College Basketball Nation: Dave Rice

Afternoon Links: Above the law

December, 9, 2013

What we're reading amid what might be the first truly dead night of the season.

Tip sheet for the Tip-Off Marathon

November, 11, 2013
The ESPN College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon is here, and with all due respect to Oregon's far-flung win over Georgetown in South Korea on Friday (and UConn's nervy victory over Maryland in less-far-flung Brooklyn), the marathon always feels like the official start of the season.

Things are a little different this time around: The festivities begin at 7 p.m. ET Monday night and don't end until the 9:30 p.m. Champions Classic finale wraps late Tuesday. Check my math, but that's well over the allotted 24 hours of hoops. By the time we're done, it could be more like 30. Are you excited? You should be. Did you buy enough NoDoz to incapacitate a small farm animal? You should probably do that, too.

Before you run that errand, though, let's run through some of the things you need to know -- or should plan to watch for -- in this 2013-14 edition of the college hoops obsessive's nirvana. (Click here for the schedule. You might need that.)

Sneakiest good game: LSU at UMass, 11 a.m. ET, ESPN2. And not just because LSU coach Johnny Jones has one of the best freshmen in the country (power forward Jarrell Martin, the 11th-ranked player in the loaded 2013 class) making his debut. No, this UMass team -- which averaged a speedy 70.8 possessions per game last season -- is a lot of fun, and kicking off a crucial season for coach Derek Kellogg.

[+] EnlargeTyler Haws
Jason Szenes/Getty ImagesWatching BYU guard Tyler Haws in action is a good excuse to burn the midnight oil.
Worth staying up for: BYU at Stanford, 11 p.m. ET, ESPN2. With all due respect to the overnight games, I can't really recommend you ruin your entire week for any portion of the overnight slate unless (A) you're like me, and don't really sleep anyway, or (B) you're just insane. Recommending BYU-Stanford instead feels a bit like cheating, but oh well: Dave Rose has his most complete team of the post-Jimmer era, and wing Tyler Haws is well worth the price of admission, especially up against a good Stanford defense.

Under-the-whatever* player you should see: T.J. Warren, NC State. Last season, Warren was a hyper-efficient tweener freshman on an overstuffed NC State offense. This season he's the main attraction, and his first game Friday night -- 29 points on 13-of-20 shooting, with six rebounds, three steals and a block against Appalachian State -- provided a glimpse of what could be a monster offensive season. Warren and the Wolfpack go to Cincinnati at 5 p.m. ET on Tuesday night.

(*Note: It's only Nov. 11 and I'm already sick of "under the radar." I'm using this until further notice. Replacement suggestions welcome!)

Team that might be really good, but we just don't know: Baylor Bears (vs. South Carolina, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN). Super-talented? Check. Kept a would-be one-and-done (Isaiah Austin) on campus for his sophomore season? Check. Could be awesome? Sure! Could be thoroughly mediocre? Right.

Best 2013 NCAA tournament Cinderella: Florida Gulf Coast (vs. Hartford, 7 a.m. ET, ESPN2).

Second-best 2013 NCAA tournament Cinderella: La Salle (vs. Quinnipiac, 9 a.m. ET, ESPN2)

Best game: This one's a tie, which doesn't make it any less obvious: It's No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 2 Michigan State, and No. 4 Duke vs. No. 5 Kansas, Tuesday at United Center. You're up to speed on this, right? You don't need me to elaborate, do you? No? Good.

Best non-Champions Classic game: No. 14 Virginia Commonwealth at No. 24 Virginia. Now this is an interesting question. As I see it, there are two viable options, both of which air on the Ocho ESPN2 opposite the Champions Classic. The first is the above, at 7 p.m. ET, followed by No. 10 Florida at No. 20 Wisconsin at 9 p.m. ET. At first glance, you might be inclined to take Florida-Wisconsin; those are the bigger "brand" names and probably more talented squads from top to bottom. But with Florida hobbled by injuries and suspensions, it seems less likely we'll get as good a game from the Gators and Badgers as we will at 7 p.m.

VCU at Virginia is a fascinating fixture. Not only are both programs pegged for big seasons, and not only could we witness the start of a nascent in-state rivalry, but the styles on display couldn't be more dichotomous. Virginia loves to slow the pace, take care of the ball, settle into Tony Bennett's pack-line defense, and generally play as cautiously and intelligently as possible. VCU loves to unleash havoc, press opponents, pounce on turnovers, get easy transition buckets and generally play as furiously and frustratingly as possible. Something will have to give.

Best thing about all of this: You can turn on your TV at any time between 7 p.m. Monday and midnight or so Tuesday and find basketball on the Worldwide Leader and its family of networks! Rejoice, rejoice. College basketball is finally here.

UNLV not amused about billboard flub

September, 5, 2013

On Wednesday, the Nashville Predators sent an email to the team's prospective season-ticket holders. The content of the email, titled "Skate of the Union," was the usual boilerplate -- information for Predators fans about discounted parking, ticket pickups, contact information, that sort of stuff. And then came the signoff: "Go Perds!"

As "Parks and Recreation" has proved time and time again, "Perd" is an objectively funny word, and so the subtle typo quickly made its way to the Internet, and by Wednesday evening, the Predators' staff was sending apology emails packed with self-effacing intentional misspellings, laughing off the typo in impressive fashion.

