After UNLV shuffled through coaches in the spring, three players remained firm to the Rebels. Dwayne Morgan elected to return and was quickly anointed fan favorite. Jalen Poyser was projected all off-season as the leading scorer. And Tyrell Green was the forgotten returner.
He played all of eight games last season after coming to UNLV as a junior college shooter. But as UNLV closes out the non-conference schedule, Green has suddenly become UNLV’s best offensive weapon.
“He’s stepping up. He’s just a sponge,” head coach Marvin Menzies said. “I’m pleasantly surprised at the way he’s receiving the coaching, and he’s reaping the benefits.”
The benefits: 14.1 points per game on 50.4 percent shooting and a game-winning three against Southern Illinois. That three-point shooting is Green’s best skill, and it may be the best skill set anyone on this Rebel roster has. On Monday, UNLV had four straight turnovers but Green bookended the sloppy play with two threes to keep the game from getting away.
For the season Green has hit 25 of 50 threes, including 8 of 11 in the past two games. But with frontcourt injuries plaguing UNLV all season, Green has become a scoring option in the paint.
When opponents switch ball screens UNLV has its big men roll into a post up on the smaller guard. Green made Southern Illinois pay for switching a guard onto him by finishing through the foul.
When asked how he feels going into the post, Green said, “Especially when they switch and I have a small guy on me. Take that mismatch. I’m a lot more comfortable with that.”
And Marvin Menzies is getting more comfortable working through Green in the post.
“He’s doing it well enough in practice for us to get him some looks down there especially on certain matchups,” Menzies said.
Green is now shooting a team-high 72.7 percent at the rim. The Rebels struggle finishing in close, as UNLV ranks 296th in field goal percentage at the rim, per Hoop Math.
Green’s playing time was in question with Christian Jones, Dwayne Morgan, Cheickna Dembele and Troy Baxter expected to soak up frontcourt minutes. But injuries have paved the way for Green to start every game, and he has responded by filling the void in many places on the offensive end.
It is the problem that won’t go away. UNLV can’t hold onto the ball. It nearly cost the Rebels a win on Monday night when UNLV gave the ball away 23 times.
“We had some unforced turnovers, but they were really good defensively,” Menzies said. “They did a good job of taking us out of our stuff at times and jamming us when we picked up the dribble. They just capitalized on all of our mistakes.”
The Salukis ended up cashing in those 23 turnovers for 22 points. Now UNLV sits 246th in the nation in turnover percentage, as 20.4 percent of Rebel possessions result in a giveaway.
And they come in bunches. UNLV had four straight possessions that ended with a turnover against Southern Illinois. On Saturday against Oregon, the Rebels had four turnovers at halftime then promptly committed five turnovers on their first six possessions of the second half.
It is a team-wide problem, as eight players are averaging two or more turnovers per 40 minutes. Chieckna Dembele (4.7) and Dwayne Morgan (3.9) lead the way in giveaways per 40 minutes.
But it is Jalen Poyser and Jovan Mooring who take the brunt of the criticism for the turnover issues. Neither player is a true point guard, but they are first and second on the depth chart at point.
Fortunately, only three Mountain West teams rank in the top 100 in opponent turnover percentage. But so many of the issues have been unforced errors like traveling.
The inability to hold on to the ball will likely last all season.
Gimme Gimme Moor
Jovan Mooring is the best point guard on the team. He is the most dangerous player coming off a ball screen, and if he can continue to read ball screen defenses properly, he should be running the offense as much as possible.
Mooring had six assists against Southern Illinois. The Salukis were adamant about preventing dribble penetration by Rebel guards coming off screens. But that led to other players being open. A point guard finds those open players. Mooring was able to do that against Southern Illinois. It was one performance, but it was a promising night for Mooring at the point.
He’ll have serious lows like his six-turnover, 0 of 5 shooting performance against TCU. But Mooring brings a skill set that no one else on the roster has. He can get his own shot.
Everyone else needs a little help getting a good look, but Mooring can generate offense out of nothing. He’s gone on personal runs to keep UNLV’s offense afloat in games this season.
He’s a valuable piece that comes with flaws, as does every Rebel in 2016-17. Mooring’s flaws just stick out more than others.
There is a prime candidate for Mooring to steal minutes from: Uche Ofoegbu. The graduate transfer from San Francisco played just 15 minutes against Southern Illinois and scored three points while committing three turnovers. It comes two days after Ofoegbu fouled out in 16 minutes with 0 points, 0 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 blocks, 1 steal and 2 turnovers.
Ofoegbu is shooting below 30 percent from the floor for the year. UNLV needs him to turn into a solid piece for Mountain West play, but for now it might be best to ride Mooring more minutes in favor of Ofoegbu.
Big injuries still looming
Christian Jones (ankle) and Dwayne Morgan (shoulder) have missed the last three games. The duo had split time starting at center for UNLV, but their absences have led to Cheickna Dembele getting his first three career starts.
Morgan and Jones were the only two players Menzies was calling post-ups for early in the year. Dembele and Tyrell Green have become options down low, but it is the other end that may be hurting UNLV more.
Morgan is the team’s best defender. His only negative attribute on that side of the ball is that he fouls way too much. Jones, in the four games he’s played this season, seems to be an apt post defender. Green can be a liability on defense and Dembele, who has some tremendous blocks at the rim, still lacks the mobility to defend well for an entire game.
Menzies said he wouldn’t have an update on either of the injuries until later in the week.
Play of the Week
There were a lot of solid plays from UNLV’s win against Southern Illinois, but let’s go back to Oregon game to get one of the highlight blocks Dembele has this season.
— Tyler Bischoff (@Bischoff_Tyler) December 18, 2016
The last of the big three
Third-ranked Kansas comes to Vegas on Thursday. It is the final non-conference game of the season for UNLV and the last of the three games against ranked teams in December.
The other two—a 49-point loss to Duke and a 20-point loss to Oregon—didn’t go so well. The expectation for this game falls in line with both of those blowouts, as Ken Pom predicts Kansas to win 86-68. Just hanging with Kansas for the majority of the game may be enough to give UNLV some confidence headed into conference play, which starts the Thursday after Christmas.
The game will start at 6:00 p.m. from the Thomas & Mack and can be seen on CBS Sports Network.