College Basketball Nation: Jerry Tarkanian

Tark, Pitino pumped for HOF weekend

September, 6, 2013
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UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- While Rick Pitino shows no signs of slowing down, former UNLV Rebels coach Jerry Tarkanian just hopes to "make a good showing" during this weekend's induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

Tark is 83 and battling health problems. His speech is slow, deliberate and at times labored. But he was still able to muster a few words Friday after he arrived in New England with his family.

Tarkanian will enter the Hall on Sunday along with Louisville's Pitino and former Houston coach Guy V. Lewis, now 91.

Read the full story here.

Jerry Tarkanian: His top 10 players

September, 3, 2013
9/03/13
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Larry Johnson Ken Levine/Getty ImagesLarry Johnson rose from the juco ranks to carry UNLV to a national title.
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.

As part of our Hall of Fame week celebrations, I'm ranking the 10 best players of Jerry Tarkanian's coaching career. (Check back during the week for other similar lists.) As you might expect, most of them played for Tark at UNLV. But one did not.

Oh, and in case you thought the process of ranking these players was painstaking, well, it was, sort of, but not nearly as much as it could have been, were it not for the help of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and, yes, Tarkanian himself. That's right: In 2010, the Review-Journal published the results of a 25-person panel charged with ranking the top 100 players in UNLV history. That was a handy reference, to say the absolute least. Even better? The newspaper also solicited the views of Tarkanian himself, who refused to mince words -- both positive and negative -- about his former players. My favorite: "Lewis Brown is [ranked] too high. He was a pain in the [bleep] in a lot of ways." My second favorite: "Jackie Robinson is too high. Jackie couldn't shoot. He could jump to the moon, but he couldn't shoot." Pretty great, right?

Anyway, with some thanks to the paper and the Shark himself, here's a quick rundown of the 10 best players of Tarkanian's tremendous coaching career.

1. Larry Johnson, UNLV: Sitting on the beach this weekend, before I had even opened my laptop to begin trying to pretend to think about this list, Larry Johnson was locked in at No. 1. You probably don't need me to run down Johnson's credentials, but before he went on to that good-but-disappointing pro career, he posted career averages of 21.6 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.9 steals, 1.2 blocks per game, with 64.3/34.9/78.9 shooting percentages. He won the Wooden Award and a national title, and he was by far the best player on a team that packs this list. Point is, this was a done deal before my editor even assigned me this list. Too easy. As for Tark? "Larry stood out way above everyone," he told the Review-Journal three years ago. "I think he was the best by far." No argument here.

2. Stacey Augmon, UNLV: As good as Johnson was, UNLV was a force unseen in college basketball because he was surrounded by some rather insane supporting pieces — none more so than Augmon, whom Bill Walton famously dubbed "The Plastic Man." (Bill Walton has been at peak awesomeness levels for decades now, kids.) A four-year player who averaged 13.9 points, 6.9 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.9 steals in -- get this -- an average of 36.23 games per season, Augmon was the versatile star-level wing who gave UNLV's overwhelming athleticism both offensive versatility and defensive backbone. He won the NABC Defensive POY award three times. He was crazy-good in ways old box scores can only tease.

3. Armen Gilliam, UNLV: Armen Gilliam "was the second-best player I coached at UNLV," according to Tarkanian. I'm going to stick to my Augmon guns, but you can understand where the old ball coach is coming from. After all, the historic excellence of Tarkanian's early-'90s teams has long since overshadowed how good the Rebels were in the mid-1980s. But during Gilliam's tenure -- 1984 to 1987 -- the Rebels were 93-11 overall, usually ranked No. 1, and won 38 games in one season, still the most by any one team in a single season. Another single-season record -- 938 points, the most scored by any UNLV player -- belongs to Gilliam, who averaged 23.2 points on 15.3 field goals in 32.3 minutes per game in 1986-87. Also, his nickname was "The Hammer," one of the best hoops nicknames ever. (When it came to awesome nicknames, UNLV players had the market cornered.) Gilliam passed away during a pickup game in 2011 at age 47, but his basketball legacy, including that magical '87 Final Four run, lives on.

4. Sidney Green, UNLV: Tark on Green: "Sidney Green only had one great year for us. But his senior year was great. He's in the top 10 but not the top five." Is it cool to slightly disagree again? I hate to do it, but look: Yes, Green's senior year was capital-G Great (22.1 points, 11.9 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 36.1 minutes per game), but it was hardly his only elite year — he averaged 10.7 boards per game for his career, and posted 15.6, 15.0 and 16.7 points per game in each of those three seasons in the early 80s. Coaches are always looking for more from their guys, and you can bet Tark knew what Green had to give even when Green didn't; that had to be massively frustrating. But if we're being fair, Sidney Green was really, really good.

5. Reggie Theus, UNLV: Theus' career stats -- 12.9 points, 4.4 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game in 91 career games (over three seasons) -- might not pop your eyeballs out of your head. But the teams he played for, most notably the 29-3 Final Four team from 1977, officially put Tarkanian's program on the map. Not only did those Runnin' Rebels teams introduce UNLV to the nation but they did so through a thrilling, up-tempo style -- matching burgeoning Las Vegas flash with genuine substance.

