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Freshman forward, Derrick Jones Jr. walks to center court during pre-game introductions Wednesday night at the Thomas & Mack (Photo: Jeremy Rincon)
Freshman forward, Derrick Jones Jr. walks to center court during pre-game introductions Wednesday night at the Thomas & Mack (Photo: Jeremy Rincon)

Seven man rotation leads to new game plan for the Rebels

By Manny Vieites
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The game plan for the Rebels took a turn earlier this week when freshman F/C Stephen Zimmerman was ruled out indefinitely due to a knee injury he sustained last Saturday at Fresno State, a game the Rebels managed to take into double overtime before falling to the Bulldogs 11-104 . Already down one big man in Ben Carter–out for season with a torn ACL–Zimmerman’s absence made rebounding and inside play a major concern for the Rebels moving forward.

Freshman F/C Stephen Zimmerman Jr. looks on during the second half against Arizona State on 12.16.15 (Photo: Jeremy Rincon)

Freshman F/C Stephen Zimmerman Jr. looks on during the second half against Arizona State on 12.16.15 (Photo: Jeremy Rincon)

In Wednesday’s 66-61 win over San Jose State, the concerns were shown to be prominent in the first half. The load of the dirty work down low has now been given to freshman forward, Derrick Jones and sophomore  forward, Dwayne Morgan, essentially having them play out of position.

With 19 points per game and 18 rebounds being taken away with the absence of Zimmerman and Carter the Rebels will have to rely on the perimeter play for the remainder of the season.

Keys moving forward for the Rebels:

Jones and Morgan will now have to carry the load down low for the Rebels. Jones pulled down 18 boards while scoring 14 points in 35 minutes to help UNLV win over San Jose State on Wednesday night, proving he is capable of having a big inside presence. The concern is that will this remain consistent amongst the more physical Mountain West teams remaining on the schedule.

Both Jones and Morgan are athletic enough to keep the Rebels in games but the focus will be on the ball movement on the perimeter. Wednesday night the Rebels looked confused at times in their half court sets, feeding the ball into the post, then immediately kicking the ball back out for a contested three.

Derrick Jones Jr. and Dwayne Morgan laugh in celebration after the Rebels narrowly escaped with a 64-61 win over San Jose State on Wednesday (Photo: Jeremy Rincon)

Derrick Jones Jr. (left) and Dwayne Morgan (right) pose in celebration after the Rebels narrowly escaped with a 64-61 win over San Jose State on Wednesday (Photo: Jeremy Rincon)

The game plan will need to change into more of a run and gun style of play. The offense will need to be filtered through senior guard Jerome Seagears but ran through sophomore guard Patrick Macaw; Wednesday was a prime example of just that. When the Rebels made their 14-0 run in the second half Seagears was at the helm while Mccaw provided the scoring to give the Rebels the advantage.

The Rebels half court sets are now going to be ran either off screens or pass and cut ideals. Scoring came easy for the Rebels once they started the pass and cut strategy in the second half of Wednesday’s game. Having the lane clear with no true big men gives the Rebels the advantage to use their speed to create open opportunities.

The fast break game is where the Rebels are going to have to be the most adamant on pursuing moving forward. Jones being the tallest active player remaining on the roster at 6-8 gives UNLV the advantage to push the ball at a high speed. Jones and Morgan are capable of filling the lanes on fast breaks to convert easy transition baskets.

Defense will have to be the main focus of the team moving forward. This is where the momentum will accumulate and the offense will pick up if needed. The Rebels will have to implement the full court press to get ahead in the game rather than initiating the press when playing from behind.

To start Wednesday’s game the Rebels opened up with a 2-3 defense which was initially a great idea considering the potential miss match opportunity for the opposing team. Later in the second half the 2-3 zone turned into a 2-3 trap defense, meaning Seagears or Mccaw would double up on the player as soon as he passes half court. This strategy proved to be efficient on for the Rebels comeback surge.

Jerome Seagears sets up the offense late in the game Wednesday against San Jose State (Photo: Jeremy Rincon)

Jerome Seagears sets up the offense late in the game Wednesday against San Jose State (Photo: Jeremy Rincon)

The play style that the Rebels have became so accustomed to, the three ball, has became a big deciding factor meaning good and bad things. From this point on, the three pointer should be used strategically in the offensive game plan. Three’s should only be shot in dribble drive situations or in the fast break.

Having the three pointer be the “go to” option is not the way the Rebels are going to survive the season, and that was proven on Wednesday shooting  a mere 4-20 (20%).

Look for the Rebels to come out in a 2-3 defense while turning up the defensive energy early on Saturday. Offensively look for more dribble drive movement and players moving without the basketball. With no true big man in the paint there will have to be more cutters and, more importantly, screens set off the ball to create easy opportunities.

“Having only a seven man roster, forces us to play to for each other”, Seagears said.  

Six more games remain in conference play for the Rebels, resuming Saturday against Colorado State at the Thomas & Mack. Tip-off’s at 7 PM PST and can be seen on ESPNU and ESPN3.

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