UNLV has lost six consecutive games. This year’s team sits at 10-16, equaling the worst winning percentage in program history.
Normally this is where you would find a breakdown of what went wrong on UNLV’s final possession in Saturday’s 76-74 loss to San Jose State. But instead, here’s why UNLV should be excited for a future with Marvin Menzies leading the Runnin’ Rebels.
Evaluating Menzies in 2016-17 must be done with a dominant thought: Menzies can’t make shots for his players.
Yes, this team is bad. UNLV has choked games away in the final minutes. Menzies often complains that his players aren’t following the scouting report. There are clearly major flaws in a team that sits six games under .500.
The Rebels rank dead last in the Mountain West in two-point field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage in conference games. UNLV is just 0.3 percent away from claiming title of worst free throw shooting team in the Mountain West as well.
UNLV ranks 267th in the nation in effective field goal percentage on unguarded spot up opportunities, per Synergy Sports.
UNLV ranks 344th in the nation in field goal percentage at the rim, per Hoop Math.
A coach is supposed to get his team shots at the rim, open jumpers and free throw opportunities. UNLV can’t score at an efficient level in any of those situations.
Of the six straight losses, four have come by single digits. Three of those four close losses can be directly attributed to missed layups.
Against Wyoming, UNLV lost by a single point and shot 44.4 percent at the rim. The road game against San Jose State resulted in a four-point loss after UNLV shot 34.8 percent at the rim. Then Saturday’s home loss to the Spartans was by two points, while UNLV made 45.8 percent of its layups.
In all three games, if UNLV simply shoots above 50 percent on layups, the Rebels win. The national average on shots at the rim is around 60 percent. All UNLV needed to do was be 10 percent worse than the national average and Menzies has three more wins.
Those three wins would have eliminated the six-game losing streak. UNLV would be 13-13 right now. The Rebels would be 6-7 in the Mountain West and challenging for one of the five spots that get a bye in the Mountain West Tournament.
Menzies would be a candidate for Mountain West Coach of the Year.
And it is fair to pin all of this on missed shots. UNLV’s defense has fallen off in Mountain West play, but overall the Rebels defense ranks slightly behind the national efficiency average, per Ken Pom. It isn’t a defense that will win the conference, but the defense gets enough stops to give UNLV chances to win.
While the execution, communication and listening skills haven’t been great this season, Menzies still finds a way to draw up beautiful sets to get good shots.
Trailing San Jose State by three in the final minute, Menzies got his best three-point shooter a look from beyond the arc.
This play is wonderful. Situationally, UNLV trailed by three and Menzies found a way to get his best shooter—and the only efficient Rebel on Saturday—a chance to tie the game.
Strategically, Menzies took advantage of the two best skill sets on his offense: Jovan Mooring reading ball screens and Tyrell Green shooting.
Mooring, who had eight assists, was carving through the Spartans ball screen defense all game. San Jose State, as most teams have started to do, was using a double team or a hard hedge to get the ball out of Mooring’s hands. Opponents are making someone other than Mooring make plays. But the Spartans zone didn’t account for Green flashing to the top of the key until it was too late.
Plus, San Jose State had thrown a curveball at UNLV. After playing man-to-man defense for nearly the entire game, the Spartans switched to a 2-3 zone in the final minutes. Undeterred by the change, Menzies was able to get his team to execute a play for an open three.
More shot making like that and the narrative around Marvin Menzies’ first season at UNLV is completely different.
On top of the missed layups, UNLV has been playing without its best player in Dwayne Morgan. He may not be the most efficient offensive player, but it is easy to say Morgan could be worth a few points each game, another factor that could have turned those close losses into close wins.
A healthy Dwayne Morgan and some finishing at the rim would have completely changed the attitude surrounding UNLV basketball in 2016-17.