[+] EnlargeGreg Anthony
Richard Mackson/USA TODAY SportsGreg Anthony was a perfect fit at the point for Tarkanian's national championship team.
6. Ed Ratleff, Long Beach State: Tarkanian will always be remembered for his Vegas teams, but Tark gave his first preview of the power shift that was to come during his years at the Beach. Ratleff was by far his best player; he and his teammates went 75-12 in three seasons under Tarkanian, during which Ratleff averaged 21.4 points per game. In 1971, the 49ers led three-time defending champ UCLA by as many as 11 points before Ratleff was called for what he now politely deems a "strange" fifth foul. The 49ers eventually fell 57-55, and UCLA went on to win its fourth national title. Later, Ratleff would play on the 1972 Olympic team that refused its silver medal after a controversial gold-medal game loss to the USSR.

7. Greg Anthony, UNLV: This might be the craziest thing about those UNLV teams: Just about anywhere else in the country, Greg Anthony would have been the best player on his team for pretty much his entire career. In Vegas, he was the third wheel. But what a third wheel he was -- a smart, capable, push-the-pace point guard who made the Runnin' Rebels go.

8. Eddie Owens, UNLV: If Theus was the most notable player from the 1977 team that put the Rebels on the map, Owens was the linchpin. A member of Tarkanian's first recruiting class, Owens departed Des Moines for Vegas in 1973 back when UNLV was mostly unheard of, basketball-wise. By the end of his four years, Tarkanian was off and running.

9. J.R. Rider, UNLV: Easily one of the most talented players in Tarkanian's tenure, Rider's career peaked just after Tark's tenure and was known as much for its downs (particularly later, during his NBA days) as its ups. Still, Rider did post 29.1 points and 8.9 rebounds per game in the 1992-93 season, while shooting 51.5 percent from the field, 40.1 percent from 3 and 82.6 percent from the free throw line, which is so crazy good it almost doesn't matter that it came one year after Tarkanian was forced to resign.

10. Freddie Banks, UNLV: From Tark, on the Review-Journal's list, which ranked Banks No. 8: "I love Freddie Banks. He was a clutch shooter. God, he hit big shots for us. His ranking is about right." You said it, coach.

Honorable mention, just because: Anderson Hunt, UNLV: I would tend to lean toward the guy who hit the game-winning shot against Arizona in the 1989 Sweet 16, which might be the most memorable single shot in Tarkanian's entire career. Plus, Hunt could really play, despite being overlooked in favor of the Johnson/Augmon/Anthony glory days trifecta. So, honorable mention. Exactly what it says it is, actually.

Jerry Tarkanian: His defining moments

September, 3, 2013
9/03/13
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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.

The good, the bad, the ugly ... here's a look at 10 defining moments in the career of Jerry Tarkanian:

1. Beyond the moments and the championships, beyond even the NCAA fight, one thing will stand alone as synonymous with Jerry Tarkanian -- the towel. He started chomping on one during his high school coaching days in Fresno, Calif., and, ever superstitious, never stopped throughout his coaching career. When UNLV commissioned a statue of the legendary coach in May, the artist posed Tarkanian on a chair, in his shirtsleeves and the ever-present towel near his mouth.

[+] EnlargeJerry Tarkanian
AP Photo/Ed ReinkeJerry Tarkanian began chewing a towel as a high school coach and it eventually became synonymous with the coach.
2. Tarkanian’s signature moment came in 1990, when UNLV won the national championship. Tark had assembled an embarrassment of talent -- Stacey Augmon, Larry Johnson, Anderson Hunt, Greg Anthony -- and the result was hardly surprising: a flat-out demolishing of Duke, 103-73. It remains the only time a team topped the century mark in a title game and the most lopsided championship margin. Brash and full of swagger, the Runnin’ Rebels were not exactly popular champions with the NCAA home offices. During the course of that championship season, the NCAA visited campus 11 times, and 10 players were suspended at different times.

3. Oddly, it is the team that didn’t win the national championship that many consider one of the best of all time. In 1991 UNLV ran its record to 34-0, barely challenged in the process, winning by an average 27.3 points per game. The Runnin’ Rebels seemed destined not only to repeat as champions but also to become the first team since Indiana to go undefeated. And then came the rematch against Duke in the national semifinals, a game that was completely unlike the title matchup in 1990. Older and tougher, the Blue Devils went toe-to-toe with UNLV and when Anderson Hunt’s 22-footer misfired at the buzzer, Duke avenged the loss and ended the Rebels’ run.

4. Before Tarkanian arrived in Las Vegas in 1973, people derogatorily referred to the school as Tumbleweed Tech. A university in the middle of Vegas? Why bother? In Tarkanian’s first season, UNLV was 20-6, and by the time he left, the school was so popular with movie stars it had its own Gucci Row, featuring such 1970s luminaries as Suzanne Somers, Don Rickles and even Frank Sinatra.

