The 2017-2018 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels had their highs and lows during the course of a sometimes very exciting and also very frustrating season.
Brandon McCoy was everything that UNLV had hoped he would be, but he couldn’t get them over the hump and now they will have a big hole to fill for 2018-2019.
The Good, The Bad And The Future of the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels
The 2017-2018 Runnin’ Rebels provided their coaches and fans with plenty of ups and plenty of downs throughout the course of the season, but overall this season should be viewed as a success. The teams win total almost doubled from the previous year, and Menzies has some talented building blocks in place for next season and also some talented players coming in for the 2018-2019 season, but more on that later. First, lets look at the bright spots from the 2017-2018 season.
- The non conference performance and return of the Runnin’ Rebels – During the non conference, UNLV fans finally got what they had been clamoring for since the days of Jerry Tarkanian. The Runnin’ Rebels. They were playing an exciting brand of fast pace offense, and that helped them secure big non conference wins over Utah, Illinois, and come up just short against a top ten team in Arizona. For the season, the Rebels would finish 13th in the nation in points per game and 19th and 20th in tempo and possessions per game, respectively.
- Brandon McCoy and Shakur Juiston – The front court duo was everything that they were billed. McCoy went on to win Freshman of the Year honors, while also securing a nod for first team all-conference. He finished the season averaging 16.9 points per game and 10.3 rebounds. Sadly for UNLV, McCoy has declared for the NBA draft, and there doesn’t appear to be any chance he’s not going to hire an agent and return for his sophomore year. While that’s unfortunate, UNLV should be ecstatic that they have another year of Shakur Juiston patrolling the paint. Juiston came to UNLV as the top overall junior college player, billed as a hard nosed player and dominant rebounder. He lived up to that billing, averaging 14.6 points per game and 10 rebounds.
- Ending SDSU’s 11 game win streak – There are a lot of UNLV fans that would call the season a success just getting this win. The Aztecs had beaten UNLV 11 times in a row, so knocking off their biggest rival was a good accomplishment.
- Jovan Mooring’s heroic performance at UNR – This is likely the win of the season for the Rebels. Going into Reno and taking down the top 25 ranked Wolf Pack. They were willed to this victory by the fearless (maybe reckless) shot taking and making of senior forward Jovan Mooring. Mooring tallied 31 points in 39 minutes of play. At this point in the conference slate, the Rebels had already beaten SDSU, narrowly lost in OT at Boise State, and notched a huge win at UNR. It looked as though they were ready to compete with the conferences elite teams. However, that would all change.
- Late game defensive woes – This was a very big issue for the Rebels, and they lost more than a couple of big games late due to their inability to get stops closing out games. During non-conference play they lost winnable games to Northern Iowa (the officials bogus blocking call at the end of the game didn’t help either), and Arizona and during conference play they blew a huge game at Boise State in overtime.
- Late game shot selection – There were many times when Jovan Mooring would hit big shots, but there’s a reason why he’s been both loved and hated by the UNLV fan base. His tendency for late, deep, and often off balanced 3-point attempts when the game was on the line. On more than a few occasions, when UNLV had a chance to win or tie, Mooring would opt for an ill-advised, low percentage deep 3-pointer instead of running anything on offense or trying to get the ball inside to Brandon McCoy, who was often the most dominant and skilled player on the court. The biggest example of this was the closing seconds UNLV’s season ending loss to UNR in the conference tournament. With a chance to tie, Mooring ran the clock down, and hoisted up a prayer, even though he had plenty of time to run an offensive set.
- Three point shooting – Once again UNLV was not a very good three point shooting team, shooting 33.4% as a team, good for 252nd, according to Kenpom. But that was to be expected to a point. In only year two of a massive program changing rebuild, there was no way for Menzies to recruit the types of shooters that are going to consistently shoot around 40% from deep. Hopefully that will be changing next season with some key additions to the team.
Even though the Rebels will be losing freshman star Brandon McCoy, they have some talented players returning and some talented recruits coming in.
Shakur Juiston will be returning, bringing a tough veteran presence to the front court. Akron transfer Noah Robotham will be eligible after sitting out this season as a red shirt and will assume the point guard duties. He will provide a veteran presence while running the offense and has already begun receiving praise from his coaches and teammates for his abilities shown in practices thus far. In addition to those two, Amauri Hardy and Tervell Beck, both of whom showed flashes of being good scoring players during the course of the season, will be back to make up a talented core of returning players. When it comes to the incoming freshman, Menzies and his staff have three talented commits signed so far, in Trey Woodbury, Bryce Hamilton, Joel Ntambwe.
Woodbury, a 6’4” shooting guard is known for his 3-pt shooting prowess and with that being an area the Rebels have struggled in for years now, he could play himself into big minutes as a freshman if he can shoot consistently.
Hamilton, a four star guard from California chose UNLV over multiple Power 5 schools and is a player that can score at all three levels, and projects as a plus shooter from beyond the arc. If his high school shooting abilities translate to the college level early on, he could be seeing big minutes as a freshman as well.
Joel Ntambwe, a 6’9” three star prospect, chose UNLV over UCLA, Wichita State, Tennessee and is an energenic, aggressive and athletic player who can guard all five positions on the floor and comes to UNLV with a more polished offensive game than most of the other forwards on the roster.
While the 2017-2018 season didn’t end as many would have hoped, based how good it started, there were still many signs that Menzies and his staff have the program headed in the right direction. They should be able to take another step forward in 2018-2019.