On his first day as UNLV’s coach, in 2011, Dave Rice made his intentions clear. “Winning is No. 1, I get that—but style of play is going to be 1A,” he said. “We’re going to get out and run. We’re the Runnin’ Rebels. Everything will be up-tempo.”
More than two years later, the Rebels are still chasing that goal. Rice’s two teams have picked up the pace and led the league in adjusted tempo, according to kenpom.com, but those teams never followed through on the style. Rice didn’t run much full-court pressure. And a dichotomy was also apparent on many offensive possessions, when Rice would wave his arm trying to urge his players to speed up, only to watch guards jog down the court.
Still, perception has been greater than reality on the recruiting trail. Nearly every recruit I’ve talked to over the past two years has mentioned UNLV’s style as a positive. I want to get out and run, the kids say, and that’s the way they play. “They like to get it down the floor,” said 2014 commit Dwayne Morgan … after a home win against New Mexico in which neither team broke 65 points.
Practices, which began October 7, certainly feel different, with players picking up full court after every made basket and out-of-bounds play. “We want that to be part of our identity,” Rice says. “We want to make teams use the entire floor. We feel like we have the depth and the personnel to do that.”
UNLV doesn’t want to go to the extremes of Grinnell’s offense (shoot within 10 seconds) or VCU’s havoc defense (relentless trapping). Instead, Rice says the Rebels will focus on man pressure that should force opponents into mistakes without the high risk of getting beaten for easy baskets.
And offensively, the Rebels sound committed to grabbing rebounds and pushing them up the court better than they have. “We want to play as fast as possible,” junior Roscoe Smith says. “I’m over-exaggerating, but we want to have 100 points in the first half.”
UNLV Men's Basketball, Scarlet/Gray Showcase October 17, 7:30 p.m., free. Thomas & Mack Center, 739-3267.