5. “The NCAA is so mad at Kentucky it will probably slap another two years probation on Cleveland State.’’ Tarkanian uttered the famous quip after Kentucky and coach Eddie Sutton found themselves in the NCAA crosshairs. But the line has stood the test of time, emblematic of not only Tark’s battles with the organization but also of the long-held belief that the NCAA practices selective enforcement.

6. Long before UNLV, Tarkanian was anti-establishment. He cut his coaching teeth at Riverside City College, long before adding junior college players to four-year rosters was an acceptable practice. Wildly successful, he parlayed that into a job at Long Beach State. When he led the 49ers to the 1970 NCAA tournament, he bragged that his roster was made up almost entirely of junior college transfers, immediately labeling him a renegade.

7. The nadir for Tarkanian came with a single picture, a photograph that changed his career arc long before smartphones with built-in cameras got everyone in their crosshairs. On May 26, 1991, the Las Vegas Review-Journal published a picture of three UNLV players in a hot tub with Richard "Richie the Fixer" Perry. It was Tarkanian’s undoing at the Las Vegas school, the proof that his team was operating outside the boundaries of an amateur program. Two weeks later, Tarkanian was forced to announce that 1991-92 would be his final season.

8. Vindication came for Tarkanian in 1998, when the NCAA elected to settle a lawsuit with the coach and his wife, awarding Tarkanian $2.5 million. In the suit, Tarkanian claimed the organization intentionally tried to derail his career, and rather than go to trial, the NCAA settled. Tarkanian’s reputation still carries the stigma -- a big part of why it took so long for his Hall induction -- which he acknowledged at the time of the settlement, saying, “They can never come close to paying me for the hurt they caused.’’

9. Forced out by UNLV amid the NCAA scandal (and after a very brief stint with the San Antonio Spurs), Tarkanian resurfaced at his alma mater, Fresno State, in 1995. He led the Bulldogs to two NCAA tournaments, but trouble seemed to follow him. Three players were charged with NCAA infractions, and the school was subject to a federal point-shaving investigation. In 2002, he retired from the school and the game.

10. At the 2013 Final Four in Atlanta, the Naismith Hall of Fame made an announcement many believed was long overdue, naming Tarkanian to its next class. The controversy that surrounded his entire career no doubt delayed his induction, but there is little arguing his impact. Credited with helping to introduce the fast break and the "amoeba" defense, and with opening up a world for junior college transfers, Tarkanian amassed a staggering 784-202 record in his 31 years as a head coach.

Path to the Draft: No. 13 UNLV

June, 10, 2013
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In the weeks leading up to the June 27 NBA draft, we’ll be taking a look at the 20 schools that have produced the best pros in the modern draft era (since 1989, when the draft went from seven to two rounds). Click here to read Eamonn Brennan’s explanation of the series, which will be featured in the Nation blog each morning as we count down the programs from 20 to 1.

Top Five NBA Draftees Since 1989

  1. Larry Johnson (1991)
  2. Shawn Marion (1999)
  3. J.R. Rider (1993)
  4. Stacey Augmon (1991)
  5. Greg Anthony (1991)
Sixth man: Keon Clark

The rest: Joel Anthony, Louis Amundson, Marcus Banks, Tyrone Nesby, Evric Gray, Kebu Stewart, Dexter Boney, Elmore Spencer, George Ackles

Why they're ranked where they are: When we first conceived of this list, UNLV was one team I expected to be in the top 10, if almost by default. The 1991 team produced three good pros, the best of which was Larry Johnson, whom I remember from his "Grandmama" apex. Shawn Marion, meanwhile, keeps extending an already-excellent NBA career. Without truly digging in, or considering other schools, I had the Runnin' Rebels in around No. 10 on this ledger. If not higher.

After digging, No. 13 feels right.

[+] EnlargeLarry Johnson
Ken Levine/Getty ImagesLarry Johnson was the biggest name from the early-'90s UNLV teams.
Johnson was the marquee player on the legendary early-'90s Rebels teams, which not only won the 1990 national title and went 27-0 in the 1991 regular season, but produced one of the greatest college posters of all time. After being drafted No. 1 overall by the Charlotte Hornets in 1991, to absolutely no one's surprise, he played immediately at an All-Star level.

At the time, some said Johnson would have been drafted in the first round had he declared for the draft after two otherworldly junior college seasons at Odessa College. That might be a bit of a stretch, but in any case everyone expected Johnson to dominate when he got to the NBA, and he didn't disappoint. As a rookie, Johnson averaged 19.2 points and 11.0 rebounds per game. In his second season, he led the league in minutes (40.5) and averaged 22.1 points and 10.5 rebounds. He was an All-Star that year (1993) and again in 1995 and, alongside Muggsy Bogues and Alonzo Mourning, made the Charlotte Hornets and their strange green and purple uniforms -- not to mention "Grandmama" -- a mainstay of my fellow millenials' basketball childhoods.

