In deciding how good UNLV really is, the word that instantly comes to mind is
NEVADA. UNLV's road win, 58-49 over Nevada, should serve as a warning. It can be
foolhardy to make too much of a single game, much less the ninth game of the
season.. However, when that win is over THE blood enemy, on the road, it means
something to me, even if they weren't ranked #19. It is particularly true when
that foe has been especially tough to beat at home.
I mention this game prominently because I find Texas Tech vs. UNLV hard to predict. At first blush, UNLV appears unpredictable, a veritable Jekyll and Hyde of basketball. Yet many factors, including the Nevada game, convince me this is a good team not to be taken lightly. They beat Nevada scoring 58 and lost to Santa Barbara scoring 76. One might wonder which Rebels are going to show up? A more critical look will reveal that there is actually a common thread of excellence that becomes apparent, and that thread is a very good defense. Preliminarily, it looks like Tech's offense against UNLV's defense, but of course there is more to it than that.
By the Numbers
In terms of relative strength, I use my own Composite Power Rating. This indicates that while UNLV has a higher CPR, because of the home advantage, Tech should be about a two to four point favorite. Tech is solidly in NCAA friendly territory on RPI, still hovering in the high twenties or low thirties, despite Tech's opponents slightly under performing recently. To repeat from last week, we don't want Tech to lose at all, but certainly not at home. The home loss penalty in the NCAA RPI formula would do some damage, even losing to a good team.
Per Game Statistical Comparison (Rounded Off)
Other than in the number of blocks and percentages of FG's and 3 pointers
made., the teams look very similar. What's wrong with this picture? The key is
to examine the 77 PPG that both teams are scoring. How is it possible with Tech
shooting seemingly much better and rebounding about even? Is it a
difference in competition? Only partly.
A small part of the explanation is that UNLV had more cupcakes to run up the score on than did Tech. The main answer is that while UNLV is not a very good offensive team, they are an excellent scoring team. That is, they don't shoot well, but they feed off their defense to score. It is apparent that UNLV was at their best in this regard against Nevada. They forced 21 TO's, 14 on steals. Nevada which had been 6th in the country on 3 pointers, with over 46%, was held to 1/15 by UNLV. In comparison, UNLV only made 4/19. UNLV shot a pretty anemic 37.7 FG%., but held Nevada to an even worse 34.7%. In addition, although out-rebounded 36 to 27, UNLV's defense provided them with twelve more shots, giving them six more baskets.
This pattern of depending on defense has been repeated in game after game. As a UNLV regular starter, Wink Adams, said after that game, "We're a small team compared to other teams, and that's why we work on our defense. We've been working really hard on playing defense for 40 minutes." On the other side of the ball, to mix metaphors, Nevada Coach Fox said, "Their defensive pressure really disrupted us and got us out of rhythm. And the ball didn't go in," Nevada coach Mark Fox said. "But turnovers were the major factor in the game."
Without going into minute detail, suffice it to say that UNLV has shot a lower FG% than its adversaries in five of twelve Division 1 games and the same in two others. Amazingly, UNLV has won four games in which it shot less than 40% and edged S Fla. by 42% to 40%. Not to get too repetitive, but they win with a stifling and opportunistic defense.
A relevant statistic is the number of shots in each game taken by UNLV in contrast to their opponents. While out-rebounded and out-shot percentage wise on numerous occasions, as related above, UNLV still manages to take more shots than all but one of their foes. One good example, in a loss, UNLV shot seventy shots to Arizona's 63, in spite of a huge rebounding differential of 25 to 41 , and the fact that Arizona out-shot them by 48% to 43%. Hawaii outshot them 46% to 36% and UNLV still took 19 more shots, even though the rebounds were even. Somehow they still found a way to defeat Hawaii..
As against Bucknell, a meaningful statistic seems to be Tech's superior 3 point shooting. As pointed out previously, Tech has numerous good perimeter shooters. UNLV has only one very good 3 point shooter, Joe Dargas, shooting 44% and a pretty good one, Michael Umeh shooting 34.6%. Two others, regular starters, Wink Adams making 3's at 29% and Kevin Kruger at 31.6%, are not as good, but they are still firing away. The Rebels have shot 300 three pointers, of which they have made 99 or virtually 33%. Since they shoot so poorly otherwise, it makes sense to keep putting them up at a furious rate. That translates to 50% on two pointers, substantially better than they are shooting on those.