The point of that story about an NHL team's marketing department is that, well, mistakes happen. Maybe that can serve as some consolation to the folks at UNLV, which made its own advertising foul-up this week. As the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported Wednesday, Rebels athletics recently rolled out a new billboard on Interstate 215 informing UNLV fans that football and basketball tickets were now on sale, and that the coaches of both programs wanted them to "Come to our house!" Pretty standard, right? The only problem: The basketball coach pictured on the billboard wasn't third-year UNLV coach Dave Rice. It was his predecessor, Lon Kruger, who left the desert for Oklahoma in 2011.


Rice handled the matter about as well as humanly possible.

“I thought it was humorous,” he said. “It’s one of those things that happens. But I’m the last person who would take himself too seriously. Hey, if Coach Kruger can help us sell tickets, great.”

But UNLV's interim athletic director, Tina Kunzer-Murphy, was not pleased.

“To us, it’s not a laughing matter,” she said. “We think what happened was the billboard company was doing us a favor by posting the ad but our marketing people never saw it. But it’s being taken down and we hope to have a replacement with Dave and Bobby up.”

Awww, UNLV. It's OK. Granted, putting a coach who's no longer at your school on a forward-facing ad buy for your upcoming season tickets is not exactly the equivalent of a goofy typo. Clearly, someone needs to put photos of Kruger and Rice on his or her cubicle wall. A talking-to about diligence might be in order. But hey, it happens. Everyone makes mistakes. And look, we're writing about it! That counts for something, right?

In closing: Go Perds!

Jerry Tarkanian: His coaching tree

September, 3, 2013
Editor's Note: Three legendary college basketball coaches -- Jerry Tarkanian, Rick Pitino and Guy Lewis -- take center stage this weekend as the trio is inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. We'll be devoting a day to each as we examine what made them HOF-worthy.

Jerry Tarkanian’s coaching tenure was filled with both bliss and controversy. But the drama doesn’t outweigh the facts about his decorated coaching career, including a prestigious reign at UNLV. He led the Runnin’ Rebels to four Final Fours and the 1990 national title. He also took three different schools to the NCAA tournament.

For all of that success, however, Tarkanian doesn’t boast the same coaching tree that some of his Hall of Fame peers produced.

Here is the best of Tarkanian’s coaching tree:

[+] EnlargeDave Rice
Bob Stanton/USA TODAY SportsDave Rice played for Jerry Tarkanian, coached under him and now is the head man at UNLV.
Dave Rice: The current leader of UNLV’s program played for Tarkanian and coached under him, too. Rice was a member of UNLV’s 1990 national championship squad. He also played on the UNLV squad that nearly repeated a year later. Once Rice's career ended, Tark convinced him to join his staff as a graduate assistant for the 1991-92 season. It was the legendary coach’s final year on the sideline. Rice also recorded another 10-year stint as an assistant at UNLV (1994-2004) before he ultimately returned as head coach in 2011. He has taken his alma mater to consecutive NCAA tournaments, and he has recruited blue chip prospects such as No. 1 NBA draft pick Anthony Bennett. But his third season might be more challenging than his first two. Bennett, veteran Mike Moser (transferred to Oregon) and Savon Goodman (suspended for the season) will be unavailable. A pair of top-100 recruits (Christian Wood and Kendall Smith) should help, though.

Reggie Theus: He was an All-American for Tarkanian’s UNLV squads in the 1970s prior to a productive NBA career that included two NBA All-Star Game appearances and more than 19,000 points. Theus turned New Mexico State into a player in the WAC after he accepted the school’s head coaching gig in 2005. In his first season, the Aggies won 16 games, a 10-win improvement over the previous year. After leading NMSU to the NCAA tourney in Year 2, he became the head coach of the Sacramento Kings but was eventually fired in 2009. After that run, Theus bounced around the league as an assistant and even led the Los Angeles Defenders NBDL squad for a year. But he’ll be back in the collegiate ranks this year as the new head coach for Cal State Northridge.

Tim Grgurich: Many know Grgurich as a longtime assistant for various NBA teams (Dallas, Milwaukee, Phoenix, Portland, Seattle). But he was crucial in UNLV’s run to the national title in 1990. For more than a decade, Grgurich helped mold former Runnin’ Rebels as an assistant under Tarkanian. Stacey Augmon, Larry Johnson, Greg Anthony and other former standouts were tutored by Grgurich, who was the head coach at Pitt prior to joining Tarkanian’s staff. With UNLV, Tarkanian implemented the same “amoeba” defense Grgurich utilized at Pitt.

John Welch: He played one season under Tarkanian at UNLV and eventually joined his staff at both UNLV and Fresno State. He was Tarkanian’s graduate assistant, and he was also an assistant for seven seasons during his stint with the Bulldogs. That stretch included two NCAA tournament appearances and six consecutive 20-win seasons. He moved on to the NBA and became an assistant with the Memphis Grizzlies and the Denver Nuggets. He was a key a member of George Karl’s staff for nearly a decade. This summer, Welch joined Jason Kidd’s staff with the Brooklyn Nets.
1. UNLV lost another player over the weekend. The latest to depart is Katin Reinhardt, who apparently had issues with the way he was being used by coach Dave Rice and wants to play the point more than shooting guard, Rice told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Reinhardt will have to see if Andy Enfield plays him at the point if ends up at USC, as the Review-Journal reported is a likely destination. Reinhardt shouldn't play immediately (I feel like I have to say that now with everyone getting waivers) and can use the redshirt year to become a point if that's his chosen position. The Runnin' Rebels already lost Anthony Bennett to the NBA draft after one season, and then Mike Moser graduated and transferred to Oregon to play immediately. (UNLV was also set to lose seniors Justin Hawkins and Anthony Marshall.) The Rebels will be scrapping with San Diego State to catch New Mexico and maybe Boise State in the Mountain West. But Rice shouldn't be worried. He needs players who want to be in Las Vegas, and the Rebels have replacements. Bryce Dejean-Jones can play shooting guard. UConn transfer Roscoe Smith had a year to better understand the game and how to play power forward. Depth is available with Carlos Lopez-Sosa and Kendall Smith, who can play either the point or the two for the Rebels. Khem Birch is eligible for a full year and can try to be more assertive offensively and dominant defensively. This team will be in flux, but the pieces are still in play to be an NCAA team.