Given all this, it would be a stretch to try to call Johnson's career a disappointment, but it's also fair to say he might have left something on the table. Injuries pockmarked his prime years, particularly in 1993-94, when a back injury forced Johnson to play a less overpowering, more well-rounded brand of basketball. (According to Basketball-Reference's Win Shares metric, Johnson's best season actually came as a rookie. I'm not sure what this means, if anything, but it is interesting.) When tension between Mourning and Johnson led to both players being traded in the summer of 1995, Johnson was shipped to the Knicks in exchange for Anthony Mason and Brad Lohaus. Though he played a key role in the Knicks' Eastern Conference title run in 1999, he never reached his Charlotte heights again. In 2001, at the age of 31, Johnson retired. He played only nine years in the NBA.

What of Johnson's old 1991 Rebels teammates, Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony? Augmon (whom Bill Walton unfortunately dubbed the descendant of Magic Johnson, Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) likewise played his only noteworthy years early in his career, during his first five years for the later-Dominique Wilkins-era Atlanta Hawks. Augmon averaged 13.7 points per game in those seasons, but was never a double-digit scorer from there on out. Anthony fashioned an OK career as a defensive specialist and a backup/spot guard (he averaged 20.9 minutes per game during his career). His best season (14.0 points, 11.3 field goal attempts, 30.4 minutes, etc.) came as the featured guard on the abysmal inaugural edition of the expansion Vancouver Grizzlies.

Marion, meanwhile, is now 34, but is still putting productive seasons on the board. Marion's best years -- when he earned the moniker "The Matrix," one of the least likely nicknames in NBA history -- came during the glory days of the Seven Seconds or Less era Phoenix Suns. That was when Steve Nash and Mike D'Antoni's up-tempo system revolutionized the league. Rangy, fast and high-flying, Marion was the perfect small forward for D'Antoni's system.

When Phoenix general manager Steve Kerr traded Marion to Miami for a washed-up Shaquille O'Neal, it was the Suns' death knell. It also eventually landed Marion on a rebuilding Toronto team, where he could have spent the rest of his days in the basketball wilderness. Instead, Marion made his way to the Dallas Mavericks in time to play an ensemble role on the team that won the 2011 NBA title. In 2012-13, Marion averaged 12.1 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.1 steals. He's still plugging.

J.R. Rider averaged 29.1 points per season as a senior at UNLV and he was just as thrilling in his first moments in the league. In 1994, Rider won the 1994 NBA Slam Dunk Contest with the "East Bay Funk Dunk." Rider was a good but never great pro from 1993-94 through 1999. But he was out of the league two years later, at the age of 30. He was dogged by off-court issues (including several arrests) throughout his career and in subsequent years. In 2009 he attempted a somewhat sad, if archetypal minor league comeback, and in 2012 announced he was planning to release a documentary about his life in the hopes of helping other young kids avoid a similar fate.

Are you sensing the common undercurrent here? Relative to how we remember them -- Rider from the dunk contest, Johnson as Grandmama, Augmon as Plastic Man, and so on -- most of the best post-1989 UNLV products' careers have been at least slightly disappointing. Or short-lived. Sometimes both.

When you factor that in alongside the rest of the list, No. 13 feels appropriate, doesn't it?

Why they could be ranked higher: While our memories of Johnson, Augmon, Anthony and Rider have probably improved, relative to their performance, you could just as easily argue that Marion has been drastically underrated from Day 1. Phoenix's trade for O'Neal was an intentional (and misguided) effort to make the Suns more conventional (slower, bigger, etc.). Instead it revealed just how effective and important Marion was running the floor alongside Nash. Marion has never been a gifted scorer, but his athleticism made up for that in the early years, and his craftiness does now. Despite occasional rumblings that he wasn't the best teammate, Marion has been a huge asset on every team that has employed him. You simply don't find athletic 3s who can rebound and guard the same variety of players as Marion very often. When you do, you should appreciate them. Maybe Marion is still underrated -- and if he is, doesn't that boost UNLV's overall score?

Plus, let's not totally overlook Keon Clark, a solid if forgettable pro, and Joel Anthony, who went undrafted but turned himself into an invaluable defender and rebounder on Miami's 2012 NBA title team (before the Heat went small in 2013, which sent Anthony to the bench, and you know the rest).

Louis Amundson isn't terrible. That's probably all we need to say about Louis Amundson.

Why they could be ranked lower: We don't spend a ton of time dwelling on the lesser lights of any team's list, but it certainly doesn't hurt a team's rankings to have a deep collection of tenured, productive veterans. UNLV does not have that. As I wrote above, outside of Johnson and Marion, the best Rebels were either disappointing or merely mediocre (or both). Further down the list, even if you set aside Clark, Anthony and Amundson -- which is generous in the first place -- resides a big whole bag of bad. I'm all about Marion, and I love me some Grandmama, but how good is the overall list here, really?