Bonus for Tech
Although the rebounds are close, this may be an opportunity for Tech, not necessarily to exploit, but to at least stay even. UNLV has a 6' 9' center, Joel Anthony, and their three main forwards are 6'5" Corey Bailey, 6" 8" Gaston Essenque, and 6' 5" G/F Curtis Terry. Their leading rebounder is probably also their best player and offensive threat, listed as a guard, 6'6" Wendell White. He leads by a wide margin. As Wink said, they are small. Tech may even have a height advantage. Yes, I've heard someplace that mere height is not the essence of good rebounding. However, with the emergence of Prince and assuming about the same production from the rest of the team, the possibility of out-rebounding UNLV seems within the realm of possibility.. UNLV has been out-rebounded in five games and four others have been virtual ties.
Considering what good thieves UNLV has, hopefully Tech can continue at least to match their nine steals/game. If you have to send a player to the line, make it Joel Anthony or White. Possible Problems for Tech This is not rocket science. Tech needs to be acutely aware of UNLV's talent for creating scoring opportunities off their defense. There is no magic wand to wave or trite advice to give.
I don't believe in analyzing a team's prospects with advice like, "if the team learns to box out and starts to rebound better, then so and so" or even worse "our bigs better step up or we are in deep trouble", or "we have to minimize TO's." All I can do is point out areas of vulnerability, opportunities and problems.
I am not the coach. I don't have to be a basketball guru to figure out that after some forty odd years of coaching, Coach Knight can and will tell them how best to respond. Also, assuming there is some underlying talent and desire, players and team are going to get better under Coach Knight‘s tutelage. That makes advice of that kind irrelevant and futile.
UNLV Player Update
Not the flashiest numbers, but as stated in the preview, Wendell White was projected to carry UNLV on his back and is doing so, leading the team in FG% and as already said, rebounds by a wide margin. He is the player to be most wary of offensively, not producing huge numbers consistently, but he has scored 24 points twice, once against Santa Barbara in a losing cause and against S Fla. However, his FT shooting is suspect and he has come close to fouling out a couple of times. Tech would also like to see him keep attempting 3's, as he is only 1/12.
Kevin Kruger, Coach Lon Kruger's son, is living up to expectations as a regular starter. His offensive numbers are good, can shoot the three OK, and is a good FT shooter at 80%. He does lead the team with 2/ TO's/game.
However, only 10 TO's/game indicates that the team as a whole takes good care of the ball. Their highest total in any game is 14 on four occasions.
The one rookie with many minutes is Marcus Lawrence at point guard. His offensive production has been minimal, but he gets about 16 minutes a game mainly because of a 3.5/1 A/TO ratio.
Ten players average more than ten minutes/game. Lately, two players who were getting substantial minutes, as early starters, Center Joel Anthony and Guard Michael Umeh, are now being used more sporadically, off the bench. The most likely lineup against Tech, three guards and two forwards, will include White and Wink Adams, who have started every game, along with Kruger who has started all but two in which he didn't play. The most likely other two, by Kruger's latest lineup shuffling, would be Forwards Corey Bailey and Gaston Essenque.
As far as scoring, it is relatively balanced with White, Adams, and Kruger scoring 14, 14, and 13 points per game respectively; and five others scoring between four and eight per game.
A solid, but not killing schedule. UNLV is 10-2 would probably be 11-1, had Kruger been available to play against Santa Barbara, since they only lost 79-76, at home. Their other loss was to then #16 Arizona on the road. They were beaten decisively, 89-75., but their dogged defense still gave them many offensive opportunities. The Rebels are not particularly road toughened as was Bucknell, but four road games in a row, culminating with the win over Nevada, showed they can win on the road, losing only the first of the four to Arizona.
Proof of their mettle is also exhibited by a close win, 61-58, in Hawaii, the second half of an unusual home and home in the same season. Hawaii has always been a tough out at home. Having dissected the Nevada game, all that is left to say is that Reno is also a tough place to play on the road. Nevada had previously won 21 of its last 22 games, and had only lost six games in the last 54 at home since the 2003-2004 season.
