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2014-15 UNLV Runnin' Rebels basketball preview

That's Jelan Kendrick. He's the returning leading scorer for UNLV after averaging 6.3 points per game. There's a whole lot of change in Las Vegas, and it will take a team full of five-star freshman and transfers to get the Runnin' Rebels back to the NCAA Tournament in 2014-15.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

UNLV missed out on postseason play for the first time since the 2005-06 season, as both the NCAA Tournament and NIT passed on the Runnin’ Rebels. UNLV did reach 20 wins for the eighth straight season, but ultimately 2013-14 was underwhelming. Losing to San Diego State in the Mountain West Tournament semifinals dropped UNLV to 0-3 against the Aztecs and 1-6 against the top three teams in the Mountain West, San Diego State, Nevada and New Mexico.

Last Year: 20-13 (10-8 MW) No postseason tournament

Key Losses

There will be a lot of new faces in Rice’s rotation for the upcoming season. The five leading scorers – and only five players that started at least 15 games – are gone. Most notably two-time Mountain West defensive player of the year, Khem Birch, is gone. Birch swatted 124 shots last season; no one else blocked 30 shots. The Rebels defensive backbone is gone, but that is not all.

Along with Birch, leading scorer Bryce Dejean-Jones, leading rebounder Roscoe Smith, top three-point shooter, Kevin Olekaibe and team-leader in steals, Deville Smith are all gone. Ultimately 79.3 percent of UNLV’s points have moved on due to graduation, the NBA or transferring. Almost everything on the court in 2014-15 will be new, and overall, should be improved.

Key Additions

Starting with a transfer that will be running UNLV’s offense, Cody Doolin is immediately eligible after leaving San Francisco last year. Doolin played in only four games for the Dons last season. Two seasons ago Doolin averaged 12.2 points and 5.6 assists while putting up a 107.9 offensive rating; UNLV was eighth in the Mountain West in offensive efficiency at 105.3. Expect Doolin to be the starting point guard, as there are no other true point guards on the roster.

Now for the top-five recruiting class. Five-star freshman Rashad Vaughn could be one-and-done, but he’ll be a major piece for the Rebels during his time in Las Vegas. Vaughn is listed as a 6-foot-6, 215 pound guard. He’ll play on the wing, as UNLV will likely play smaller lineups due to front court depth issues. Vaughn was a top-15 player in the 2014 class.

Joining Vaughn is another highly touted freshman, Dwayne Morgan. At 6-foot-8, 205 pounds, Morgan will play the power forward and small forward position for UNLV. Morgan was a top-25 player and either a four or five-star recruit depending on the recruiting site.

The other big-name freshman UNLV landed for this season is center Goodluck Okonoboh. Aside from his awesome name, Okonoboh brings much needed size to Rebels’ roster. There are only three players listed as forwards on UNLV’s roster. Okonoboh is 6-foot-10, and he will challenge to be a starter in the post immediately. He too was a four or five star.

Rounding out the recruiting class are a pair of three-star guards. Patrick McCaw and Jordan Cornish are both big guards at 6-foot-6 and will provide quality depth at the guard position.

Key Returners

UNLV does return some important bench players from last season. Starting in the frontcourt, the only other big man with Okonoboh is sophomore Christian Wood. Wood played 13 minutes per game in 30 games last season. He averaged 4.5 points and 3.2 rebounds, and UNLV was extremely good with Wood on the floor, outscoring opponents 15.4 points per 100 possessions. The biggest concern for Wood will be his foul rate, as he averaged 4.7 fouls per 40 minutes last season. His 41 percent field goal percentage will need to improve, as well.

The returning leading-scorer for UNLV is Jelan Kendrick, who put up 6.3 points in 20.8 minutes per game. Depending how confident Rice is in his freshman, Kendrick could be a starter to open the season. More than likely UNLV will bring Kendrick off the bench if the Rebels are to have a big season. If he has to handle the ball more this season, he’ll need to improve his turnover rate, which was at 18.3 percent last season.

The last key returner actually started 13 games last season, Kendall Smith. Smith struggled offensively, scoring 118 points on 113 shots last season. UNLV’s offensive efficiency took a nose dive down to 85 points per 100 possessions with Smith on the court. Even more than Kendrick, Smith needs to tame his turnovers; his 23.95 turnover percentage led UNLV.

Roster Notes

Daquan Cook tore his ACL and will miss the entire season. He will redshirt this season, and have two years of eligibility remaining.

Also Rutgers transfer Jerome Seagers will be redshirted by UNLV. Initially, there was hope Seagers would be eligible this season, but with his eligibility uncertain, Rice decided to go ahead and redshirt the former Scarlet Knight. Seagers will have one season of eligibility left.

Plus Oregon Transfer Ben Carter will redshirt this season as well. Giving UNLV two Division I transfers that will get a year to soak in UNLV. Carter will have two years of eligibility remaining.

Notable Games

UNLV has a tremendous non-conference schedule that will see UNLV play home, road and neutral court games against some of the bluebloods of college basketball.

  • Season opener: 11/14 vs Morehead State
  • Barclay’s Classic (Brooklyn): 11/21 vs Stanford and 11/22 vs Duke/Temple
  • First road game: 12/03 at Arizona State
  • Biggest non-conference home game: 12/23 vs Arizona
  • Huge road test after conference play starts: 1/04 at Kansas
  • Snapping a rivalry losing streak: 1/07 vs Nevada and 1/27 at Nevada
  • Going after the top: 1/17 at SDSU and 3/04 vs SDSU

Here’s UNLV’s entire schedule


With an entire new starting five, most of which will be made up of transfers or freshmen, UNLV may be the most intriguing team in the Mountain West. Should Vaughn and the freshmen live up to their potential immediately, then Dave Rice could have a season-long top-25 team and a challenger for the conference crown. But if the freshmen take time to gel or transfer point guard Doolin struggles with rust or adjusting to a new conference then UNLV could suffer big losses in the non-conference season and then wallow in mediocrity during conference play.


Christian Wood and Cody Doolin's proven efficiency will be enough to keep UNLV competitive in the non-conference regardless of how the freshmen play early. By conference play, UNLV will be contending for the  Mountain West title, but ultimately UNLV comes up short of the Mountain West title due to rebounding deficiencies. NCAA Tournament? Yes

Three-point multimedia caught up with Rashad Vaughn at the Rebels' first practice of October.

Here's a look at UNLV's highly anticipated freshman donning the 2014-15 white jerseys:


The freshmen #UNLVmbb #pictureday

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Here is the rest of the team:


The 2014-15 squad and head coach Dave Rice #UNLVmbb #pictureday

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