What’s ahead? After legendary coach (and frequent, brazen NCAA target) Jerry Tarkanian was forced out by university president Robert Maxson in 1992, UNLV went dormant for more than a decade. Even when Lon Kruger resurrected the program in the mid-aughts, he did it with the kind of unassuming, defense-first players who fit his system. It had hardly the kind of elite future pros Tarkanian so successfully courted. Only since former Tarkanian player Dave Rice took over in the spring of 2011 have the Rebels looked to run once more. As such, Rice has recruited well, and this summer uber-talented freshman Anthony Bennett is likely to be a top-five pick. (Chad Ford's latest mock draft Insider has Bennett going fourth to the Charlotte Bobcats.) Center Khem Birch could be a lottery pick next summer or beyond. After Katin Reinhardt's transfer to USC, that's about it as obvious potential pro prospects go. But keep an eye on incoming freshman Christian Wood, a great shooter with a lanky 6-foot-10 frame who might have hybrid-obsessed NBA scouts drooling, even if he still has much to add to his game. Insider

Final thoughts: I was six in 1991, and 10 in 1995. My memories of Grandmama and the Charlotte Hornets were always going to be inflated. Which is not to say Johnson wasn't good. Of course he was. There is no getting around how dominant he could be when healthy.

But the overall story of Johnson's career isn't one of undeniable dominance -- it's one of obvious brilliance at least partially derailed by circumstance. (Nobody tell 10-year-old Eamonn's best friend Jason. Jason owned a Hornets Starter jacket. He'd be crushed.) To an even greater extent, Plastic Man and Anthony never really reached the potential they seemed to have when they ran roughshod over college basketball for two straight seasons. At this point, Rider is a classic mid-'90s NBA cautionary tale. Only Marion, born of a different era in UNLV basketball, has been an above-average NBA player for more than a few years. Marion has been that for 14 seasons, to be precise.

I don't know about you, but when I hear "UNLV" and "pro products" in the same formation, my brain instinctually calls up that classic early-'90s All-Americans poster. It remembers Johnson in the glory days, Augmon back when people thought he was the next Magic Johnson, Rider from the dunk contest. UNLV's draft history since 1989 -- while still very good, and worthy of its spot in the top 15 -- was never going to be so simple.
The statue should match the man.

I don't really know all that much about statues, honestly, but I like them, and at the very least I know how often sports statues can go hilariously awry. There is just the one rule: If you're going to build a statue for a coach, it should match that coach's personality, whether for better or worse. Also, it should actually look like the coach. OK, two rules.

Case in point: When UCLA unveiled its John Wooden statue, it paid homage to the man himself in ways both obvious and subtle. Not only was the pose classic Wooden -- arms crossed, gentle but firm -- but it didn't take an art collector to notice the subtext of making a statue eight feet tall and 400 pounds: Wooden was a titan. He remains as such forevermore.

UNLV's planned statue for Jerry Tarkanian -- which the school revealed via a release Wednesday -- is equally great for similar reasons, even though it couldn't look less like the Wooden statue. Instead of the wise, determined patriarch towering over Pauley Pavilion, Tark's statue will depict him sitting down on one of two folding chairs, distressed, with a bronze towel stuffed firmly between his chompers. Tarkanian's statue will be life-sized, which will make it more fun for fans to sit down in the extra folding chair and take a photo with the Shark.

Again, it's not just the appearance -- it's what the statue says about the man. Tarkanian was many things: accessible, quirky, whimsical, and above all controversial, but he never seemed to take himself or anything else too seriously. UNLV's statue is a perfect tribute.

'Tark the Shark' set to enter Hall of Fame

April, 8, 2013
4/08/13
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Jerry Tarkanian will enter the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this September.

Video: Put Jerry Tarkanian in the HOF

March, 17, 2013
3/17/13
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video
Bryan Burwell hopes this is the year Jerry Tarkanian gets elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

Three Big Things: UNLV

October, 5, 2012
10/05/12
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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 KenPom.com. 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.
1. Former Mississippi State center Arnett Moultrie said his one-time teammate Rodney Hood will be a one-and-done player when he plays in 2013-14. Hood, who is leaving the Bulldogs after his freshman season, is likely deciding among Ohio State, Memphis and Duke. (He also visited Baylor.) Hood would have to sit out one season before playing for one of those teams. “His skill level is really nice,’’ said Moultrie. “He’s athletic and gets inside when he needs to. He’ll be one-and-done wherever he goes.’’ Moultrie said he talks to Hood multiple times a week and expected him to make up his mind shortly.

2. Purdue coach Matt Painter planned an August trip to Italy at the perfect time. A school can go once every four years and the cycle has worked out for the Boilermakers. Painter, who was in Chicago last Thursday and Friday to watch former forward Robbie Hummel at the pre-draft combine at UIC, said this is the first time that he’ll have a massive group of newcomers that needs that summer preseason push since Hummel’s freshmen class that included former stars JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore. The Boilermakers bring in four key newcomers in center A.J. Hammons, shooting guard Raphael Davis, point guard Ronnie Johnson and power forward Jay Simpson.

3. Former UNLV assistant Mark Warkentein (under Jerry Tarkanian) was camped out next to UNLV assistant coach Heath Schroyer during the Chicago draft camp on Friday at the UIC Pavilion. Warkentein is one of many Tark-era personnel who are now fully on board with the Runnin’ Rebels’ program after an extended period where there was not as strong of a connection. Of course it helps that his daughter Kreigh is the director of basketball operations for the men’s basketball program. Former coach Lon Kruger finally offered stability but he didn’t have the same connection that current coach Dave Rice now holds with his one-time teammates and coaches. “The collection of leadership in men’s basketball is at its highest level that it’s ever been,’’ said Warkentein, who has worked for Seattle, Denver, Cleveland, Denver and now New York in the NBA. “The president, Neal Smatresk, is the best they’ve ever had. Jim Livengood, is the best athletic director they’ve had since Brad Rothermel (1981-90 as AD), and Dave Rice is a running version of Brad Stevens.’’

