For this player profile, I want to focus in on Rebel’s forward Cheikh Mbacke Diong. Diong has shown improved numbers in a bigger role for UNLV this season, including averaging over 2 blocks per game.
Diong, originally from Senegal, averaged just under 10 minutes per game as a freshman last year, sitting behind phenom Brandon McCoy. Diong committed to UNLV, despite having offers from Purdue and Louisville. With McCoy leaving for the NBA Draft, the 5-spot in the rotation was Diong’s to take and claim.
The first thing I want to take a look is Diong’s impact defensively. Last season, McCoy was outstanding down low for UNLV, grabbing ten boards and blocking nearly two shots a game. Menzies’ has turned to Diong to impose the same kind of presence inside for the Rebels. This spot in the lineup has been used as a way to try and complement Shakur Juiston down low and allow a bit of a safety net for the myriad of athletic wings that UNLV has. The Rebels like to switch their assignments defensively. A lot.
Here, in this clip (:01-:08) against Valparaiso, Diong does an excellent reading the initial screen and switching. His hesitation and initial defense is what baits the guard into making the play towards the basket. He is able to take two strides and recover and play force a block. In a later spot (:58-1:04), Diong once again reads the screen well and stays on the ball handler in order to bait the inside pass. Once he’s done that, Diong uses his athleticism and height to get back into position for a block.
He loves to bait players into the drive, allowing them to think they’ve blown by the primary defender, only to come in at the last minute for a block, like on this drive by LMU at 1:15. The only downside to this type of action is that quicker players can easily work through this action and get an uncontested layup if Diong isn’t able to recover quickly enough. Here in this clip from their game against Pacific, he pulls the same switch action at 2:18. The only difference is that the Pacific guard Jahbril Price-Noel flies off the pick, but doesn’t elect to give it off to his open big man on the weak side.
With the increased minutes, the little subtleties of Diong’s game begin to open up. He doesn’t get a ton of assists, but is a pretty solid passed for a big man. Here in this clip against University of California- Riverside, Diong hits a sweet bounce pass from a post-up at 0:20 and a skip pass from the corner at 1:53. On the skip pass, the technique could be cleaner, but the idea to hit the cross-court man for that look is a good pass to force the defense to skip rotations.
Offensively, Diong doesn’t have a ton of post moves yet. He still relies on his pure athleticism and height to create openings for himself down low. Diong still has a lot of growing to do even with the increased playing time, something coach Marvin Menzies frankly and openly admits.
So far, Diong’s peripheral numbers and stats look really promising, but the question will be how/if it translate against more quality, comparable opposition. Just this past weekend, Diong played 17 minutes and only recorded one rebound and three fouls against the University of Cincinnati in the Rebels 65-61 loss.
This year especially, the Mountain West is littered with talented big men that should provide a capable testing ground for Diong and the Rebels to see if the growth continues. If so, it could provide UNLV a formidable 1-2 punch down low with Diong and Shakur Juiston that could make headlines during conference play.