Departures Just Might Benefit The Runnin' Rebels

By Jon Rothstein
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Memorial Day weekend is usually filled with barbecues, laughter, and fun.

You socialize. You talk. You eat. It’s really that simple.

The last thing we expect to talk about during this annual three-day stretch is a major transfer in the world of college basketball.

But that’s just what happened when a report came out on Saturday that Katin Reinhardt was transferring from UNLV after just one season with the Runnin Rebels.

For the past few days, we’ve heard the same things.

How could Reinhardt leave after being fourth on UNLV in scoring as a freshman (10.1 PPG), and second in minutes played (29.2)?

The first thing I thought when I heard Reinhardt was leaving? Runnin Rebels coach Dave Rice may finally have the one thing next season that he so desperately needed a year ago — quality role allocation.

Let me first say this. I like Reinhardt. I like his confidence. I admire his swagger. He’s a good kid, and a big time offensive talent.

But there were many times last year where I watched UNLV games and felt that Reinhardt hurt the fluidity of the Runnin Rebels’ offense. The 6-5 guard forced things. He regularly took bad shots early in the shot clock.

Rice’s team may have had blue-chip talent, but they definitely didn’t have great chemistry.

That could change next season.

UNLV may be without Reinhardt, Anthony Bennett (NBA), and Mike Moser, who opted to transfer to Oregon, but this could be the classic case of less being more.

Bryce Dejean-Jones was the Runnin Rebels’ third leading scorer last season (10.1 PPG), and he immediately becomes this team’s primary perimeter option after Reinhardt’s departure. The former USC guard is always in attack mode, and should benefit from playing alongside DeVille Smith, a JUCO transfer that should finally give this team the pure point guard they’ve so desperately needed.

Sophomore Daquan Cook is an another option at point guard, and incoming freshman Kendall Smith was a Top 100 recruit out of high school that should compete for minutes at the “one”.

The real wild card on the perimeter for UNLV is Jelan Kendrick, a former McDonald’s All-American that’s already had stints at Memphis and Ole Miss. Kendrick is a mercurial talent, but at 6-5, he could be a valuable resource for this team offensively next to Dejean-Jones.

Up front, Khem Birch should be one of the breakout players nationally. The 6-9 Birch averaged 7.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per game last year, while only playing 21.8 minutes per contest because he had to share time up front with Bennett and Moser. With Birch’s minutes set to increase, his production should go through the roof.

UConn transfer Roscoe Smith is a prime candidate to replace Moser as a face up four-man. Smith started for the Huskies when they won a national title in 2011, and can play multiple positions at 6-8. Freshman Christian Wood is another Top 100 recruit at 6-10 who could push for a spot in this team’s rotation along with sophomore Savon Goodman, red shirt freshman Demetris Morant, and skilled veteran Carlos Lopez.

There’s not as much cache being associated with this program as there was 12 months ago, but I think that’s a good thing.

If we’ve learned anything from the past few years in college basketball, it’s that chemistry has become more critical than its ever been. In a sport that’s been dominated by parity over the last half decade, teams that are always in sync now have a way of out performing teams that may have better talent (See Wichita State last season).

Last season, UNLV had a lottery pick in Bennett, a potential All-American in Moser, and a highly-touted freshman in Reinhardt — but they didn’t have cohesion.

A big reason for that is they didn’t have a true point guard to set the table — and Smith — who started his college career at Mississippi State, could go a long way in terms of giving this team what they’ve been missing since Oscar Bellfield’s graduation in 2012.

I’m not saying UNLV is going to win the Mountain West next season. But I am saying I think they have a chance to be a better basketball team in 2013-14 than they were in 2012-13.

They won’t have better talent, but they’ll likely have better chemistry.

If we’ve learned anything recently, that’s all that matters.

Follow Jon on Twitter: @JonRothstein

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