Mike Moser. Khem Birch. Anthony Bennett.
In last week's SportsNation chat, a UNLV fan asked me if that was the best frontcourt in the country. It didn't technically exist yet -- Bennett had yet to announce his intentions to attend UNLV, a move he announced Saturday -- but that didn't stop the Rebels fan from projecting his hopes on the team. And really, can you blame him?
Moser is a future NBA small forward whose length and versatility make him an intuitive defender and rebounder, one whose offensive game is only going to be more polished in his junior season. Birch was ranked No. 1 by ESPNU recruiting at the center position in the class of 2011, before he enrolled and later transferred away from a struggling Pittsburgh team. Bennett, meanwhile, was the top remaining unsigned player in the class of 2012 before Saturday, the No. 7-ranked player overall, whom scouts love for his combination of size (he's 6-foot-8, 230 pounds), athleticism and ability to step away from the rim and score on the perimeter. Bennett still needs to improve his low-post game, but by all accounts he's the kind of talent that can step into the college game and flourish immediately.
UNLV coach Dave Rice's system should make that transition even easier. Last season, his first in charge of the program, Rice sought to put to "Runnin'" back in "Runnin' Rebels," and by and large he succeeded. UNLV averaged 70.0 possessions per game (adjusted, via Ken Pomeroy), making them the 29th-fastest team in the country in 2011-12. Last season, Rice's uptempo style was complemented by a flurry of capable guards and outside shooters -- Anthony Marshall, Oscar Bellfield, Chace Stanback, Justin Hawkins. Bellfield and Stanback are gone, but Marshall and Hawkins return, and the idea of both players leading fast breaks with Moser, Bennett and Birch filling the wings and the paint -- well, yeah, the term "scary good" feels entirely appropriate.
There are some reservations to be had. Among them is Birch. The highly touted center spent exactly one preseason and 10 games at Pitt before deciding he wasn't the right fit. That would be all well and good -- bad fits happen all the time -- had Birch stuck it out longer or, say, not ripped his teammates on the radio after his departure for being selfish and "threatened" by him. Will Birch fit with Moser and Bennett, two other top talents sure to demand their fair share of offensive touches? This is where Rice's system helps again: Birch wants to play uptempo, too.
Either way, when that -- will our super-talented center get along with our super-talented forwards? -- is the biggest question concerning your upcoming season, you're in awfully good shape. Arizona and UCLA have their sights set on the always-nebulous "best team in the West" title. There may be better frontcourts in the country. (Kentucky's immediately comes to mind.) But UNLV is right there in both cases, stocked with pro-level talent at the three, four and five positions. Are there five teams in the country who can say as much?