Analysis:

UNLV Extras: Examining the reasons for the team’s constant road struggles

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Air Force’s Mike Fitzgerald is pressured by UNLV’s Anthony Marshall during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, at Air Force Academy, Colo. (AP Photo/The Gazette, Jerilee Bennett)

UNLV vs. Air Force

Air Force's Kamryn Williams greets fans Air Force defeated UNLV 71-56 during an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, at Air Force Academy, Colo. (AP Photo/The Gazette, Jerilee Bennett) Launch slideshow »

At this point, it seems like just about everything has to go right for UNLV (18-7, 5-5) to win a game on the road in the Mountain West.

In the San Diego State game, the Rebels’ only road league win this year, they came out ready to play, answered every Aztec run and outplayed their rivals. Conversely, UNLV hasn’t shown the ability to play less than its best (or at least in the 90-percent range of its best) and still win.

For example, the Rebels played poorly at Fresno State, trailed by 16 and lost by nine. Wednesday night, New Mexico played poorly at Fresno State, trailed by 11 at halftime and won by six. The Lobos’ and Rebels’ offensive numbers were very similar in both of those games, lending credence to the idea UNLV coach Dave Rice often repeats: Playing consistent defense is the best way to win on the road.

The Rebels haven’t done that in any of the last three games, including Wednesday's 71-56 loss at Air Force, leading to three defeats.

Coaches or players: who’s more at fault for a game like Air Force?

I posed this question on Twitter late Wednesday after first posting some quotes from Rice and senior guard Anthony Marshall. Those remarks were shortened versions of these:

Rice: “It’s time for our program to grow up and accept the fact that we’re going to play Runnin’ Rebel basketball. We’re going to build a program with those who choose to be part of it, and those who don’t, we’ll wish them well and we’ll move on.”

Marshall: “The coaching staff did a great job with the scouting report; we knew everything they were going to do. But as you see they still got us with it.”

I don’t think assigning blame really solves much but I consider it an interesting thought exercise from fans on the weight of responsibility between coaches and players. Everyone said the Rebels knew what the Falcons were going to do, and having seen practice I can attest to some of that.

Air Force’s offense — predominately cuts and flares to the basket plus Michael Lyons one-on-one — is so well known it’s impossible to think the Rebels didn’t know what was coming. Yet they got beat on multiple backdoor cuts early in the game, the same thing that happened at Boise State.

That would seem to be a player issue, but UNLV’s road woes have been a problem so long that you can make a convincing argument the onus is on the coaches to fix things. Not just scout the upcoming opponent but diagnose and fix the issues causing UNLV to constantly come out flat and do things like allow its offensive struggles to negatively affect its defense.

Honestly the best, and most boring, answer is both groups share blame. It is, after all, a team game.

Is UNLV’s road record really as bad as it seems?

In nearly two full seasons under Rice the Rebels are 3-10 on the road in Mountain West play, including 1-5 so far this year.

Two-year road MW records*

  • New Mexico 7-5
  • San Diego St. 6-6
  • Colorado St. 3-8
  • Wyoming 3-9
  • Air Force 3-9
  • UNLV 3-10
  • Boise Stae 2-10
  • *as of 2/14

Of the six other teams who have been in the league both last year and this year, New Mexico has the best road record (7-5) while Boise State has the worst (2-10). UNLV has the most losses so far this year but it has also played on more road game than every other team. Fresno State is winless (0-4) while four other teams are currently at 1-4.

There are two ways to take this information. The optimists’ view is that UNLV’s road mark is average, which by definition isn’t that bad. Second-place Colorado State is 3-8 over the same time period — 1-6 under Tim Miles, 2-2 under Larry Eustachy — with four more road games to go this year, including this Wednesday at UNLV.

The pessimists’ view is that average isn’t good enough for a team picked to contend for the title this year and that was in position to do the same last year before losing four consecutive road games.

Your view of just how good or bad that 3-10 mark is depends on just how much better you feel UNLV should perform.

Odds and ends

Rice was more fired up than almost any other time I can remember. Had the Rebels played better and still lost — Air Force was very good, after all — it would have been different. But I got the feeling the embarrassment of throwing away any momentum from the New Mexico victory and trailing by 24 at one point were just more than he could take.

Here are a few of his comments I couldn’t work into the story but felt like sharing:

— On the team in general:

“We’ve got to grow up quickly, and it’s not just our younger guys who need to grow up; it’s our older guys as well.”

— On Anthony Bennett's technical foul for throwing the ball in Michael Lyons’ chest when UNLV trailed by 17:

“Our first priority is always the next game but it’s also building a program that Runnin’ Rebel fans, former players and former coaches can all be proud of. Those kind of plays are not necessary, period.”

Also: “It doesn’t matter what the score is, we’re not going to play like that. That’s not how we’re going to represent our team."

— On the bad start affecting the rest of the game:

“We are incredibly disappointed with that performance; it’s inexcusable. … We prepared well, we knew exactly what they were going to do yet we came out flat, couldn’t make a shot and we allowed that to affect our identity like we’ve done the last number of games on the road.”

