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The push for ‘two-bigs’ meets the push for Uptempo

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The 2010-11 season saw freshman Carlos Lopez, who redshirted his first year and transfer Quintrell Thomas, who sat per NCAA transfer rules, join big man Brice Massamba in UNLV's pool of big-men. Almost instantaneously, many of the fans began to ask, ‘when is Coach Kruger going to play 2 big men at once?' Coach Kruger normally only played one of these guys at a time, using them in short bursts, especially Massamba and Lopez. Thomas gained more minutes when he overcame his propensity to commit fouls, which thankfully was over by before the conference schedule started. Nonetheless, despite the Rebels success (or because of lack of success dependant on your perspective) all year the same question, when are they going to play two bigs at once? A lot has changed in the off-season, let's examine if this will be a possibility under Coach Rice.

Coach Dave Rice's stated mission is to win basketball games, and do so by playing up-tempo Runnin' Rebels basketball such as the style made famous under Coach Tarkanian. Does having two big men in your starting lineup make sense in an up-tempo game?

NBA examples

Some of the most obvious examples of the two-bigs scenario come from former NBA teams. The Duncan-Robinson era Spurs are one of the successful - but they didn't win by playing up-tempo basketball, they did it by shutting down the paint, and relentless defense. In their seasons together, the team never cracked the top-ten in points-per-game scored, but they did hover around #1 in least points allowed.

An earlier example of the two-bigs or "twin towers" as they were more commonly referred to pre-9/11, was Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson together on the Houston Rockets. They collaborated from 1985-88 and produced deep pushes into the post-season, they also did so by having respectable middle-of-the-pack team points per game levels.

Bill Cartwright and Patrick Ewing pulled off the duo in 1986-88, but like the Spurs had back-of-the-pack offensive production, yet some success. No surprise, Knicks basketball has remained slow until D'antoni took the helm, but now the defense sucks so they continue to lose.

As seen by the professional level, two bigs can be seen as an asset and quite effective - if the defense makes up for the lack of offense. With few exceptions such as Shaq and Dirk Nowitzki, the guy playing center normally does not account of the bulk of points. If you are essentially playing two centers, that puts the scoring burden more on the three perimeter players. Granted, having two big guys in the lane does shut down the paint, but unless they are especially good offensively, nobody is doubling them and they aren't really opening up much for the others. Normally, the bigger the player the slower they are. Coaches also want their centers to put on muscle and not be stick figures so they can bang in the post and rebound, that tends to slow them down ever further. This does not normally bode well for fast-break basketball.


UNLV's three bigs are Carlos Lopez, Brice Massamba, and Quintrell Thomas. Thomas is actually only 6'8, so he is more of a power-forward sized and type player who has volunteered to play starting center. The good thing is that at 6'8" he has a better chance of being able to run up and down the floor. Playing Thomas along side Lopez or Massamba is a possibility, but that would put Thomas filling the roll of a power-forward, which right now, may be not the most comfortable for him. Playing Lopez and Massamba together would be a disaster, that would slow things down to a Utah Ute's pace and put a tremendous scoring burden on the other three.

My take on it, is although UNLV has three big-men on their bench, it is unlikely that Coach Rice would play two of them together at once. Playing two together runs contrary to his style of play. The only scenario under which I see Coach Rice doing it, would be Lopez and Thomas together, if our team is being severely beaten by the other teams offense and we need to employ a gimmick defense.

Otherwise, we will likely see these three players swapped out more consistently, as they will be tired quickly under the fast-break style. In fact, look for Coach to go deeper into the roster on every position on a regular basis, running all the time will wear out even the best conditioned player.

Once Coach Rice's brand of basketball is seen and proves successful, nobody should be asking about two bigs again.