With 7:26 remaining in the second half UNLV trailed Utah State by 5 in a back-and-forth game. Then the Aggies heated up from deep, drilling 6 of 6 three-pointers in that final stretch to run away from UNLV with a 79-63 win.
Five of those threes came against UNLV’s zone defense. Menzies turned to a 2-3 zone and a matchup zone after Utah State got off to a hot start on offense.
So why did Menzies stay in the zone? Because it was working. The zone held Utah State’s best player, Jalen Moore, in check and kept the Aggies out of the paint and off the free throw line; Utah State had 28 points in the paint and just 10 free throw attempts.
Essentially UNLV decided to make Utah State beat them from three-point range. For 32 minutes that strategy was working, but then Utah State couldn’t miss. For the game, Utah State shot 62 percent from three-point range and just 47 percent on two pointers.
This choice Menzies faces illustrates the issues the defense has. Usually, the Rebels can take away something the offense does well. But teams with multiple attacking options will find a way to beat UNLV’s defense.
The loss dropped UNLV to 1-3 in the Mountain West with only 0-3 San Diego State preventing the Rebels from occupying the cellar of the conference.
Per Ken Pom, UNLV’s defense is in the middle of the pack in the nation, ranking 167th in defensive efficiency. And the outlook for the season is even uglier, as Ken Pom has the Rebels favored to win just three more game the rest of the season.
Marvin Menzies wasn’t pleased with his Rebels getting outrebounded by Utah State 41-32. But the Rebels were just fine on the boards. The disparity in rebounds is more of an indication of field goal percentage than rebounding ability.
The defense grabs 70.3 percent of rebounds in college basketball. So when one team shoots 52.6 percent from the floor, there are less chances for defensive rebounds for the opponent. Meanwhile, UNLV’s 36.9 percent shooting led to lots of defensive rebounding opportunities for Utah State.
Miraculously UNLV has been a solid rebounding team this year. Despite having injuries throughout the year to Dwayne Morgan, Cheickna Dembele and Christian Jones, UNLV still ranks 83rd in the country in defensive rebounding percentage, as the Rebels grab 72.8 percent of opponent misses. On the offensive end, UNLV is near the national average in rebounding percentage and rank 183rd.
Due to large disparities in field goal percentages, comparing total rebounds is a useless exercise. The best way to gauge a team’s rebounding prowess is to compare defensive rebounds against an opponent’s offensive rebounds and vice versa.
Against Utah State, the Rebels grabbed 21 defensive rebounds to Utah State’s eight offensive rebounds, while getting 11 offensive rebounds to Utah State’s 33 defensive rebounds.
UNLV didn’t dominate the Aggies on the boards, but rebounding had a very negligible impact on the outcome of the game.
Change in the Starting Lineup?
UNLV’s starting lineup has continually gotten off to slow starts. While the combination of Jalen Poyser, Uche Ofoegbu, Kris Clyburn, Tyrell Green and Christian Jones have played the most minutes of any lineup this season, they continue to get outscored.
The easy change is to insert Jovan Mooring in place of Uche Ofoegbu. Mooring is already playing more minutes than Ofoegbu, and is the focal point of UNLV’s offense when on the floor. While who finishes games is more important than who starts games, UNLV continues to throw away the first few minutes of each half with an ineffective lineup on the floor.
Outside of Mooring, a few other bench players have shown flashes of skill. Zion Morgan appears to be UNLV’s best defender. He forced two steals in the first half against Utah State, but also committed three fouls in the opening half. Morgan seems a little lost on offense – he had two air balls in the first half – but given UNLV’s defensive struggles, Morgan should start to get more minutes.
Troy Baxter is UNLV’s most exciting player for the future. He was a four star recruit that Menzies landed due to South Florida’s academic issues. Baxter is UNLV’s most athletic player, but that hasn’t translated into consistent plays. Plus Baxter’s shot selection may be the worst on the team, as he continues to shoot pull up jumpers from inside and outside the three-point line.
Inside, Cheickna Dembele has seen some big minutes this season due to injuries. Now he’s backing up Christian Jones. Dembele is a project. His hands aren’t great, as solid entry passes to Dembele on the block wind up in the opponent’s hands. But he’s shown the occasional post move that opens the door of excitement as Menzies made a habit of developing post players at New Mexico State.
Tyrell Green’s Struggles
One of the ugliest parts of UNLV’s 1-3 start to the conference schedule has been Tyrell Green’s shooting. After shooting 49 percent from three in the non-conference portion of the season, Green has made just 2 of 22 (9.1 percent) from beyond the arc.
It is a steep drop off, but one that hasn’t deterred Green from shooting, as he’s still taking over five threes per game. But that may be the only way for Green to get out of the funk.
If he doesn’t, UNLV loses one of the few weapons it has on the offensive end. And for Green, without his shooting ability, he isn’t more valuable to have on the floor than Troy Baxter.
Play of the Week
Troy Baxter has provided a few highlight plays for UNLV this season, but his best may have come against Utah State.
— UNLV Basketball (@TheRunninRebels) January 8, 2017
Christian Jones gets double teamed in the short corner. So it leaves Utah State down a man when defending the other four Rebels. When Baxter realizes the closest defender to him jumped out to guard Jovan Mooring, he cut down the lane. Jones found him, and Jalen Moore ended up as the victim of a vicious dunk. Baxter has UNLV fans hoping he’ll rack up many victims at the rim.
Lady Rebels Throwdown
On Saturday the UNLV and Utah State women’s basketball teams took to the court as well. This one garnered a few more headlines than the men due to this brawl.
A fight broke out in the UNLV Utah State women's basketball game. pic.twitter.com/JzwutY8A9n
— Tyler Bischoff (@Bischoff_Tyler) January 8, 2017
Ultimately eight players were ejected, the two players that started the fight and three from each team for leaving the bench. The Lady Rebels lost Katie Powell – involved in the fight – then Rodjanae Wade, Destiney Lee and Kennedy Wharton. Those ejections coupled with a few injuries UNLV had headed into the game meant the Lady Rebels finished the game with just six available players.
UNLV did win the game in overtime with Brooke Johnson coming up with two steals in the final minute. The Lady Rebels sit at 11-5 and have serious post season aspirations in 2017. But the team could be shorthanded again pending potential suspensions to come from the fight.