A last point of interest is that like Bucknell, given their offensive deficiencies, UNLV all too often has been in tight games, regardless of the level of competition. However, they were more successful, maybe just better at defending and resourceful enough to eke out wins. Minnesota played them tough at UNLV, losing 62-58, E Washington also lost in Vegas, 82-79, and San Francisco played them close, 96-88. We must include the close road game against Hawaii. While these games exposed a weak offense, it also reflected that mental toughness that is the hallmark of all good teams, and with that perseverance they have kept winning.
The home court advantage may be the difference, so Tech better call out the troops.
I believe UNLV is as good or better than its record indicates, despite major offensive deficiencies. Originally I had thought that Tech would win with relative ease, though the margin might be narrow, because strength on strength, without a really solid forecourt, Tech's guards would take UNLV to school. I have had to reevaluate because of the xfactor, injuries.
At full strength Tech wins I believe for sure. Without Burgess and/or Valentine, the game is winnable, but the margin for error is much less. It once again boils down, in great part, to a contest of wills, and Tech has earned its spurs in that department this season.
Close Coach Knight observers have said, on more than one occasion, that mental attributes, in regard to being a complete player, are to the physical ones, more important by a ratio of four to one, as per Coach Knight, in writing. Whether those numbers are engraved in stone, or what the exact proportion might be, unquestionably, to me, the mental is of critical importance.
From College Hoops Net Preseason Rankings:
Overall Rank: #71
Conference Rank: #4 MWC
2005-06: 17-13, 10-6, 4th
2005-06 postseason: none
After another season of mediocrity, UNLV is looking to rebound and make it back to the postseason. A fourth place finish this year in the Mountain West Conference should be enough to at least make the NITs, but a trip to the NCAAs is possible if the big guys can produce.
Who's Out: The starting frontcourt of Louis Amundson and Dustin Villepigue is gone. Amundson led the squad with 14.3 points and 8.6 boards, while Villepigue tacked on 6.1 points and 5.0 rebounds per contest. Jason Petrimoulx started 25 games as a junior before opting not to return to the program. Fellow guards Ricky Morgan and Robert Berkey have run out of eligibility.
Who's In: The big get for Coach Lon Kruger is his son Kevin Kruger, who transferred in from Arizona State under the new rules for a fifth year player who graduated in four years. The young Kruger is a tremendous outside shooter and will be the go-to scorer for the Rebels. Incoming freshman Marcus Lawrence is a smooth pure point guard and will battle for minutes right away. The perimeter doesn't need much more help this season, but the future of the backcourt is well established with the additions of redshirt freshmen Efrem Lawrence and Scott Hoffman and wings Corey Bailey and Troy Cage. In the frontcourt, Joel Anthony returns after sitting out last season. In 2004-2005, the 6-9, 250 pound center averaged 1.9 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. With the starting center job all but locked up for Anthony, bigger numbers are expected from the Montreal, Canada native. Beside Anthony, Matt Shaw will battle for minutes. The 6-8 power forward has the size and strength to compete in the MWC as a freshman and can score in the paint or step out and hit the short jumper.
Who to Watch: Jo'Van Adams will move back to the starting point guard spot. As a freshman last year, Adams averaged 10.9 points, 2.4 assists and 3.3 rebounds. If he can run the show effectively, keep the turnovers down and find the scoring threats on the wings, the Rebels will be in for a good season. Michael Umeh and Curtis Terry are solid options on the wing. With the addition of Kruger, one will be relegated to the bench. Umeh is a little undersized to be effective at the three spot and his outside shooting skills make him a likely candidate to provide a spark off the bench. Terry, who averaged 7.4 points and 3.0 rebounds last season, can provide more help to the big guys on the glass.
Final Projection: Maybe expectations are always a little high for UNLV, but this squad has the potential to surprise some people in the MWC. Not making a postseason would be a massive disappointment this year. Much of the team's success will lie on Wendell White who may start at the power forward spot. Listed as a 6-6 guard, White has the athletic ability to get on the glass and be effective up front. Foul trouble and depth will be a problem in the paint and the newcomers and returning players like Gaston Essenque and Joe Darger will have to be ready to contribute effectively.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NIT
Projected Starting Five:
Jo'Van Adams, Sophomore, Guard, 10.9 points per game Kevin Kruger, Senior, Guard, 15.0 points per game at ASU Curtis Terry, Junior, Guard, 7.4 points per game Wendell White, Senior, Guard, 7.3 points per game Joel Anthony, Senior, Center, DNP last season