UNLV's running game off to a slow start

November, 2, 2011
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UNLV coach Dave Rice's debut ended in victory but it also made them realize there is more work to do if the Runnin' Rebels are going to live up to their name.

After one half of an exhibition game against Washburn, the Rebels trailed by a point, shot 17 percent from the field, and missed all eight of their 3-point attempts.

UNLV rallied to win an ugly 58-50 game without suspended star Chace Stanback and took a step toward working out the kinks of their new offense, according to the Las Vegas Sun.
But it was a learning experience, too, as the Rebels realized quickly that many future opponents will also know that with their desire to run, there will be several game plans designed around trying to slow them down to a crawl.

"I think with the athletes we have and the way we're trying to push the tempo and play, I think there are a lot of teams that will try to take the air out of [the ball] a little bit," Rice said. "So that's something we'll have to learn to deal with.

Despite the lackluster stats from the early portion of the game, perhaps UNLV got its biggest compliment before the contest. Former coach Jerry Tarkanian, whose offense Rice played in and is using as inspiration, offered his endorsement of the team in his latest Las Vegas Sun blog entry.
I’m just very impressed with the ball club. I told Dave how surprised I was with how many players he has. His roster is deeper than any of mine were.

There is a lot of excitement right now in the community for what he is doing and that running style of play. I can’t wait to see it on the court, too.

But they can’t live off that excitement. They have to go out and prove themselves -- they have to get out there and run.

Summer Buzz: UNLV Rebels

August, 23, 2011
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Our friends at The Mag are previewing one high-profile school per day for their Summer Buzz series. For the sake of all that is synergistic, yours truly will be attempting the same, complementing each comprehensive preview with some analytic fun. Today's subject: UNLV. Insider

Few coaches hold as much sway over their old programs as former UNLV icon Jerry Tarkanian. It's difficult for an outsider to understand just how much soft power Tark has wielded in the days since he left the bench in 1992, but the HBO documentary film "The Runnin' Rebels of UNLV" helped hammer it home this spring. Tark the Shark built the Rebels into a national brand, gave the city of Las Vegas the nearest possible thing to a pro basketball team, and created a sense of communal identity that made him as locally beloved as he was nationally controversial.

[+] EnlargeDave Rice
AP Photo/Julie JacobsonThe Rebels keep it in the family by hiring former UNLV standout and longtime assistant Dave Rice.
So when Lon Kruger left the Rebels to take on the difficult job at Oklahoma and it was time to select a coach to replace him, Tarkanian made clear who his preference was: former late 70s star Reggie Theus. He was part of the UNLV family, had pro coaching experience, and now it was time to bring him home and let him usher in a new era of Rebel greatness.

Only one problem: It wasn't clear Theus was the best candidate for the job. So UNLV athletic director Jim Livengood made a rather brilliant compromise: He hired Dave Rice instead.

Rice, unlike Theus, is a longtime college assistant with experience at UNLV, Utah State and BYU. He knows the ins and outs of basketball in the West. He's recruited for the Rebels and their immediate competitors. He wants his teams to play with the style and pressure of Tarkanian's legendary squads. And, best of all, as a member of the 1990 national champions, he just so happens to be a member of the family, too. Eventually, Tark gave Rice his blessing.

If all of this seems incidental to how good UNLV will be in the Dave Rice era -- who cares if a former coach likes the hire, right? -- then it's possible you're missing something about how UNLV basketball works. In some ways, Runnin' Rebel fans are like any other: They remember the good old days, and they want to get them back.

But there's something unique about their fandom. It thrives on success and glamor, or at least it did when the best Vegas teams were running their opponents off the floor. UNLV needs the raucous support of its occasionally transient community. When the Rebels are winning and things are good, those fans can turn the Thomas and Mack Center into one of the country's most exciting places for college hoops. But if the program struggles, well, I can think of a lot of other things to do in Las Vegas on a Saturday night.

The good news is Kruger left the program, and fans' interest therein, in seemingly good shape. The Rebs finished No. 23 in the country in average attendance last season [PDF] with 13,253 fans per game. Considering the cost of tickets, parking and concessions, and all of the distractions created by the city surrounding it -- it would be easy to see UNLV games as just another thing to do in Las Vegas -- it has to be some kind of victory to know that the program's fans are very much of the die-hard variety.

In other words, the program's off-court fundamentals are strong. That's the first item of business. Here's more good news: In 2011-12, this conference is ripe for UNLV's picking.

This has as much to do with UNLV's team as it does with the loss of fellow competitors. BYU bolted for the West Coast Conference, so that's one perennial contender out of the way. San Diego State lost the majority of its stellar 2011 team to graduation and the NBA draft, and while the Aztecs will still compete, they won't be near the powerhouse we saw last season.