2. Players don't necessarily have the allegiances that fans do. That's why Antonio Barton has no issues going from Memphis to rival Tennessee. The Vols desperately needed another guard after losing Trae Golden. And of course the Vols are now a beneficiary of the new free agency in college basketball. "It's safe to say kids are more concerned with the best opportunity,'' Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said about players holding rivalry grudges. As for picking up players on the fly, Martin said, "Free agency, it's a tough call. We're on the good side of free agency. I think a lot of mid-major programs are affected by the market.'' Martin used to be the coach at Missouri State and knows all too well about life at a lower level.

3. Former Michigan guard Tim Hardaway Jr. said on our college basketball podcast Friday that Caris LeVert is ready for a breakthrough season in 2013-14. Hardaway heaped high praise on LeVert. Meanwhile, Kansas coach Bill Self hit on a number of topics, including Ben McLemore, a recruiting class that he said had tremendous promise even before Andrew Wiggins signed, and coaching Wiggins next season. You can listen to the podcast here.

Mike Moser is UNLV's X factor

March, 13, 2013
LAS VEGAS -- UNLV coach Dave Rice looked at the stat sheet Wednesday and immediately thought of Dec. 9.

Three months ago, in a victory at Cal, Runnin’ Rebels forward Mike Moser had suffered one of the more gruesome injuries Rice had ever witnessed, a dislocated elbow that left Moser unable to extend his arm for nearly a month.

All of a sudden, a preseason All-American who had opened his junior season on magazine covers was on the end of UNLV’s bench in street clothes, wondering if his career would ever be the same.

“Dec. 9 was a difficult day for all of us,” Rice said. “I wasn’t sure if Mike would play for us again.”

That’s why Rice couldn’t help but smile as he glanced at the box score from Wednesday’s 72-56 victory over Air Force in the opening round of the Mountain West Conference tournament. Now back in the starting lineup, Moser snared 10 rebounds and scored nine points in a victory that propelled the Rebels into Friday’s semifinal against Colorado State.

“I feel like I’m getting back into a flow, back into a rhythm,” said Moser, who missed seven games because of his injury and has been less than 100 percent the past two months.

“My injury set us back. It kept us from peaking. This tournament is a chance for us to figure out exactly who we are.”

[+] EnlargeMike Moser
Steve Conner/Icon SMIMike Moser, still not fully back from an elbow injury, had nine points and 10 rebounds vs. Air Force.
Indeed, Moser is the X factor for the Runnin’ Rebels, the difference between first-weekend loss in the NCAA tournament and a trip to the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight.

That was evident Wednesday.

Anthony Bennett finished with a game-high 23 points and Bryce Dejean-Jones added 12, but it was the tone Moser set with his energy and leadership that energized UNLV the most.

“To look at his elbow on Dec. 9 and then see him playing like that out there today,” Rice said. “It’s unbelievable.”

Rice said Moser still isn’t 100 percent. He said he can’t extend his reach on rebounds as he did in the past, and often has trouble finishing plays above the rim. But that's certainly a far cry from where he was back in January, when Moser begged his way back onto the court before he was ready.

“I was playing one-handed, in a sense,” Moser told Wednesday. “I couldn’t even catch the ball. I didn’t want to stick my hand into tussles or go get rebounds, like I used to. It was really tough. But I just really, really wanted to play.”

Moser said the “mental hurdle” was the toughest obstacle he faced in his recovery. He’d lost the confidence and aggression that had made him such a force as a sophomore, when he averaged 14 points and 10.5 rebounds.

“I was remembering all the things I did before I got hurt, and my injury wasn’t allowing me to those things anymore,” he said. “I was wearing this big sleeve over my elbow, and it was as a reminder that I was injured. Once I took that off, things started to change.”

In his first 13 games back, Moser scored in double figures only once and had just one game in which he snared double-digit rebounds. In his past five games, though, Moser is averaging 11.6 points and 8.2 boards.

Rice recently inserted Moser back into the starting lineup alongside Bennett, a national freshman-of-the-year candidate who averages 15.9 points. Mix in forward Khem Birch -- the MWC Defensive Player of the Year -- off the bench, and UNLV’s frontcourt becomes one of the best in the country.

Rice said Moser’s leadership and ability to push the ball in transition makes UNLV a more cohesive unit. Moser is just thankful to be able to make an impact again.

“It’s been a test, it’s been trying,” Moser said of his junior campaign. “There were times we lost a couple of games I thought we could’ve won if I would’ve been able to contribute more.

“But overall, this season has still been a blast. It’s never not been fun. That’s because of my teammates. I can’t wait to keep it rolling.”

