In his first season as head coach, UNLV’s Dave Rice led the Runnin’ Rebels to the NCAA tournament in March. But they fell short of postseason expectations when they lost to Colorado in the second round.
The program, however, has added a nationally ranked recruiting class to help potential All-American forward Mike Moser (14.0 ppg, 10.5 rpg). Freshman Anthony Bennett and Pitt transfer Khem Birch give UNLV one of the toughest frontcourts in the country. But it's missing former point guard Oscar Bellfield.
Still, the bar is quite high for Rice’s second season. He recently talked with ESPN.com about the 2012-13 campaign and his personal goals for the program.
You’ve added a lot of depth this offseason? How will you balance your rotation this season?
Dave Rice: The first answer is all of that will be earned through competition and practice. I think the second answer is that we talked throughout the recruiting process about the potential of redshirting. When you take a look at 13 scholarship guys, Khem Birch can’t play until December the 17th with the fact that he transferred midyear. Roscoe Smith transferred from UConn but we submitted a waiver on his behalf and that waiver was denied. So we’re down to 11 to start the season. And we’re going to redshirt one or two more guys as well. Haven’t made the decision as to who those guys will be. But there are some freshmen that we’ve talked to about the potential of doing that and they’re open to that possibility. Overall, we’re excited about our depth. The competition in practice will be terrific.
How does Mike Moser enhance this team on and off the floor?
DR: Mike’s got so many positive qualities that helps this team win. The first is that he’s a very talented player. He’s got a fantastic skill in terms of his ability to rebound the basketball. But then you throw in his leadership quality, the fact that’s he’s well respected and liked by his teammates. And then, he possesses a tremendous work ethic. He’s a guy who deserves all the good things that have happened for him and all the good things that will continue to happen for him as well. … He’s worked as hard as anybody I’ve ever seen in the offseason. He knew that there were a few things that he needed to work on. He’s addressed some of those things.
There are questions at point guard with Bellfield gone. What’s the correlation between this team’s ability to fill that void and reach its potential?
DR: We all, particularly in college basketball, rely so heavily on guard play. We’re excited about the group we have. Anthony Marshall is a three-year starter. He was an all-conference player. He will be one of our captains. We’re excited about having him. And certainly, Justin Hawkins brings great experience. And then we added three new guys that we think will all contribute in a big way in terms of perimeter minutes (Katin Reinhardt, Daquan Cook and Bryce Dejean-Jones). They’re guys that work hard, and certainly, they’ll take their lead from our two seniors in the backcourt, Anthony Marshall and Justin Hawkins who will provide great leadership.
Has the Mountain West proven itself on a national level based on its success in recent years?
DR: I certainly think we feel that way. Three years ago, there were four teams in the NCAAs. Two years ago, there’s three. And last year, eight teams in the league and four teams make the NCAA tournament. So, those of us who’ve been in the league, we know how good the league is. And I think that we can start to get that national recognition. We all recognize that we need to have more postseason success. That’s the next step. We obviously need to all qualify for the postseason, that’s the first step. But the next step after that to truly make our mark as a league nationally is to have success in the postseason. We certainly feel like we have the teams in place that can do that. It will be a very competitive league.
Your program will continue to play that up-and-down style. But there were some defensive lapses last year. How do you plan to address that this year?
DR: There’s no doubt that the biggest improvement we want to make this year on our basketball team is at the defensive end. Again, we inherited a group that was very defensive-oriented. Had done a terrific job under Coach [Lon] Kruger on the defensive end. It was very important, I thought, in our first year in terms of grounding our program to be the Runnin’ Rebels. It was important for guys to understand pace of play. There were times last year that we didn’t defend or defensive rebound as well as we needed to. So that will be the emphasis going into practice next week. It will be on the defensive end and defensive rebounding because we truly believe with the depth we have, with the players we have, we need to create more offense out of our defense. So, we are never going to sacrifice defensive possessions to run up and down the floor. If we’re going to be as good as we feel like we have the potential to be -- and potential is a dangerous word -- we’ve got to defend more consistently and rebound the ball better than we did last year. We can’t just assume Mike Moser’s going to get them all.