourt player on UNLV’s roster with significant Division I experience.
At his best, Morgan is energy. He is an aggressive defensive presence that can force turnovers that create fast break opportunities.
Against Cal State Fullerton Morgan led UNLV with eight rebounds (all defensive) and two steals. It is an extremely limited sample size with Morgan playing less than 40 minutes on the season, but he is either first or second on the roster in defensive rating, steal percentage and defensive rebounding percentage. He’ll likely remain among the team leaders in all three categories, and if UNLV is going to make a competitive run in the Mountain West, he’ll likely need to be among the leaders in the conference.
Morgan may have already replaced Tyrell Green in the rotation. Despite starting the game and scoring 10 points on 4 of 5 shooting, Green played just 11 minutes and only 1:36 in the second half. Morgan’s 21 minutes were the seventh most on the team, but the second most among frontcourt players behind Christian Jones’ 33 minutes.
The biggest issue with Dwayne Morgan has been his fouling. In his freshman and sophomore seasons he led the Mountain West in fouls per 40 minutes, coming in at 7.1 fouls per 40 minutes last season.
Through two games Morgan is committing eight fouls per 40 minutes. He committed four fouls in 21 minutes on Saturday—two of which came in an eight-second span.
Neither looks like much, but on the first foul, Morgan has his right hand on Jackson Rowe of Cal State Fullerton. He then swipes at the ball with his left hand; when he misses he places his left hand on the left hip of Rowe. Post defenders can place a hand or arm bar on a player, but as soon as that second hand is placed on the offensive player, it’s a foul.
The second foul is just a slight bump from Morgan, but it is a foul out of aggression as Morgan starts his leap to block the shot way before the ball handler does. A more patient shot contest may not lead to a highlight block, but will still make the layup difficult.
Morgan has also brought his shot selection back to the court. So far he’s taken 15 shots; six two-point jumpers and five three-point jumpers. In his career Morgan has made 26 percent of his two-point jumpers and 32 percent of his threes. Meanwhile he has finished well over 50 percent of his shots at the rim. Morgan isn’t likely to become a great jump shooter, but he can provide UNLV’s offenses a much needed boost if he can start attacking the rim.
Even if Morgan’s offense doesn’t develop into an efficient weapon, his play is likely to be the most consistent way this UNLV gets the Thomas & Mack crowd into the game.
Tyrell Green tipped in a missed Christian Jones shot on UNLV’s first offensive possession against Cal State Fullerton. About four minutes later a Ben Coupet missed shot was deflected out of bounds by a Titan. Those were the only two offensive rebounds UNLV had in 30 chances; an offensive rebounding rate of 6.7 percent.
Overall UNLV was outrebounded by 13 in the win over Fullerton. It is likely a problem that will haunt the Rebels all season. Even with Dwayne Morgan and Cheickna Dembele getting healthy, there may not be an above average rebounder on the roster. Morgan and Jones have proven to be decent rebounders in their college careers, but Dembele, Green and Troy Baxter haven’t had an extended chance to show how they clean up the boards.
Early indications are that UNLV’s best offensive rebounders may be coming from the perimeter. Uche Ofoegbu leads the team with seven offensive rebounds. Ben Coupet has grabbed three boards on the offensive end in just 24 minutes of play. And Kris Clyburn has the athleticism to crash the offensive glass and get easy putback buckets.
This week for UNLV
The Rebels conditioning will be put to the test on Thanksgiving week, as UNLV hosts three games. First Northern Arizona comes to the Thomas & Mack on Tuesday, a game Ken Pom projects UNLV to win 79-66. That’s the biggest projected win of the season for UNLV.
UNLV’s shown some early defensive prowess, as they rank above the national average in Ken Pom defensive efficiency, coming in at 138th in the nation. Meanwhile Northern Arizona’s offense is currently rated 329th in the nation, slightly better than the 333rd ranked offense they posted last season.
Then it is a post-Thanksgiving tournament, as UNLV will face TCU in the first round of the Global Sports Classic on Friday. It’s a one-day turnaround with game two coming against either Washington or Western Kentucky on Saturday.
The matchup with the Horned Frogs will see Ryan Miller return to Vegas. Miller was an assistant coach under Dave Rice at UNLV. Now Miller is on Jamie Dixon’s staff at TCU.
First signee of the 2017 class
UNLV announced the first signee of this year’s recruiting class in Jay Green, a 6-foot-5 guard originally from Australia. Green is currently at a prep school in Arizona.
Green, who is rated a two-star prospect by Verbal Commits, averaged 24 points per game at Mountain Ridge High School in Arizona last season. He also had an offer from New Mexico.
With three departing seniors, UNLV will have at least a few scholarships to fill. Only one guard is departing in Uche Ofoegbu, and Jordan Johnson, a redshirting transfer, will be eligible next season, so the backcourt may not lend itself to immediate playing time for Green.
UNLV reportedly offered a scholarship to Green’s younger brother, Josh, who is in the class of 2019.
In the mix for a 5-star
UNLV has had a shot at two high-level recruits in the class of 2017, but both P.J. Washington and Troy Brown chose to go elsewhere despite having the Rebels among their finalists. Marvin Menzies has another chance at a top-15 player in Brandon McCoy.
The 6-foot-10 forward out of San Diego announced his final five schools: UNLV, San Diego State, Oregon, Arizona and Michigan State.
— Brandon McCoy (@McCoy_blvd) November 18, 2016
McCoy is the 8th best prospect in the class of 2017, according to 247 Sports, which also gives UNLV a seven percent chance at Landing McCoy.
Menzies was supposed to be lagging behind in the 2017 class, but he has gotten the top recruits of the class to consider UNLV. Even if Menzies misses on all three, it’s a solid sign of what UNLV recruiting could look like when Menzies isn’t starting from behind.
Bowl eligibility gone
With the loss at San Jose State a few weeks ago, Tony Sanchez and UNLV faced the daunting task of winning the final three games of the season to reach six wins and bowl eligibility. Then the Rebels shocked Wyoming, who is one win away from playing in the Mountain West Championship, in triple overtime 69-66.
UNLV needed an even more improbable win at Boise State, and while the Rebels covered the spread, they came nowhere close to the upset as Boise State got a 42-25 win.
Three 5-7 teams went to bowl games last year; this year it’ll likely happen again. But academic progress rate is what determines which 5-7 teams go to bowl games, and with UNLV’s APR at 936, the Rebels likely won’t be among the five-win teams invited to bowl games.
Just to get to five wins, UNLV has to win one more. Next up is the Battle for the Fremont Cannon, as Nevada comes to Vegas on November 26. The game kicks off at 1 p.m. and will be broadcast online through WatchESPN.
Jeremiah Valoaga dismissed
UNLV’s leader in sacks was dismissed from the team sometime following the win over Wyoming on November 12. Jeremiah Valoaga was booted from the team for a violation of athletic department rules, per Todd Dewey of the Review Journal.
But the news went unreported for the entire week until ESPN 2 used a graphic before kickoff of the Boise State game stating Valoaga had been dismissed. Valoaga was not on the UNLV depth chart or roster that was released last Monday.
This is the second time this year a key player has been kicked off the team with little coverage, as the leading rusher of 2015, Keith Whitely, was dismissed over the summer.