Marvin Menzies has assembled a roster that should be able to match any team he faces in the Mountain West. With Brandon McCoy headlining the class, UNLV ranks in the top 20 in the 2017 recruiting rankings, far and away the best in the conference.
So how will the Runnin’ Rebels line up in 2017-18?
The backcourt seems set and Brandon McCoy is likely to anchor the frontcourt. But the two forward spots have some uncertainty.
PG – Jordan Johnson (5-foot-11)
Prior to Menzies’ incredible haul, Johnson was the player to get excited about for next season. The transfer from Milwaukee had to sit out last season, but was likely UNLV’s best player in practice. He was second in the nation in assists in 2015-16, and could provide the point guard play UNLV fans have longed for.
SG – Jovan Mooring (6-foot-2)
Mooring was awesome as the Rebels point guard last season. Despite having his teammates shoot the second worst three-point percentage in the Mountain West and post the lowest field percentage around the rim, Mooring’s 4.7 assists per game led the conference. Now he’ll move off the ball and focus more on scoring, which could see his efficiency rise.
SF – Anthony Smith (6-foot-7)
This is the position with the most question marks. Smith, Tervell Beck, Kris Clyburn, Dwayne Morgan and even Amauri Hardy could all push for this position. But I’ll go with athleticism in Smith. His highlight dunks are reminiscent of Derrick Jones. And if UNLV wants to run next season, Smith can be a vicious finisher on the fast break.
PF – Shakur Juiston (6-foot-7)
This is a battle between Juiston and Dwayne Morgan. Juiston, the junior college player of the year, should bring an immediate boost to the offensive end of the court. He averaged 17 points per game and shot 61 percent from the floor. Expect Juiston to be a scorer in the paint for a team that simply couldn’t make layups last season.
C – Brandon McCoy (6-foot-11)
As on the top 15 players in the class of 2017, McCoy should come in and get as many minutes as he can handle for UNLV. He will provide a defensive backbone as a rim protector and will likely be able to give UNLV a solid post-up threat on the offensive end. Plus Menzies thinks he found a big man that can run. The Rebels do have three centers on this roster with Cheickna Dembele and Mbacke Diong backing up McCoy.
The biggest strength of that starting five is the ability to run the floor. All five positions should be able to get up and down the court and provide the defense with a challenge. It isn’t hard to picture Johnson and Mooring finding Smith flying through the air for an alley-oop or hitting Juiston or McCoy rim running.
The biggest weakness is shooting. Mooring shot 37 percent from three last year, and he may be the only above average shooter on the roster. Johnson was a 32 percent shooter in his lone year at Milwaukee, which is respectable, but not something to highlight in an offense. Opponents may be able to pack the paint in the half court and force UNLV to shoot its way to wins.
Dwayne Morgan is the biggest loser here, as his power forward spot is taken. He could play at small forward if Menzies decides to punt on having a good three-point shooting lineup. That would give UNLV a remarkable defensive frontcourt. But coming off the bench could be the perfect spot for the foul-prone Morgan. In his two healthy seasons, he has led the Mountain West in fouls per 40 minutes. In a bench role, he may only be asked to play 15 minutes a game, where he won’t have to worry about how many fouls he commits.
The point guard spot is well stocked, Mooring will be a solid back up and should get a chance to run the offense on some ball screen sets even with Johnson in the game. The question is how much will freshman Amauri Hardy play. He is pegged as the point guard of the future, but could easily grab eight minutes a game running the point.
Overall this roster has one big flaw: shooting. That’s the only reason not to expect UNLV to win the Mountain West, as only Nevada has a roster to match. The lack of shooting and continuity may give Colorado State, Boise State and San Diego State a chance to catch UNLV. But a top three finish in the Mountain West should be the expectation for this UNLV roster in 2017-18.