As excited as they are about the present, UNLV fans have been buzzing lately about Moser’s future with the program.

The speculation is that Moser will leave UNLV one year early and enter the NBA draft. Moser has been in college four years now. He played sparingly as a freshman at UCLA and then sat out a season after transferring to UNLV. He isn’t getting any younger. It might be time for a new challenge.

“I’ve definitely got a decision to make,” Moser said. “It’s something I think about, just because of how the season went. I was a preseason All-American and I got hurt. It makes you re-evaluate things.

“Who knows, though? The season isn’t over. We’ve got a chance to do some really special things before the end of the season. We’re just now getting back to who we are.”

Kind of like Mike Moser.

UNLV snaps curse of Viejas Arena

January, 17, 2013
SAN DIEGO -- Welcome back to the Mountain West, San Diego State.

Wednesday night at Viejas Arena, the UNLV Rebels gave the once-outgoing Aztecs a reminder of what they would have been missing had they actually followed through with the football team’s exodus to the Big East and the rest of the school's sports going to the Big West. But earlier in the day it was announced that the Mountain West reinstated SDSU -- ensuring that fantastic rivalries such as SDSU and UNLV basketball would thrive in the future.

And Wednesday night’s showdown lived up to the recent history of up-tempo, aggressive and physical basketball between the two teams. Paced by a 20-point night from point guard Anthony Marshall, the Rebels snapped a four-game losing skid at Viejas Arena, topping the No. 15 Aztecs 82-75.

Seeing as the previous three meetings between the schools had been decided by two points, this one had to feel like a thrashing, right?

“Nah,” Marshall said with a smile. “It’s still too close for comfort, especially against that team. You never know what’s going to happen in a game like this.”

The teams traded the lead nine times before the Rebels were finally able to pull away in the closing minutes -- an ability that had eluded them previously. In the past few weeks they had dropped close games on the road to North Carolina (79-73) and New Mexico (65-60). So gutting out a victory as visitors against a ranked team was a step in the right direction for the Rebels (15-3, 2-1 MWC).

[+] EnlargeAnthony Marshall
Kent C. Horner/Getty ImagesAnthony Marshall scored 20 points and added 8 rebounds and 5 assists in UNLV's victory.
“It takes a tough team to beat a tough team,” Marshall said. “When we went up 10 [in the first half], we knew they were going to make a run. We just wanted to sustain. We got rebounds and made free throws.”

This season has been one of adjustment for Marshall, a senior. After making his living as a shooting guard, he moved over to the point and is still learning the ropes of running the team. In the previous game, an overtime win against Air Force, he took just one shot but had 12 assists. Wednesday night, he was 8-of-13 shooting from the field, he snagged eight rebounds and his dribble-drive off the high ball screen kept the Aztecs' defense off balance all night.

“I’m making strides and adjusting every game because not every game is going to be the same,” he said. “This time I was trying to be more aggressive. I have to get guys involved, run the offense. When we do that we I feel we’re competitive with anyone.”

Wins don’t come easy at Viejas, either. The loss snaps a 10-game home winning streak for the Aztecs (14-3, 2-1), who are 58-5 at home over their past 63.

“At the end of the day, it was about being tough enough to make plays,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “This was a great toughness win for us. … I’m just so happy for our seniors because we don’t have a player on our roster that had ever won at Viejas Arena. After the game we dedicated it to our seniors, because certainly San Diego State has a couple of wins at Thomas & Mack.”

SDSU’s Jamaal Franklin turned in another solid performance, leading all players with 27 points on 9-of-21 shooting. He also had seven rebounds.

San Diego State coach Steve Fisher has helped build the Aztecs -- and really the conference -- into a major player on the national stage. The fact that they’ll be back next season -- more than likely going toe-to-toe with UNLV -- is reassuring.

“It’s nice to know for all of us that now it appears that we’ve got some stability of where we will be next year,” Fisher said. “I’m the only guy that’s been here since the beginning of the Mountain West. Coaches have come and gone. I’m the lone dog that has been here for 14 years as a coach. I value the quality of the league. It’s getting great recognition. Now we know this is where we’re going to be and we’ll make it work. This is a great league and we’re proud to be a part of it. We know we are going to continue to be part of it. This is a really good basketball league now. This league could go to any league in America and be competitive.”

3-point shot: How the other half travels

December, 27, 2012
1. Chartering to road games has become less of a luxury and more of a necessity for programs that want to compete at the highest level. Gonzaga has consistently chartered to road games the past few seasons. Part of the reason the Zags play such a national schedule is due to the charter flights. To give you an idea on how the other half travels, South Dakota State had to bus from Belmont in Nashville, Tenn., to Albuquerque last week. The Jackrabbits beat New Mexico. Wednesday, it was the Lobos' turn to see how the common traveler deals with winter weather. UNM coach Steve Alford said the Lobos had to go Albuquerque-Denver-Chicago-Louisville and then bus to Cincinnati for Thursday night's game against Bearcats. Alford said the only charters he has been on at New Mexico were when the Lobos played in the NCAA tournament. This is not an excuse but the majority of the elite programs in the country charter. Yet, a plethora of programs that want to be considered elite have to go commercial and deal with the headaches and frustration of winter travel.

