Saturday’s 97-73 loss at Arizona State wasn’t the first loss for UNLV under Marvin Menzies, but it was the most humbling. Even in losses to South Alabama and TCU, there were silver linings for the Rebels.
The biggest problem for UNLV was Arizona State’s three-point shooting. The Sun Devils hit 18 of 36 threes; 13 of those made threes came in the first half as UNLV faced a 19-point halftime deficit.
There isn’t a lot of blame to put on UNLV’s shoulders for the threes. In college basketball, defenses have very little control over how well their opponent shoots from three, as illustrated by this Kodi Justice three that bounced off the backboard twice before going in.
Arizona State did get some open threes, but every team, every game gets open threes. Most of the Sun Devils made threes came against a normal contest.
And it isn’t the fault of UNLV’s zone defense either. Arizona State hit three three-pointers before UNLV even went to a 2-3 zone. Of the 18 Sun Devil threes to fall through the net, only two came when UNLV was in a zone.
Arizona State was simply hot. But that doesn’t mean UNLV couldn’t do anything to take away threes. In the second half, UNLV switched all ball screens to prevent Arizona State from getting the momentary space and time needed to shoot a three. The Sun Devils went from 13 of 22 from deep in the first half to 5 of 14 in the final 20 minutes.
The defensive adjustment by Menzies slowed down the three-point barrage, but it didn’t really stop Arizona State’s efficiency. And it led to Dwayne Morgan’s fifth foul.
Morgan switched on a screen and got caught trying to defend a guard off the dribble.
Morgan saw his day end by hip checking Sam Cunliffe.
Dwayne Morgan is UNLV’s most impactful player. On the offensive end, UNLV has used him in post isolation situations to get shots at the rim when the offense is struggling. On the defensive end, he is the rim protector—averaging a career-high 1.6 blocks per game—on a team with a thin frontcourt thanks to early season injuries.
But Morgan can’t stay on the floor. He’s played just 30 minutes once this season, and he has committed at least three fouls in every game.
Against Arizona State Morgan committed just one foul in 18 first-half minutes. Then he picked up three in the first 2:30 of the second half. He ended up fouling out with over 11 minutes to play.
Morgan is committing 6.5 fouls per 40 minutes, which is actually down from his Mountain West-leading 7.1 fouls per 40 minutes from last season.
But it isn’t good enough. Morgan was a role player his first two seasons at UNLV. His foul troubles weren’t always a big issue because he was usually just depth. But now Morgan is a leader on this team. He is likely the most important player on Marvin Menzies’ roster.
UNLV needs him on the floor.
Eight games into the season, UNLV has had five players miss time due to injury or illness.
- Dwayne Morgan missed the season opener recovering from offseason hip surgery
- Cheickna Dembele has missed four games due to a foot injury
- Christian Jones is out a couple of weeks with a foot injury
- Uche Ofoegbu did not play against Southern Utah due to illness
- Kris Clyburn played but did not start against Arizona State due to illness
Jones is the only player expected to be out for a while. With UNLV’s next game coming on December 10, there is time to get rested and healthy. But so far Marvin Menzies has been mixing and matching his lineups; he has used four different starting fives this year.
UNLV’s players need role identification. But that is hard to figure out when the lineups are constantly in flux.