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A Vegas Look At Duke vs. UNLV

The good guys at Mountain West Connection reached out to us to ask if we’d like to do an e-mail exchange on Saturday’s Duke-Vegas game. Here’s what Barbara Farkas sent our way. Thanks Barbara!

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NCAA Basketball: Boise State at UNLV
Jerry Tarkanian, who departed UNLV in 1992, still dominates the program today - and that’s a bit of a problem.
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

How has Marvin Menzies been received? He made a good impression when he came to Duke with NMSU.

Menzies, from what I’ve been able to observe, has been received in a positive light. He took on a full rebuilding job after UNLV went around the coaching carousel and was still able to put together a “not so bad team” that currently sits at 5-3 with a roster full of freshman and new faces.

Fans seem to like his in-game coaching, talking to each player as they come off the floor while making the game-time adjustments that was missing from Dave Rice. Within the Dave Rice era, there were a lot of egos clashing on the floor and this years team just wants to win. Yes, that sounds cliche given the circumstances but it’s refreshing watching a group of selfless guys actually playing like a team.

The injury bug can impact any program and as Duke fans would know, lingering injuries prevent teams from playing at their full potential. In no way I’m going to compare UNLV’s roster to Duke’s but not having certain players on the court definitely makes a difference. The cohesion just isn’t there yet but this team seems talented enough to compete well and give themselves a chance to finish in the top half of a one-bid league in the MWC.

What offensive and defense schemes is Vegas running?

Offensively, UNLV is known to play run and gun basketball, after all, they’re the Runnin’ Rebels. The Rebels like forcing the tempo, trying to create turnovers and to push the ball in transition. They use the PnR to attack the basket a lot and draw fouls to get to the free throw line.

This years team has a chance to be more effective defensively than recent Rebel teams. Menzies continues to emphasize defense, which in turn creates more offensive opportunities. Given the lack of depth, size and length in UNLV’s front court, there's more pressure for guards to find ways to score instead of settling for long or unbalanced shots.

Defensively, UNLV usually employs man-to-man about 85 percent of the time but there's in game situations where Menzies will have the guys go to a zone to create mismatch issues but there's times where guys get lost on their defensive assignments allowing open looks for the opposing team.

Who are your biggest threats?

I’d have to go with Jalen Poyser and Tyrell Green, both players have the capability to have big time games (which they've had) and they just score in bunches. They’re very good spot up shooters as well as being a 3-point threat. Poyser leads UNLV in scoring with 17.5 ppg, is versatile in the backcourt, plays well off the ball and has great court vision.

UNLV lives and dies by the 3 but when the Rebels gets hot, as any team can, the three point shot is a weapon and these guys have the makings of being big time threats from deep.

Vegas has swagger in its DNA – who has the most for you this season?

Have to go with junior forward Dwayne Morgan — He most definitely brings it every game, has a youthful enthusiasm for the game of basketball and his energy is off the charts. Morgan is from Baltimore but you would think he’s a Vegas product by the way that he reps UNLV, his attitude has always been Rebel.

Morgan is foul-prone so it’s hard to rely on getting heavy minutes, he’s averaging about 22 minutes in his seven games played. He's struggled to find his rhythm offensively his first two seasons at UNLV but he’s finally becoming an important part of the this year’s offense. Morgan is getting better looks in the post, getting more comfortable with his shots and has the ability to average a double-double each game if he didn't get himself into foul trouble.

How is the program perceived in town now? Under Tark it was a real emblem of Vegas.

There is definitely a lot of criticism with the UNLV basketball program especially for those diehard fans that have been around since the Tark days that have seen the good, the bad and the ugly. Rebel fans love to live in the past but for those like me, I wasn’t even born during UNLV’s national championship game victory in 1990 against Duke so it’s hard to give a first person assessment as I’ve only been around for the Dave Rice days and now Marvin Menzies.

It’s hard to compare the legacy of Tark. He was the face of UNLV basketball yet fans continue to live off of the nostalgia of the 80s and 90s but it’s 2016 and while Tark’s legacy lives on, the program had nine different full-time head coaches since then.

UNLV should focus on trying to get back to being a consistently decent program as opposed to trying to relive the Tark years. While UNLV has had solid wins against top 25 teams in recent years (Indiana, Arizona, North Carolina), to think that the Rebels ranks up there with Kansas, Kentucky, Duke etc. is pretty far-fetched.

How did folks react to the recent coaching turmoil?

Oh man, the UNLV coaching carousel, that felt so long ago.

UNLV AD Tina Kunzer-Murphy and UNLV president Len Jessup should have never fired Dave Rice in the middle of the season. Not sure who pulled the trigger on that mutual agreement but regardless of the teams record, it wasn’t the right decision and it showed incompetent leadership by not planning ahead in the coaching search.

Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin was a dumpster fire in itself and the Chris Beard situation just showed that Power 5 conferences always win. Also, location, family and salary played an important role in his decision to leave for his dream job.

With an already diminished reputation, UNLV needed a coach that understood the program and history and the answer lied in Marvin Menzies. While it wasn’t the sexiest hire considering coaching rumors pointed to Rick Pitino and even George Karl, ultimately, Menzies was the right coach for the UNLV job.

Do you think UNLV can become an elite program again?

Define elite program.

UNLV has played in just 8 NCAA tournaments since 1991, made it past the first round only twice, and made it to the Sweet 16 only once, and has only won two regular season conference championships.

In simpler terms, UNLV has now become irrelevant in the college hoops landscape and it’s pretty sad to think about.

Everyone talks about this “winning culture” in Las Vegas, the “Tark days,” but that was over two decades ago and yet UNLV basketball lives on its past. All you ever hear about is how great UNLV use to be 25 years ago. While the names Greg Anthony, Stacey Augmon and Larry Johnson might be familiar to those that have been around the program for decades and follow basketball, most kids and recruits don't even know about those Tarkanian teams and can recognize few, if any of the players.

And while UNLV has sent players to the league in the recent years— Anthony Bennett, Rashad Vaughn and Christian Wood are far from measuring sticks for NBA success.

For now, expectations should be low. No one is expecting a tournament run from this year’s team and none for a few more seasons realistically, but Menzies has put together a great coaching staff and laid a solid foundation to build this program upwards.

Right now, UNLV’s biggest enemy is time and success shouldn't fully be measured by wins

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