2. UNLV enters Saturday's game at North Carolina as the ranked team and the squad expected to win since it is more relevant nationally this season. But that isn't convincing UNLV coach Dave Rice that the Runnin' Rebels are the overwhelming favorite. "We have tremendous respect for UNC,'' said Rice. "What is relevant to us is that they are 6-0 at home, have a Hall of Fame coach, terrific players and a storied tradition. We will be ready to play. Our guys understand what a huge challenge this is for us.'' But at this point it would be an "upset" if the Tar Heels were to win. This is the same Tar Heels team that lost to Texas and got blown out by Indiana. UNLV should win this game, especially since the Tar Heels don't have a matchup for Anthony Bennett. But this is also a credibility marker for the Rebels. Win this game on the East Cast and suddenly the Rebels will likely alter the perception for this team this season.

3. Southern Miss is at Morehead State on Friday in what has become a new way for athletic directors to get back at the coach who is leaving. Southern Miss has to play Morehead in a two-for-one deal with two of the games being at Morehead for Donnie Tyndall leaving for the Morehead job last spring. Tyndall said this will be an emotional game for him. He called his six years at Morehead the best in his life. "I'm very proud of what we accomplished there," said Tyndall. "I have great friends there that supported me along the way. On the flip side, we have a job to do but I feel our team will be prepared and ready to go against a very talented basketball team."

Conference Power Rankings: MWC

November, 30, 2012
I was convinced the Mountain West could have the highest percentage of teams in the NCAA tournament. I'm not backing down from that statement. The depth is unprecedented and it might only get better. So let's dive into the inaugural power rankings for the MWC.

1. New Mexico. The Lobos are off to a 7-0 start with quality wins against Connecticut and George Mason in the Virgin Islands and Davidson at home. Coach Steve Alford was bullish on his backcourt, and with good reason. Tony Snell and Kendall Williams can hang with any pair of guards in the country.

2. San Diego State. The Aztecs fell to Syracuse to start the season but their defense has been solid ever since. San Diego State can make another statement this weekend by knocking off UCLA in the Wooden Classic in Anaheim.

3. Boise State. Yes, I'm going with the Broncos over UNLV and Colorado State after the most impressive true road win so far for the conference. Boise State won handily at Creighton behind an outstanding effort from Derrick Marks. BSU also was within two possessions of taking out Michigan State in East Lansing. Leon Rice has the Broncos as a major factor in the last season in the MWC.

4. UNLV. The Runnin' Rebels were stunned at home by Oregon last week, but rebounded to knock off Iowa State. UNLV needs to work on its shot selection and overall offensive patience. This team is still figuring out how to play with a host of newcomers blending with veterans. Coach Dave Rice gets another one in a few weeks when Khem Birch is eligible.

5. Colorado State. Tim Miles left his best team for Larry Eustachy. He made the NCAA tournament last season and the Rams have every reason to believe they'll make it again. CSU won easily at struggling Washington. Minnesota transfer Colton Iverson has lived up to his hype and has been well worth the wait.

6. Wyoming. The Cowboys are 7-0 with a schedule that’s been about as soft as a light snow in Laramie. But Wyoming is defending and showing signs that it will be a major pest in the MWC this season.

7. Air Force. The Falcons have a veteran crew that's only loss was in a fairly competitive game at Colorado. Air Force has a chance to build credibility within the league against Wichita State this weekend in the MWC-MVC Challenge. A number of coaches in the preseason said the Falcons' experience made them an intriguing watch this season.

8. Nevada. The Wolf Pack were supposed to be a threat to get to the NCAA tournament. But Nevada has been slow out of the gate, losing at UC Irvine and Marshall and beating Cal State Fullerton, Green Bay and UC Davis by a combined six points. Deonte Burton is scoring as expected but the overall defense has been highly suspect.

9. Fresno State. The Bulldogs are still in rebuilding mode under Rodney Terry. Their offense has been erratic. The problem for Fresno State is that there's no place to hide. There are only nine teams, meaning this improved group might have a hard time climbing.

3-point shot: More time for BC rebuild

October, 10, 2012
1. UNLV coach Dave Rice is optimistic that USC transfer Bryce Dejean-Jones will be able to play when the Runnin’ Rebels open the season against Northern Arizona on Nov. 12. Jones is out with a broken left hand. “He’s one of the toughest guys around,’’ said Rice. If Jones can’t go, the Rebels do have depth at the guard position with Katin Reinhardt, Justin Hawkins and Savon Goodman adding to a deep perimeter. UNLV is the favorite in the Mountain West, but will be in for quite a tussle from San Diego State, Colorado State, New Mexico and Nevada.

2. The hiring of Brad Bates as athletic director at Boston College should give Steve Donahue some more time to continue rebuilding the Eagles. Bates has to deal with the football situation and the future of coach Frank Spaziani. Donahue, entering his third season at the Heights, should have an improved squad, with more experience and players who fit his system. The problem is that the ACC is a bit deeper this season than it was a year ago and next season adds Pitt and Syracuse (and possibly Notre Dame if the Irish can get out of the Big East early). Bates, who arrives from Miami (Ohio), is well-respected in the industry and will likely be thorough in his evaluations over the next year-plus.

3. The Horizon League will lose national recognition with the departure of Butler to the Atlantic 10. But if this is a one-bid league in March, then the top schools vying for the bid can’t complain. Valparaiso and Detroit would have had a legitimate shot to knock off Butler in the regular-season chase and in the conference tournament. Now, neither has to sweat it one bit. Valpo was picked to win the league, with Detroit on its tail. The Titans have the player of the year in Ray McCallum Jr. And the good news for the Horizon League is that the entire all-league first team returns from last season (which says a bit about Butler’s problems in 2011-12). McCallum is joined by Valpo’s Ryan Broekhoff and Kevin Van Wijk, Youngstown State’s Kendrick Perry and Green Bay’s Alec Brown.

