By Manny Nunez
Three seasons ago three Mountain west teams were invited to the NCAA Tournament, but since then it as one-and-done conference in NCAA bids. The pendulum is swinging back in favor of the multiple as it’s RPI is up to ninth and … the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels are at the center of the resurgence.
In Las Vegas, while the expansion NHL team, the Golden Knights, have stolen a lot of the thunder and attention during their remarkable run this season, the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels are trying to win their fan base back. UNLV head coach Marvin Menzies had to do just that, and just in his second season with the program, he brought in a recruiting class that has proven to be one of the best in the nation.
Big-man Brandon McCoy, the crown-jewel of last season’s recruiting haul, became a very late steal at the end of April. He had offers from top name schools like Arizona and Oregon, but he instead took a different route and chose UNLV. Predicted to be a one-and-done athlete, McCoy has been the one threat that has steadily and predictably been a tough match up for UNLV’s opponents this season. He is averaging a double-double in his 12 games played (20.3 ppg, 11.3 rpg). although he averaged 28.2 mpg., fourth on the squad.
Wednesday evening McCoy joined seven Runnin’ Rebels in double figures with 13 points as UNLV shot 64 percent from the floor in blasting Mississippi Valley State, 95-63, at the Thomas & Mack Center.
— UNLV Basketball (@TheRunninRebels) December 21, 2017
The Runnin’ Rebels have benefited to the highest degree with his presence on the court. It is one of the biggest reasons why they stand at 10-2, with their only close losses to potential tournament teams Northern Iowa and Arizona in overtime. While McCoy struggled against Northern Iowa, limited to only nine points, he made up his performance with a 33-point affair on 13-of-17 shooting against Arizona and has scored 20 or more points in two of the last four contests.
He also makes other players around the court much better. Jordan Johnson is appreciating all the help on the floor with McCoy’s presence as he leads the Mountain West Conference with 7.3 assist per game. Shakur Joiston is also taking advantage of McCoy’s height down low as he is right next to McCoy and second in the conference averaging 11 rebounds per game.
As a team, they are also one of the top teams in the nation in field goal percentage (51.4) and one of the top teams in points per game (90.5). This all together has led in due part because of McCoy’s presence on the court, where many Runnin’ Rebels are taking advantage of his explosive play.
“In games that we have played we learn a lot from each other,” Johnson said. “Everyone on the court, including McCoy, has helped us get to where we need to be. Our offense is doing a lot and we want to carry that game by game.”
UNLV could be a major dark horse as the season progresses. When conference play begins they will be one of the favorites to be on top, let alone win the conference tournament. Once the wins continue to pile, they can’t hide. And neither can McCoy.
“We will never play a perfect game,” said Menzies, “The goal is to try to play as close to a perfect game as possible. We always have taken advantage to our runs and streaks, and as we move forward, each game is a good prep for what’s to come. Our guys know what’s coming.”