That leaves New Mexico, which has slowly stocked up on talent in recent seasons, to challenge a strong, deep and veteran Rebels team for the conference title. So for Rice, success could be immediate.

There are hurdles to climb. The loss of guard Tre'Von Willis removes a dynamic scoring threat from UNLV's offense. Senior forward Chace Stanback, who was arrested on suspicion of DUI earlier this year, may have to miss games due to disciplinary action. But in all, as Diamond ran down today:
UNLV returns four of its top five scorers, including Chace Stanback. The team also adds potential impact transfers in forward Mike Moser and guard Reggie Smith (eligible in December), and is welcoming back top 3-point shooter Kendall Wallace after a torn anterior cruciate ligament forced him to redshirt last season. The Rebels are stacked.

Indeed they are. Just as exciting for UNLV fans is the news that they're about to play like UNLV, too.

It's not that Kruger always played particularly slow. In 2010-11, his team's adjusted tempo was 67.8 possessions per game, good for No. 110 in the country. But more often than not in his tenure at UNLV, Kruger preferred to grind games to a halt and rely on his defense to take over. The Rebels may have been effective, but they were never a particularly entertaining team. (Last season, when they shot a collective 33.0 percent from beyond the arc, they could be downright ugly.)

Rice's hope is to recreate the Tark days by being both effective and entertaining. In June, he told Diamond he planned to install a run-on-every-possession style offense befitting a team with the word "runnin'" in its nickname. And he's even bringing the "Jaws" theme back:
Rice already has promised that the Runnin' Rebels will indeed run on every possession, and playing a fast-paced brand of basketball isn't the only tradition from the Tark the Shark era that he hopes to revive. Rice, who won a national championship playing for Tarkanian, also said the program is considering bringing back the theme music from "Jaws," which used to fire up the Thomas & Mack Arena as the team came onto the court.

The old Tarkanian days are one model for how UNLV could play. But a possibly more relevant example could be the team Rice has coached in recent seasons, Brigham Young. Under his former boss Dave Rose, the Cougars have consistently been one of the fastest teams in the country. They play ordered, secondary-break offense, one that looks for early-clock shots but is willing to pull the ball-out, reset, and then reload the attack.

Of course, BYU also had some dude named Jimmer Fredette, and it's a lot easier to play really good offensive basketball when Fredette is in your backcourt. But the basic principles could just as easily apply to UNLV. Anthony Marshall, Oscar Bellfield and Justin Hawkins are all guards capable of handling the ball in space, scoring when available, and finding open teammates for easy looks. (Marshall and Bellfield posted solid assist rates, while Hawkins limited his turnover percentage to a mere 14.8.)

Meanwhile, Stanback could be the perfect featured player in an uptempo team. He has the size (6-8) to present matchup problems, he can stretch the floor with his outside shooting (he made 36 percent from 3 in 2010-11), and he has a capable mid-range game that would look awfully good taking soft little pull-ups on 4-on-3 fast-break opportunities.

UNLV may not look exactly like the Tark teams of old right away. They aren't going to dominate, that's for sure. But Rice has quite a bit going for him. A solid group of veterans is back for another run at a conference title. The fans are locked in. The conference is wide open. The "Jaws" theme is coming back.

All that's left is the new uptempo offense. If Rice succeeds in installing it, no one -- not even the Tarkfather himself -- will be able to question the hire.

In many ways, family and all, it's already looking like the perfect fit.

Larry Johnson bitter about coaching snub

August, 2, 2011
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UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian brought in two junior college transfers for the 1989-90 season that resulted in a national championship.

One of those players was Larry Johnson, the former McDonald's All-American who helped lead the Rebels to the title. The other transfer was Dave Rice, a reserve on that championship team who went on to become head coach of the program after being named to the position this spring.

Johnson wanted to be a candidate for the job despite having no coaching experience, and he told Gaming Today that he's unhappy about not being seriously considered.
When [Lon] Kruger left for the University of Oklahoma and Johnson reacted by saying he would love to coach the Rebels, that bitterness returned when the administration never contacted him.

"People all over town, wherever I went, asked me if I wanted to coach," Johnson said. "They wanted me and Stacey [Augmon], knowing he had been an assistant coach. They had to hire him (as an assistant), knowing they would never consider me."

Johnson had previously expressed interest in the UNLV job to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, indicating that his lack of coaching experience wouldn't be a problem because of his talent in other areas.
"We can put butts in the seats and we definitely can recruit. There's no growing pains I would have to go through, and if I have the right cast around me, I believe I can do it. And I really believe the city would be behind me."

Johnson told the paper he had discussed his desire to pursue the job with Tarkanian and Augmon. Tarkanian supported the candidancy of another former player, Reggie Theus. Rice ultimately got the job, hired Augmon as an assistant, and has expressed how much he wants to bring back many of the Runnin' Rebel traditions to the program.

That should have ended the political chatter surrounding the position. Tarkanian made an appearance at Rice's press conference and gave out compliments about his former player. Theus quietly went about his business.

Johnson, one of UNLV's most famous alums, decided to speak out. He had told the Review-Journal before Rice was hired that he was planning to call athletic director Jim Livengood, but apparently the two never got in touch, leaving the man with the gap-toothed smile bitter at the administration.

