Attention class, you are in your hoop session and UNLV is the next pupil up to be graded. They will be graded from their Friday night performance against Division III program, Whittier College. They receive a C+.
Grading too harshly, you believe? Well, team leader Jordan Cornish gave them a full letter grade below that: D+ (according to the Las Vegas Sun). Why? Because the expectations are high for this season.
The Runnin' Rebels are as good this season as they have ever been in the Rice era, and the loss of key players in the last few years can only play in their favor moving into the 2015 campaign. Why? Ego has left the building.
If you watched the game you noticed that the Rebels played like a team. There wasn't a Christian Wood or Anthony Bennett popping out of the key to take an ill-advised 3-pointer and there didn't seem to be guys on the court who worried to impress NBA scouts. Instead, these young Rebels shared the ball, played with passion, and most importantly, fought as a team.
It led to a 37-point, not-surprising victory in their favor. But, there were some question marks that lead to my grade.
1. Where was the Goodluck? Okonoboh had a very uninspiring first outing of 2015 with the Rebs on Saturday. In the starting line-up, he seemed a bit out of sorts for the majority of the time he was on the court. He went 0-4 and scored just 1 point in the blow out affair.
2. Rebound for what? The Rebels clearly had all the height advantages in the world over the Whittier Poets. Nonetheless, they often struggled to run down loose balls (which largely comes down to effort). With their towers, they should be dominant in the rebound category in comparison to most opponents they face.
3. Returners v. Newcomers? Rice tried to play a lot with his line ups last night which led to some intriguing groups of 5 out on the court. Oddly, however, when the majority of the returners were on the court together, including Dwayne Morgan, Jordan Cornish, Pat McCaw, Okonoboh and others, they seemed disjointed. In fact, those were not the moments when UNLV shined its best in the game.
Instead, here are the reasons why UNLV looked promising last night and why that half filled arena from Friday should be packed next Friday for the home opener:
1. Block Party! Stephen Zimmerman is obviously a beast, and although his potential NBA game can be increased by his ability to occasionally hit some 13-15 ft. jumpers, his value under the basket for UNLV is undeniable. Four big time blocks. It's been quite some time that UNLV has benefited from a rim protector. Not to mention, Dwayne Morgan's defensive block capability was on display Friday night as well.
2. No. 22 to 2-3 Guard! Patrick McCaw changed his number this year, and it looks like Rice has also transformed his role on the squad. Still a starter, McCaw is transitioning into a 2 guard from point guard, and more than likely a 1-2-3 combo. His lights out shooting ability have yet to be seen. However, with some added height gained during the off season, and Jerome Seagears capability at 1, it will be enticing to see McCaw use his length to stretch the 2 or 3 position.
3. Nwamu bank opened! In the first few minutes of the first half, newcomer Ike Nwamu owned the three point line. He made it look easy. Although he went 3-7 overall, his shooting ability was certainly evident. If the starting line-up remains the same as Friday, hopefully, this entire season will feature a barrage of made 3s.
Time will tell in all these scenarios. Does Zimmerman flex his muscles at center? Does McCaw make a flawless transition out of the point position? Will effort and team work champion over ego or focusing on future careers? And not even mentioned here, is there a ceiling, literally, for Derrick Jones, Jr. - who seemed to be the best player on the court last night, not just the highest jumper. When all is said and done, the Rebels 2015 campaign will receive the grade of....
Here are some dunks by Zimmerman.
Last Stephen Zimmerman dunk I'm posting, because I have other things to do and apparently he's not stopping pic.twitter.com/b93RpAiabl— Mike Grimala (@MikeGrimala) November 7, 2015
Stephen Zimmerman with the big two-handed dunk pic.twitter.com/14fcElC3Ha— Mike Grimala (@MikeGrimala) November 7, 2015
Whittier goes zone, Stephen Zimmerman grabs the offensive rebound and slams it pic.twitter.com/jveVghiFu1— Mike Grimala (@MikeGrimala) November 7, 2015