Five Questions: UNLV's Dave Rice

October, 5, 2012
In his first season as head coach, UNLV’s Dave Rice led the Runnin’ Rebels to the NCAA tournament in March. But they fell short of postseason expectations when they lost to Colorado in the second round.

The program, however, has added a nationally ranked recruiting class to help potential All-American forward Mike Moser (14.0 ppg, 10.5 rpg). Freshman Anthony Bennett and Pitt transfer Khem Birch give UNLV one of the toughest frontcourts in the country. But it's missing former point guard Oscar Bellfield.

Still, the bar is quite high for Rice’s second season. He recently talked with about the 2012-13 campaign and his personal goals for the program.

You’ve added a lot of depth this offseason? How will you balance your rotation this season?

Dave Rice: The first answer is all of that will be earned through competition and practice. I think the second answer is that we talked throughout the recruiting process about the potential of redshirting. When you take a look at 13 scholarship guys, Khem Birch can’t play until December the 17th with the fact that he transferred midyear. Roscoe Smith transferred from UConn but we submitted a waiver on his behalf and that waiver was denied. So we’re down to 11 to start the season. And we’re going to redshirt one or two more guys as well. Haven’t made the decision as to who those guys will be. But there are some freshmen that we’ve talked to about the potential of doing that and they’re open to that possibility. Overall, we’re excited about our depth. The competition in practice will be terrific.

[+] EnlargeMike Moser
Damen Jackson/Icon SMIUNLV coach Dave Rice will surely be counting on star forward Mike Moser to put up big numbers again this upcoming season.
How does Mike Moser enhance this team on and off the floor?

DR: Mike’s got so many positive qualities that helps this team win. The first is that he’s a very talented player. He’s got a fantastic skill in terms of his ability to rebound the basketball. But then you throw in his leadership quality, the fact that’s he’s well respected and liked by his teammates. And then, he possesses a tremendous work ethic. He’s a guy who deserves all the good things that have happened for him and all the good things that will continue to happen for him as well. … He’s worked as hard as anybody I’ve ever seen in the offseason. He knew that there were a few things that he needed to work on. He’s addressed some of those things.

There are questions at point guard with Bellfield gone. What’s the correlation between this team’s ability to fill that void and reach its potential?

DR: We all, particularly in college basketball, rely so heavily on guard play. We’re excited about the group we have. Anthony Marshall is a three-year starter. He was an all-conference player. He will be one of our captains. We’re excited about having him. And certainly, Justin Hawkins brings great experience. And then we added three new guys that we think will all contribute in a big way in terms of perimeter minutes (Katin Reinhardt, Daquan Cook and Bryce Dejean-Jones). They’re guys that work hard, and certainly, they’ll take their lead from our two seniors in the backcourt, Anthony Marshall and Justin Hawkins who will provide great leadership.

Has the Mountain West proven itself on a national level based on its success in recent years?

DR: I certainly think we feel that way. Three years ago, there were four teams in the NCAAs. Two years ago, there’s three. And last year, eight teams in the league and four teams make the NCAA tournament. So, those of us who’ve been in the league, we know how good the league is. And I think that we can start to get that national recognition. We all recognize that we need to have more postseason success. That’s the next step. We obviously need to all qualify for the postseason, that’s the first step. But the next step after that to truly make our mark as a league nationally is to have success in the postseason. We certainly feel like we have the teams in place that can do that. It will be a very competitive league.

Your program will continue to play that up-and-down style. But there were some defensive lapses last year. How do you plan to address that this year?

DR: There’s no doubt that the biggest improvement we want to make this year on our basketball team is at the defensive end. Again, we inherited a group that was very defensive-oriented. Had done a terrific job under Coach [Lon] Kruger on the defensive end. It was very important, I thought, in our first year in terms of grounding our program to be the Runnin’ Rebels. It was important for guys to understand pace of play. There were times last year that we didn’t defend or defensive rebound as well as we needed to. So that will be the emphasis going into practice next week. It will be on the defensive end and defensive rebounding because we truly believe with the depth we have, with the players we have, we need to create more offense out of our defense. So, we are never going to sacrifice defensive possessions to run up and down the floor. If we’re going to be as good as we feel like we have the potential to be -- and potential is a dangerous word -- we’ve got to defend more consistently and rebound the ball better than we did last year. We can’t just assume Mike Moser’s going to get them all.

Three Big Things: UNLV

October, 5, 2012
In the buildup to Midnight Madness, ESPN Insider and our college hoops team are collaborating on a preview of one high-profile college hoops team per day -- based on Joe Lunardi’s top 20 teams in his offseason Bracketology. We're calling it "Countdown To Madness." I'll be tracing three key things you should know about each team we preview. We're calling that Three Big Things. (Hey, that's snappy!) Today: UNLV.

1. Are the Runnin' Rebels officially back? Yes, I'd say so -- and I mean that literally.

After all, for all the solid success of the Lon Kruger era, his teams were more about defense, and keeping turnovers low, and substance over style. His squads didn't get up and down; they worked best in the half court. Which is all well and good. No judgments here, man. But UNLV fans, those raised on the high-flying Jerry Tarkanian glory days (when amazing posters like this were not only en vogue but truthful) grew up with higher expectations. They want a little style, too.