"I don’t like those Arizona people in the administration and they don't like me," Johnson told Gaming Today, referring to Livengood's previous school. "It’s not UNLV Runnin’ Rebels no more, it’s UNLV Wildcats right now."

Armen Gilliam remembered as a coach

July, 7, 2011
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The passing of Armen Gilliam had many recalling his days as a dominant force at UNLV and someone who everyone loved as a player and a person. He lead the Rebels to the Final Four in 1987.

Gilliam wasn't highly recruited, but made up for it with his work ethic. As former coach Jerry Tarkanian wrote in the Las Vegas Sun, "[Gilliam] was a nonrecruited player out of high school and better known as a football player and wrestler."

He was also a college coach. And although Gilliam's record wasn't very good at Division III Penn State Altoona, he managed to leave an impression by giving unknown players opportunities to shine.

According to the Altoona Mirror, Tyler Franklin was one former Penn State Altoona player who never forgot it.
"Armen was the only guy who took a chance on me coming out of high school,'' Franklin said. "After averaging 14 points per game and helping take [Altoona Area High School] to the [PIAA] western finals, I didn't have even one offer to go to school to play ball. He told me I would play right away. I got [Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference] rookie of the year that year and became the school's all-time leading scorer years later. I give him a lot of credit for that.''

Gilliam's contract was not renewed following the 2004-05 season, and the school hired Alan Seretti to succeed him. Gilliam finished with an 18-60 record.

"The thing players didn't like was he was upfront and direct as opposed to using constructive criticism about players' mistakes and inabilities,'' Franklin said. "The year before I got there we went 2-25, but the two years I was there we improved each year. For what he had to work with when I was there, I thought he did pretty well.''

UNLV turns back clock with Stacey Augmon

May, 5, 2011
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UNLV coach Dave Rice was so giddy about the idea of hiring Stacey Augmon as an assistant coach that he brought up the ongoing talks during his own introductory news conference and declared, "There's no greater Rebel than Stacey Augmon."

"I can't think of anyone who would better represent our program and what Coach Tark and what all the former players would be all about than Stacey," Rice said then.

Now that Augmon, 42, has been hired away from the Denver Nuggets, the Jerry Tarkanian-era player who was Rice's former teammate on the 1990 national team can help try to bring back the glory days to UNLV. Rice has talked of bringing in an up-tempo offense that matches the culture of the Runnin' Rebels, and bringing back the program's third-leading all-time scorer helps.

"It will be great to be back in the city where we were part of a dynasty," Augmon said in a statement.

"I am anxious to get started working with the young talent that is currently on the team and to help take the program to the next level."

Rice's hiring of Augmon, who had a 15-year playing career in the NBA, completes a staff that also includes a former head coach in Heath Schroyer and Justin Hutson, a highly regarded recruiter on the West Coast.

Adding Augmon also served to please Tarkanian, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
But for several years after former Rebels coach Jerry Tarkanian was ousted in 1992, Augmon kept his distance from UNLV. Tarkanian said any hard feelings Augmon might have had were "patched up" and in the past.

"I'm very happy. I think Stacey will do a great, great job for Dave," Tarkanian said. "It's a good move on Dave's part. He's got a great staff. Stacey has been a player development coach, so he'll make them better, and he'll be a big name on the staff."

Dave Rice brings style to UNLV

April, 11, 2011
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Dave Rice was raised a Runnin' Rebel.

He was a reserve guard on two of Jerry Tarkanian's Final Four teams, including the 1990 squad that won the national title. He coached with Tarkanian. And now he is the first former UNLV player to become head coach of the program.

[+] EnlargeDave Rice
AP Photo/Doug PizacDave Rice, far right, was a part of UNLV's glory years, playing on the Rebels' 1990 national title team.
True to his Vegas roots, Rice is already talking about winning with style.

"Winning is No. 1, I get that -- but style of play is going to be 1a," Rice said in a statement. "We're going to get out and run -- we’re the Runnin' Rebels. Everything will be up-tempo. We also want to be known for being consistent. Every day in practice and every single game, we want to be consistent. That is not exciting to hear and it sounds like coach-speak, but consistency leads to great results."

For evidence that points to Rice's ability to pull it off, UNLV only has to look toward what Mountain West Conference foe BYU accomplished this season while Rice was associate head coach. The Cougars ran their up-tempo offense with Jimmer Fredette leading the way and went to the Sweet 16.

"We'll have a learning curve anytime a new system is put in place, but we want our guys to have high expectations immediately," Rice said. "It's time to get to work."

Tarkanian publicly threw his support behind Reggie Theus to become the next UNLV coach, but that doesn't mean the school's choice of Dave Rice doesn't energize fans of the Runnin' Rebels yearning for the good old days.

Rice has Tarkanian's blessing as well.

"He's going to try to bring back some of the old tradition," Tarkanian blogged in the Las Vegas Sun. "Dave said he wants to play the same style we did. He wants to push the ball up the court and play some pressure defense."

It's what being a Runnin' Rebel is all about.

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