Player to Watch: Anthony Bennett, F
UNLV will likely start the season with a smaller lineup featuring Moser and Bennett inside. Adding Khem Birch in the middle would give Rice a huge frontcourt and Bennett's versatility allows this to happen. I think Bennett has a little bit of Royce White to his game and could be a one-and-done if he takes the MWC by storm this year.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/23 vs. Oregon (Las Vegas Classic)
11/24 vs. Cincinnati/Iowa State (Las Vegas Classic)
12/9 at California
12/17 at UTEP
12/19 vs. Northern Iowa (MWC/MVC Challenge)
12/29 at North Carolina
Predicted MWC Finish: 1st
UNLV has lost a few key players from last year, but brings back Mike Moser, who made a huge impact in his first season with the Rebels after transferring in from UCLA. He was a First-Team All-Mountain West selection, averaging a double-double per night and causing problems for opposing teams due to his versatility.
Joining Moser in the frontcourt will be highly decorated freshman Anthony Bennett, who was a gigantic late get for head coach Dave Rice. At 6-8, 230 pounds, Bennett is physically imposing on the inside, but can also shoot the three ball and get bigger defenders off the bounce. A lot of major conference programs would love to have a duo like Bennett and Moser, which is a huge advantage for Rice.
The Rebels also get former McDonald's All-American and Pitt transfer Khem Birch eligible after the first semester. He is extremely long and a talented shot-blocker on the inside. Add in upperclassmen Carlos Lopez-Sosa and Quintrell Thomas, who were each valuable role players a year ago, and this team certainly don't lack any size or depth inside. Freshman Demetris Morant will redshirt this season as a result.
There is experience in the backcourt with Anthony Marshall, who now becomes the primary ball-handler after splitting that responsibility last season with Oscar Bellfield. Marshall is aggressive on both ends of the floor and contributes in a variety of ways. Reggie Smith's decision to transfer and Daquan Cook choosing to redshirt does leave the Rebels without a true backup point guard.
Justin Hawkins is another veteran guard back in the fold, though it appears freshman Katin Reinhardt will get the starting nod at the two. Reinhardt is a dynamic scorer who gets buckets in a variety of ways. Hawkins will be a valuable reserve since he figures to also see minutes at the point when Marshall needs a rest. Again, this is another position where Rice has the luxury of two players ready and able to contribute.
The same thing can be said at small forward where freshman Savon Goodman and USC transfer Bryce Jones will battle for minutes. Like Bennett, Goodman was a late signee and is at his best in transition or attacking the tin. Jones broke bones in hand about a month ago, but is already healed enough to be ready for the opener. He'll see some minutes at the two as well this year.
Connecticut transfer Roscoe Smith had his immediate eligibility request denied, so he must sit out this season. When Smith is able to suit up in 2013-14, he will add another long, athletic forward to the picture who will allow the Rebels to keep in running.
With size, versatility, and depth up front, a dangerous scorer on the wing, and veteran lead guard; UNLV has the pieces in place to be the best non-power six team in college basketball.
UNLV Rebels (Last Year: 26-8, 9-5 in MWC)
2012-13 Projected Depth Chart:
F/C: Mike Moser (Jr)/Carlos Lopez (Jr)/Khem Birch (So)
F: Anthony Bennett (Fr)/Quintrell Thomas (Sr)/Demetris Morant (Fr-redshirt)
SF: Savon Goodman (Fr)/Bryce Jones (So)
SG: Katin Reinhardt (Fr)/Justin Hawkins (Sr)
PG: Anthony Marshall (Sr)/Daquan Cook (Fr-redshirt)