The overriding question as UNLV opens its basketball season is whether the Rebels can develop the chemistry to maximize a substantial upgrade in talent.
That has proven to be an obstacle too high for many recent UNLV teams, but this season’s nonconference schedule is so weak the Rebels should be able to stockpile victories and build chemistry early.
“It would be real good to be able to play not-so-tough teams and get confidence going and get wins on our record,” guard Kris Clyburn said. “It would be a confidence boost for when we play the big teams.”
UNLV hopes to begin to bounce back from its worst season when Florida A&M visits the Thomas & Mack Center at 7 p.m. Saturday. The season opener will be aired on Facebook, and to find the broadcast, follow the website’s Live: Stadium College Basketball Show page.
Eight of the Rebels’ 13 nonconference opponents had losing records last season, including FAMU, which went 7-23 and is on its fifth coach in 12 years. The Rebels are 24½-point favorites.
Given UNLV is trying to forget last season’s 11-21 record and will try to mesh eight new players, the early schedule could provide an opportunity to try different combinations by the time Mountain West play rolls around Dec. 30 against Boise State.
Coach Marvin Menzies said the priority, though, has to be winning before entertaining any thoughts of experimenting with rotations.
“We’re going to play the games to win the games,” he said. “Then given an opportunity based on score, we may do some things. There are other things to factor in. Obviously, the health factor. Is there an opportunity to rest some guys? Is there an opportunity to give other guys some additional minutes from an experience standpoint?”
He expects to have a full lineup against the Rattlers, though there are physical concerns in the post. Five-star recruit Brandon McCoy will make his debut after missing a 97-73 exhibition victory over Alaska Fairbanks with an ankle injury. He could see reduced minutes. Cheickna Dembele also is dealing with an ankle injury but will play.
“You know how that is, once their adrenaline gets pumping … they’re usually, ‘I’m good, Coach, I’m good,’” Menzies said. “So we’ll see how it goes.”
Much more is expected of UNLV now that Menzies goes into his second year without having to scramble to put together a roster like he did in 2016. The Rebels had the Mountain West’s highest-rated recruiting class, of which McCoy was the headliner.
UNLV has been down this path before, generating more positive publicity in the offseason than when after the games began. Maybe this season will be different, and the opportunity will be there to get off to a quick start.
This year’s team, though, is already off to a much faster beginning than last season’s.
“This offseason, almost all the players were together since June,” Dembele said. “Last offseason when I first came here, everybody wasn’t here yet. Players came at different times, so we didn’t have time to be together and work in the summer. But this one, we worked together since June and we really worked in the summer. We did all the conditioning and everything together.”
Florida A&M at UNLV
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Thomas & Mack Center
TV/Radio: Facebook (online stream); KWWN (1100 AM, 100.9 FM)
Line: UNLV -24½; total N/A
Florida A&M (7-23 last season)
Coach: Robert McCullum (first season)
(Statistics are from last season.)
(Player ; Pos. ; Ht. ; Ppg.)
Kamron Reaves ; G ; 6-1 ; N/A
Marcus Barham ; G ; 6-5 ; 12.6
Brendon Myles ; G ; 6-4 ; 4.3
Desmond Williams ; F ; 6-6 ; 16.2
Isaiah Martin ; C ; 7-0 ; N/A
UNLV (11-21 last season)
Coach: Marvin Menzies (11-21, second season)
(Statistics are from last season)
(Player ; Pos. ; Ht. ; Ppg.)
Jordan Johnson ; G ; 5-11 ; DNP
Jovan Mooring ; G ; 6-2 ; 12.6
Kris Clyburn ; G ; 6-6 ; 7.3
Shakur Juiston ; F ; 6-7 ; N/A
Cheickna Dembele ; F ; 6-11 ; 4.0