One last thing. Junior forward Mike Moser played 14 minutes against Air Force, all without any protection on his right elbow. That doesn't seem to back up Rice's assertion after Monday's practice that Moser's two minutes against New Mexico were related tot he physical play, because if that was still an issue Moser would at least have a padded sleeve on, right?

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or taylo[email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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  1. It's laudable that Coach Rice wants to run and score quickly,but giving players unrestrained freedom leads to more turnovers and rushed first shots. The team needs to get touches by post players more often before jacking up wild threes.

    UNLV can't alway run - other teams seem to impose their pace on UNLV rather than vice versa. The UNLV staff needs to learn and then teach the team how to play a half court offense. UNLV doesn't rebound well and some teams focus on getting back on defense quickly to defend against a UNLV fast break. Opponents know that if they put up a good zone defense, UNLV will collapse. To combat a zone defense, UNLV needs to put a tall post player in the high post and if he can't get a shot, drive, or pass to the low post player, he needs to pass the ball back out to the opposite side of the court. As a lefty, Anthony always attacks from the left side. Constantly attacking from one side makes it too easy for the other team to defend.

  2. If the Rebels were even a .500 road team, then I'd be happy.

  3. It's the coaches' responsibility to have the team ready to play.

    If they come out flat, it's the coaches' fault.

    If they don't execute the game plan, it's the coaches' fault.

    If they have a bad attitude, it's the coaches' fault.

    That's what you pay coaches for.....to take responsibility for the team's performance! The "coaches or players" part of this story was ridiculous.

  4. Sorry, this one is on the players. They didn't give any type of effort. I didn't see the Fresno game, but this game, they were typically flat-footed on D and sometimes flat-footed standing upright. They gave half-hearted efforts all night long. To say the coaches are at fault? These kids have played BB forever, they are talented enough if they would have played hard with no coaching they would still have been able to win this game.
    As for offense, running means running. You run to put pressure on the defense, getting the lay up is icing on the cake. Marshall tends to slow it up when people are in front. If the defense is in front, you still run to back them to the basket, then quick passes before the defense is set and find the open man. I'm not sure the players understand the concept. But it is certainly alot easier to say then perform.

  5. Sinatra only got it half right.
    The whole story was ridiculous.

  6. Billy Donovan won 2 National Champioships back-to-back in 2006-2007 with Florida. His seniors graduated, but he signed all-americans and top 100 talent. The next 2 years the gators went to the NIT. The third year Florida lost to BYU in the 1st round of the NCAA tournament. Did Billy Donovan become a bad coach after his championships? Good teams have great chemistry. It takes years to build. Donovan started coaching Florida in 1996. I think we need a few more years to judge Rice on what kind of coach he is. What we do know is Rice has recruited very well so far.

  7. @patticcus - You're 100% right. It takes time. He needs at least five years before you can say if the Rebels made a good or bad hire.

    Also, I think Dave Rice has a clear vision for the program. He wants an up-tempo team whose number one priority is to win the next game and to build a program that the Rebel community can be proud of.

  8. If I were to try a few things at this point:

    On the road, send Goodman in ANY time somebody doesn't show effort. Rather die fighting than hiding. Maybe even start him to prove a point.

    Tell Katin, and the team, it's KR time - start breakin' ankles. His team's have always looked to him to pull them through. It's time to give him that type of confidence again. Would love to see more KR at the point... AM can do even more damage than before from the 2 with the way he has developed - shooting 49%!!!

    And last - don't know if possible - but I'd love to see at least one day a week conditioning at Mt Charleston. Let's go "downhill" when we go to places like Laramie, Boise, and Co Springs.

  9. Patticcus, you my friend are dead on! I read every single post on this comment board and you can always see the trolls coming out of the wood work. They are so well known on here they have taken to either high-fiving each other or eating each other alive. The thing they all have in common is the drivel they spew the same way trolls did when Tark was coaching. The guy would have 20-25+ win seasons and they would belly ache and ask for his head every year. So dumb. They all sound like wannabe athletes/coaches trying to inspire teams through shame and humiliation. None of you are going to be the Norman Dale catalyst this team needs with your old school down home pithy cliches and critiques.
    Dave Rice has his hands full, he has a big headed former phenom NBA bound failure in Mike Moser, now he has to contend with guiding another amazing talent through the minefield of expectations and humility in Anthony Bennett. All the while trying to ignore the smarter than the average UNLV fan... What a nightmare. Don't worry Dave they called for Tarks head when he was losing to the likes of Pacific, Long Beach State, New Mexico State, and UC Santa Barbara. The teams you are losing to are INFINITELY better than those teams. You're doing a bang up job of trying to get Lon's guys through their UNLV careers while they fight you all the way. You're a bigger man than I, if it were up to me I'd kick all their butts off the team, play the rest of the season with your 7 guys and lose every game if that's what it took to make my point.

