Now that the Runnin’ Rebels have played a few games, lets take a look at what the roster and playing time could look like for this upcoming season.
Disclaimer: This breakdown is based on my own speculation after reviewing the box scores from the exhibition trip and also reviewing each player’s history, whether that was with the Rebels last season or at the high school or junior college levels.
The Starting Five:
This is the most obvious of all the projected starters. Poyser is the Rebels most talented player, and besides Dwayne Morgan, the only player to log significant minutes for this team last season. He’s going to be counted on to be the team’s number one scoring option and asked to the run the offense as the primary point guard while he is on the floor. Poyser played in all three games in the Bahamas, averaging a team best 18 points, while shooting 64% from the field and hitting 7 of 14 from 3-point range.
Ofoegbu, a graduate transfer from the University of San Francisco, will be counted on to spread the floor as the primary 3-point threat for the Rebels. Last season for the Dons, he shot a great 43% from beyond the arch. While the number likely falls, due to an increase in the competition level, if he can produce somewhere close to that on a consistent basis, it will go a long way in opening up space for the other four players on the court. While in the Bahamas, Ofoegbu averaged just under 16 points per game while making 47% of his shots from the field and connecting on 2 of his 10 3-point attempts.
While he is listed as a guard on the Rebels roster, look for Clyburn to contribute as both a guard and a forward. Standing at 6’6”, Clyburn possesses the length and athleticism to defend multiple positions and last season was the North Texas Junior College Athletic Association Defensive Player of the Year while playing for Ranger College. In addition to his defense, Clyburn showed an ability to knock down shots from long range, hitting 50% of his 3-point attempts last season. Clyburn played in all three exhibition games, averaging close to 17 points per game, while hitting 68% of his shots from the floor and connecting on 8 of his 15 3-point attempts.
While Morgan didn’t play at all during the exhibition games due to an injury, expect him to start and play significant minutes at power forward for the Rebels this season, so long as he can improve upon his fouling. Morgan has the size and athleticism to be an elite defender, however, over his first two seasons he has fouled at such a high rate, it’s been hard for him to stay on the court. With so little depth and size in the front court, Menzies will need Morgan to stay on the court for as long as possible.
Jones is a graduate transfer from St. Johns, and besides Jalen Poyser, will arguably be the Rebels most important player this season. While undersized at 6’7”, he’s going to man the center position and defend against other teams larger front court players. The good news for the Rebels is that defense is Jones’ calling card. The bad news is he’ll have to be careful with how aggressive he defends, because the two front court players backing him up are both true freshman. During the exhibition trip, Jones played in all three games and made his presence felt on both offense and defense, notching double doubles in all three games, averaging just over 15 points per game.
This is where things get really interesting for the Rebels. Outside of the starting five, there’s very little experience and projecting who will end up seeing significant minutes won’t likely be determined until we get closer to the regular season. But let’s give it a shot anyways.
Tyrell Green (F)
Green will be the most experienced player and the first forward coming off the bench this season, which is worrisome, since he only logged 39 minutes for the Rebels before an injury ended his 2015-2016 season. Coming into last season, Green had a reputation as a knock down 3-point shooter, hitting 48% of his attempts over two seasons at the junior college level. Getting something close to that level of production would be huge for a Rebels team that will lack in bench scoring. Green played in all three games in the Bahamas, averaging just under 12 points per game while hitting 50% of his shots from the floor and connecting on 4 of his 11 3-point attempts.
Cheickna Dembele (F)
Dembele, originally from Mali, is a freakishly athletic 6’11” freshman forward who chose UNLV over Michigan State, Syracuse and Missouri. While he has all the physical attributes to be a dominant player, he only has one year of high school basketball under his belt, playing last season at Scotland Performance Institute in Pennsylvania after coming over from Mali. How much he’ll contribute this season depends upon how quickly he picks up the schemes, especially on defense where the Rebels will look to utilize him as true rim protector. And unfortunately for Rebel fans looking to get a small glimpse of him on the court, he was not able to play on the recent exhibition tour due to an NCAA clearinghouse issue. It’s expected to be cleared up prior to the season starting.
Zion Morgan (G)
Morgan, a 6’3” freshman out of Chicago, will have the opportunity to earn minutes right away, just like the other reserve guards on the roster. As a freshman he won’t be asked to be the primary scorer on the floor, so if he can defend at a reasonably high level, he could see time backing up both Poyser and Ofoebgu. Morgan played in all three exhibition games, averaging 5 points per game over that span.
Ben Coupet Jr. (F)
A freshman from the Chicago area, Coupet probably has the best chance of earning the most playing time of all the freshman on the roster and could push Green for the spot of first reserve off the bench. The 6’7” forward out of Simeon High School is known for his team first mentality and defensive prowess. In high school he was often tasked with guarding the opposition’s top perimeter option and if he can consistently do that for the Rebels, he should be able to see minutes backing up Kris Clyburn on the wing. During the exhibition tour, Coupet averaged just under 2 points per game.
Djordjije Slijivancanin (F)
Slijivancanin a 6’10” freshman forward out of Serbia is just like Dembele in that he possesses the size and athleticism that coaches covet, but he’s still an unknown commodity as not much is known about him as a player at this point. Like Dembele, he may be forced into action even if he’s not ready due to the Rebels needing players in the front court. During the exhibition trip Slijivancanin played around 10 minutes per game averaging just over 2 points per game.
Jovan Mooring (G)
A 6’2” guard, Mooring played last season at South Suburban College, a junior college in Illinois. At the JuCo level, Mooring was a high volume scorer, tallying 26 points per game. That type of production is not likely with the jump in competition level, but hopefully he can come off the bench to provide solid scoring while playing reserve minutes. Mooring averaged 2 points per game during the 3 exhibition games.
Larry Bush (G)
Bush is a guard out of Moorpark Community College, where he averaged 17 points per game last season and is in the same boat as Javon Mooring. If he can produce close to the same rate at the Division I level as he did at the Junior College level, he’ll be able to earn minutes off the bench as a reserve guard. Bush played in all three of the exhibition games, averaging just under 7 points per game.
Jaylan Ballou (G)
A 6’0” guard out of Santa Fe Springs, California, Ballou is a possible red shirt candidate this year. While he was a very productive player in high school, averaging 17 points per game last season, and billed as a true point guard, he will need time adjusting to the Division I level. A year on the practice squad learning from Jordan Johnson would serve him well.
Jordan Johnson (G)
It’s a shame that Johnson has to redshirt this year, because he’s a player Menzies would love to have on the floor this season. The transfer from Milwaukee-Wisconsin, where he played under current assistant coach Rob Jeter, is the epitome of a pure point guard. He will come into next season as the uncontested starter at point guard. And that’s very good news for the 2017-2018 Runnin’ Rebels.
As for the 2016-2017 Runnin’ Rebels, they are now off until preseason practices begin as the end of September.