RENO — There are charts and graphs and even a horizontal axis for those math wizards in the group to check. Lots and lots of data. Lots and lots of information. Lots and lots of statistical overload.
But in their simplest form, transition opportunities in basketball are those shots attempted within the first 10 seconds of a possession.
Todd Simon wants UNLV to think simple.
The Rebels have won three straight under their interim coach, and within such positive results has existed a mindset defined by tempo, meaning UNLV players are going to run while following set rules, or those on the floor will be replaced with those on the bench.
“We’re saying to them, ‘Here’s the carrot, now you better go run to get it,'” Simon said. “We’re going to have structure and guys who run to corners and spread the floor and be in a drag ball screen. But as long as they make plays in those first 10 seconds, we’re going to let them keep doing it. The first 10 seconds belong to them. I think they’re enjoying themselves. I think they are embracing it.”
UNLV goes for its fourth consecutive Mountain West win when it plays at UNR on Saturday night, well aware that the two teams (Boise State and San Diego State) everyone is chasing visit the Thomas & Mack Center next week and that falling behind the leaders too far in a conference whose bottom tier is ridiculously bad doesn’t bode well for those believing they can contend for a title.
But in the short time he has led the program in the wake of Dave Rice’s firing, Simon has done well to clarify all messages. Never look beyond the next four-minute segment. Don’t turn the ball over. Make your free throws.
The Rebels are averaging 89 points in those three Mountain West victories and are now second in conference games to Boise State in scoring margin. Perhaps more important, a UNLV team that struggled rebounding the ball at the defensive end to begin the season leads the conference in rebounding margin at a plus-9.
For all the points UNLV has manged lately and for all the open 3-pointers and finishes at the rim, none of it would be possible without getting the sort of stops that have the Rebels ranked among the nation’s top 10 teams in defensive efficiency.
And yet in truth, they are just now really beginning to run.
The national average for field-goal percentage on a first attempt within the first 10 seconds of a possession following a defensive rebound is around 40 percent. UNLV is at 27.5. The Rebels still rank a forgettable 332nd nationally in transition offense and are 68th in adjusted tempo.
What it means: While definitely attempting to push the ball more, UNLV needs to vastly improve its execution within those 10 seconds of a 30-second shot clock.
You figure the better defense it plays, the more those numbers should rise.
“There are definitely guidelines we have to follow when running,” junior forward Ben Carter said. “We can’t go crazy. Coach Simon has made it clear he wants us to be aggressive and thinks we are best on the run and in transition. We have the players to do that, so why not push the ball? He’s getting us to play fast when we are sluggish.
“Winning helps. Had we gone 0-3 these last three games, people would be having a lot different feelings about this team. But we have done a great job preparing for them.”
Confidence is the elixir that heals most fragile spirits. This was a broken team two weeks ago in Laramie, Wyoming, where Rice coached what would be his final game for the Rebels and UNLV departed Arena-Auditorium 0-3 in conference and lost for answers about what might come next.
It might not be as simple as loosening the reins a bit and telling superior athletes to get out and run, but it also might be. Basketball can be a difficult game at this level with no distractions, never mind those that settled into UNLV’s locker room as things were going awry to begin league play.
“I think the bubble may have burst a little on the whole situation, and we met the players halfway on some things on how we want them to play and how they want to play,” Simon said. “We’re going to hold them accountable, but it’s a fun style, and for them to now experience some results has made this thing really fun.
“We have loosened the reins but at the same time tightened them. If you don’t run the way we want, it’s next man up. They’re feeling good about themselves. They believe they will win. They believe we are that team. From there, we can build everything.”
In the simplest of thoughts, just run.
— Ed Graney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be a heard on “Seat and Ed” on Fox Sports 1340 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. On Twitter: @edgraney.