That's what first-year coach Dave Rice -- a product of the Tarkanian era -- brought in 2011-12. Or tried to, anyway. Last season's UNLV team was good, not great, with an offense that ranked No. 71 in the country in adjusted efficiency, per The defense was better (No. 33), and the Rebels had a pretty solid season. They finished the regular season 26-9, went 9-5 in conference play, and bowed out of the NCAA tournament after a Round of 64 loss to a hot Colorado team.

What was most interesting about last year's Rebels is how much Rice sped them up. This was a promise he made at his introduction last spring, and he kept it. In 2011, UNLV's adjusted tempo was 67.8 possessions per game. In 2012, Vegas averaged 70 possessions exactly. That was the difference between being ranked No. 110 in the country (which was actually somewhat high for the Kruger era) and No. 29.

And when the Rebels ran, they ran well. According to Synergy Sports scouting data, 20.3 percent of the team's possessions came in transition. (The only plays more frequent were those that ended in spot-up shots.) When the Rebels did run, they scored 1.147 points per possession. It was the only category in which they ranked as "excellent." So, yes, even if it wasn't always pretty, Rice laid the foundation for a new, uptempo era in Sin City. As far as the Runnin' goes, I'd say the Rebels are back.

[+] EnlargeMike Moser
Zuma Press/Icon SMIHow Mike Moser adjusts to being a pure small forward will be a big thing indeed for UNLV.
2. The question is where they go from here, particularly in 2012-13, particularly because the strength of this team isn't going to be an array of lightning-quick guards stretching the floor from basket to basket. Instead, the strength of this team is going to be its frontcourt, which might just be the most talented in the country.

It will start with returning Mike Moser, a 6-foot-8 junior whose length, quickness and versatile array of skills basically make him the prototypical NBA small forward. It continues with Pittsburgh transfer Khem Birch, the No. 1-ranked center in the class of 2011 who never figured it out at Pitt, and never showed us what he was truly capable of, who will be available after Christmas. And then there's Anthony Bennett, the No. 1-ranked power forward in this year's class (and No. 7-ranked player overall), a supremely athletic and skilled 6-foot-8 big man with the ability to score inside and out. By all accounts, Bennett is an immediate impact player at the collegiate level. That would be a fearsome prospect even if he were not being sandwiched between two other supremely talented players. With Moser and Birch in the same frontcourt, the Rebels could outright dominate folks on the inside.

Bennett seems like a sure thing, but there are a couple of questions worth asking here. The first (which was raised rather incisively by the Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy all the way back in May) is whether Moser can adjust to being a pure small forward, and the matchup issues -- positive and negative -- that creates. The other is whether Birch can actually play. Or whether he wants to play. It's hard to trust a guy who so quickly and unceremoniously left a school he spent the better part of four years selecting. He has much to prove moving forward.

3. The same goes for UNLV's backcourt. Oscar Bellfield and Chace Stanback, 2011's key senior guards, are gone. In their place are Anthony Marshall and Justin Hawkins, now seniors in their own right -- along with USC transfer Bryce Dejean-Jones, who will have plenty of impact at the 2. Marshall may assume the primary ballhandling responsibilities, but he will have to push the pace without committing quite so many turnovers (he posted a 22.9 percent turnover rate) when he does.

Another talented recruit, No. 8-ranked shooting guard Katin Reinhardt, is a very intriguing player here. Reinhardt is known first and foremost for (A) a lights-out outside shot and (B) a flashy handle and a desire to express creativity on the court. I like the sound of all of that, even if leads to the occasional turnover, because it sounds like the kid is going to be very fun to watch.

He might also be key to whether the Rebels can stick to Rice's run-and-gun blueprint. Good shooting in transition and the secondary break will allow Vegas to spread the floor and keep things moving. But it'll be interesting to see if it makes more sense to Rice to slow his guys down a bit -- to use the superior size and athleticism to dominate opponents on the low block, rather than attempt to beat them up and down the floor.

In any case, this team is going to be loaded with talent up front. Few teams in the country -- never mind the Mountain West -- are going to be able to match up man for man. What Rice does with that talent, how he uses it to the Rebels' stylistic and substantive advantage, are going to be fascinating to see. Whatever the outcome, I bet the Rebels will be fun. Just a hunch.

Star UNLV freshman OK to play

July, 27, 2012
Few things excite a fan base like the addition of an elite, top-10 recruit; freshmen of that caliber cause widespread epidemics of optimism. They are rebirth personified. But few things can be more deflating for a fan base than learning that such a player, despite all his talent on the court, isn't eligible off it. The NCAA clearinghouse says the player doesn't have the grades or the courses or the academic standards required to compete, and the player goes on the shelf for up to a year, a "partial qualifier" who can practice and get started on studies but can't actually, you know, play basketball. How anti-climactic is that?

Fortunately for UNLV fans, they won't have to live out that bummer of a scenario in 2012-13. On Thursday, UNLV coach Dave Rice told the Las Vegas Sun that freshman Anthony Bennett -- the program's best recruit since Jerry Tarkanian was in charge -- received the NCAA Eligibility Center go-ahead and will indeed be eligible to compete this fall:
"We're excited for Anthony, but we're also very excited for our team," Rice said. "A lot of credit goes to (compliance director) Eric Toliver and (student-athlete academic services director) David Jackson for their hard work in the waiver process."

