Thursday, January 17, 2013
UNLV's unconventional lineup
By Matt Giles
Ever since Khem Birch became eligible and Mike Moser returned from an injury, UNLV coach Dave Rice has tried different line-up scenarios in an attempt to make his frontcourt more efficient. Moser and Anthony Bennett have the ability to drift to the perimeter and then either use their ball-handling and speed to get to the bucket, or stretch the defense with their shot selection -- per Hoop-Math.com, Moser is comfortable driving the lane and finishing at the rim or using a variety of offensive moves to get his shot off within the arc. As the theory goes, since Bennett and Moser aren't tethered to the post, Birch should be able to have free reign within the block, but so far, that hasn't been the case. While Birch is converting 59 percent of his twos, Anthony Marshall is one of the squad's most consistent finishers at the rim -- 41 percent of his shots are taken in the basket's vicinity -- and his rate is second-highest among the Rebels who use consistent minutes. Marshall, also, is the one Rebel capable of penetrating an opponents' defense and finding Birch (or Bennett) among the trees.
However, against San Diego State, Rice was presented with a conundrum; the Aztecs go small often, using Jamaal Franklin as the '4'. The lineup formation creates mismatches, and allows Franklin to go against either a big, who is ill-suited to defend him on the perimeter, or a guard who might not be able to handle Franklin's strength. Coupled with the fact that Franklin predominantly goes right (even though the scouting report on Franklin is widely-known, teams still struggle to get in front and force him to use his off hand), and SDSU's excels at creating a disadvantage. In the win, though, the Rebels showed they have the ability to go small-ish and still defend. Bennett found himself on the bench for the final four minutes, and as Mike Grimala of RunRebs.com details, Rice used a lineup that included Birch as the sole big; the adaptation allowed UNLV to more quickly cut down the Aztecs' driving lanes, and Birch's presence ensured there was an escape valve, in the case of a shot-blocker, if Franklin or Winston Shepard got past their defender.
It will be interesting to see if Rice uses this defense often in Mountain West competition, or if he only relies on the small-ball roster while facing off against San Diego State. The unique aspect of the lineup is that UNLV loses none of its scoring punch with Bennett or Moser on the bench; Marshall, Bryce Dejean-Jones, and Katin Reinhardt remained on the floor, and their presence does continue to put pressure on SDSU.