  10. Losing on the road happens. Getting drilled by much lesser talented teams should not. The statement that got me was from Michael Lyons. I'm paraphrasing but it was along the lines of, "We were surprised at their lack of effort. I don't know, maybe we took their hearts out early or something." Lyons is a class act and for him to say something like that is eye opening.

  11. Not one word in this article about players late to the team bus and missing practice, and the effects that has on team chemistry.

  12. I am starting to think Bennett is a punk- so he should fit right in with the rest of the lame brain thugs that permeate the NBA.
    Disagree about Moser- I think the guy is just stuck as a tweener- as a power forward in college he can be a stud (see last year) but for him to play in the NBA he will have to be a 3, and he is incapable of playing that position. If he comes back next year, I would play him at the 4 instead of trying to help his NBA dreams and playing him at the 3 where he hurts the team.

  13. One thing I dont understand, why doesnt Marshal,Thomas, Hawkins stand up with the team and say HEY Im a senior and I dont want to go out like this and tell the rest of them to get there **it together and lets make a run and show that UNLV is still a team to be rekoned with. We need someone or something to get this team fired up. SOMEONE STEP UP. Cmon on boys have some PRIDE........

  14. @JahReb:

    LMFAO- was thinking exactly the same thing when I was reading his diatribe....

  15. In the past, I've seen Rebel teams overachieve, and I have seen Rebel teams play par for the expectations. But I have NEVER seen a Rebel team UNDERachieve as much as this year's team has. Maybe my expectations were too high. maybe i was eager to relive the glory years.... I don't know what goes on behind closed doors and in our locker rooms. But from what I see as a fan in the seats, two things are painfully obvious:
    1) Bennett neither has the heart, nor the slightest bit of interest in the well being of the team. He is just going thru the motions, playing his "one year", using UNLV as the stepping stone on his way to the next level. He may be physically intimidating, and loaded with natural talent, but he plays with single digit bball IQ. He shows signs of Laziness in transition, and in my opinion, destroying any kind of chemistry this team can have. I'll be the first fan to put this on the record: I cannot wait for this premadonna to leave at the end of the season. His 18ppg is deceiving, and his antics on the court hurt the team. With him gone, the coaching staff can concentrate on building a team based on multiplayers, instead of controlling the ego of one so called "superstar"
    2) Coach Rice and Co are way over their heads as "coaches". Although I blame the team's lack of discipline and motivation on the coaching staff, I do not believe they should be replaced anytime soon. If anyone understands what the Rebel fan base wants from the program, it is Dave Rice and Stacey Augmon. As coaches they are young and inexperienced. Their play book has only a few pages. As they learn and improve, so will the team. Sure, pretty much every aspect of this team needs improvement, but that is how you build successful programs: start from the foundation and build up. I never believed Rice and Co could make a powerhouse in 2 years out of a program that's been at best mediocre for the last 20 years. I believe they have earned the chance to build this program. Let's not forget, this team is only a Fast Paced Offensive minded true Point Guard away from being a true Running team. Marshall's deliberate slowdown and his half court offense has gone against everything we expected out of a Running team. If the program is stuck in the same position 3 years from now, I'll be the first one to call for Rice's resignation. But for now, I'm enjoying the ups and downs of this roller coaster ride.
    I bleed Scarlet and Gray, and I will be in my seat Saturday night cheering this team as loud as I can. I will support the coach and the team, and yes, even Bennett. Sure, I expect more from my team, but this team is "my" team, and I am a Rebel thru the thick and thin...
    Now, lets show SDSU some T&M love in the worst way possible....
    Go, Fight, Win...

  16. That loss is on the players. Marshall stated that the coaches prepared them for Air Force well, and knew exactly what they were gonna do.

    Bottom line is that Rebels have just been playing everyone else's game instead of establishing their game/identity. AIr Force backdoor cuts, everyone knows that. Rebels run...er...supposed to run? Rebels feed the ball inside...er...jack up quick 3's without anyone positioned to rebound? Which is it?

    They need to figure out how they want to play and dictate their game and go out and do it instead of playing to the competition. They need to have it in their head that no one is going to beat them to a loose ball, tough rebound, boxout, drive to the lane, etc.

  17. Again, one (1) word: "OVERRATED". As we ALL know, it is not only the players to blame. Ultimately, it is the COACHES who are at FAULT.

    To much hype with no structure or foundation leads to not so good endings - results.

  18. It's funny..."Lon's guys" beat North Carolina and played better last year. This year, with more of "Rice's guys" on the team, they're playing worse. That excuse is such B.S.

    LMFAO

  19. Rice Rice Rice, it's all Rices fault fire him , fire him now. Let Augman coach he can do better that Rice ever could.

  20. @JahReb and Foyt- Much <3 to two of the biggest trolls.

    Notice I didn't call for Dave's head and thrash what the guy is trying to accomplish. I just mentioned my own broken and pathetic limitations. Sometimes trolls will mistake honest self analysis as grandstanding. Trolling looks good on you guys keep up the good job.