Bennett had been waiting to hear word on his status for much of the summer. The rest of UNLV's incoming freshmen began classwork in the school's third summer session on July 9, according to the Sun. This isn't all rosy news: Bennett wasn't able to enroll by the July 10 cutoff, and the timing of the NCAA's decision could prevent Bennett from joining his teammates on UNLV's foreign trip to Canada in August. NCAA rules require incoming freshmen to be enrolled in classes in order to participate in foreign trips. And the trip in question just so happens to be a sojourn to Bennett's native Canada. (He attended Findlay Prep but hails from Ontario originally.)

UNLV's academics staff is hoping to get Bennett caught up in time to allow him to have the foreign tour experience, not to mention begin playing alongside teammates in live competition. But that's the most ideal scenario. Really, the upshot here is that UNLV and its fans can go into this fall without having to worry about their most highly touted recruit in a generation not being eligible to by the start of the season. Minor complications aside, that counts as very good news.
1. UNLV has not filed an appeal to get a waiver for the immediate eligibility of UConn sophomore transfer forward Roscoe Smith. UNLV coach Dave Rice said the school needed additional information, but they plan to send as the appeal this week. Smith, who is in summer school at UNLV, wanted out of UConn to play small forward and attempt to play in the 2013 postseason after the Huskies were banned for poor APR scores. But the NCAA rule is clear on this issue: If a postseason ban equals the length of the remaining eligibility then the transfer can get a waiver and play immediately without sitting out a year (see Alex Oriakhi at Missouri). UConn will be watching this case closely. UConn athletic director Warde Manuel said in the spring that this wouldn't be interpreting the rule differently but rather changing it. He is right. This would be a precedent-setting decision.

2. St. John's head coach Steve Lavin said he expects all eight newcomers will be eligible in the fall. The Red Storm will have five returning players for a full load of 13. Lavin, who is cancer free and ready to resume coaching after taking most of last season off from the sideline, said he has signed 18 players in 28 months on the job. The Red Storm lost two players to transfers and one to the NBA draft and two players didn't qualify during Lavin's two years. In response to the 18 he has signed, Lavin said, "I believe I signed 20 or so kids in seven years as head coach at UCLA. It was seven years worth of recruiting in 28 months (at St. John's). It is so rewarding to walk into the weight room or gym and see 13 of our kids. It's hard to articulate." Lavin is convinced with 11 underclassmen he will have one of the youngest teams in the country and in St. John's history.

3. Keep an eye on an intriguing free agent. reported that Boston University forward Jake O'Brien is leaving the Terriers after the America East decided against allowing BU to play for the NCAA automatic berth in the conference tournament. The Terriers are departing for the Patriot League in 2013. Sources told Sunday that O'Brien is looking at Providence, Boston College, Clemson, Purdue, Temple and a few others. O'Brien can play immediately by getting a waiver since he graduated. He would just have to be a grad student. O'Brien broke his foot and missed the last year-plus. The 6-foot-8 forward was the America East rookie of the year and a 13-point scorer as a sophomore before injuries befell him as a junior. O'Brien has the chance to be a scoring pop off the bench for any of these teams mentioned.
When Dave Rice was installed as UNLV's newest head coach last spring, he spoke frequently about putting the running back in Runnin' Rebels.

In its glory days under Jerry Tarkanian, UNLV was a high-tempo, run-and-gun team. Former coach Lon Kruger was successful at the school, but (as his Kruger's wont) achieved as much by slowing the Rebels down, preferring to focus his team on grinding half-court defense. By contrast, Rice wanted to show fans, longtime supporters and the rest of the UNLV "family" that the glory days weren't the end of exciting UNLV hoops -- that the Rebels could not only still compete for national titles but could, in keeping with the Vegas ethos, look good doing so.

He's kept his word. But the most important part of installing high-powered, uptempo teams isn't the system itself. It's the recruiting. And in the 16 or so months since Rice took over, nowhere has he succeeded more than on the recruiting trail.

The latest point to this effect came this past weekend, when UNLV landed Savon Goodman, a small forward ranked No. 100 on ESPNU's list of the top 100 players in the class of 2012, and one of just two top-100 players (the other being guard Torian Graham) still uncommitted at such a late recruiting-calendar date. Goodman is unlikely to be an impact player right away -- just because he's top 100 doesn't mean he won't have a very steep learning curve, remember -- but his signing is the cherry atop a stacked 2012 recruiting class.

That class already includes Anthony Bennett, the top-ranked power forward in 2012, and Katin Reinhardt, the No. 8-ranked shooting guard. It also includes Khem Birch, the Pittsburgh transfer who entered the 2011 season as the nation's top incoming center, according to ESPN, who left the Panthers after a mere 10 games. The Rebels are also awaiting news on the transfer availability of Connecticut forward Roscoe Smith, whose ability to leave UConn during its postseason-free APR punishment remains in doubt. Even if Smith is forced to sit out a year at UNLV, the Rebels will have Birch, Bennett and potential breakout forward Mike Moser likely to play starting roles.

We know Moser will be good; we're still waiting to see exactly what Bennett and Birch will bring to the table in what is essentially both players' freshman season. The Rebels will be tough in 2012, and Rice's recruiting looks likely to ensure a sustained level of excellence in the years to come. Playing fast is one thing. Playing fast with NBA talent -- that's the old-school UNLV way, and Rice is well on his way to connecting the two.