LAS VEGAS (AP) Marvin Menzies knew it would take some time to know what type of team he had at UNLV. He was new, the system was new and so were most of the players.
The timeframe has been extended by a series of injuries before the season even started.
Dwayne Morgan, Cheickna Dembele and Jovan Mooring all suffered injuries during preseason camp, leaving the Runnin’ Rebels short-handed in practice and unable to fully implement the style of play Menzies would like after taking over the storied program.
”If anything, you look for the silver lining: Better on the front end,” Menzies said. ”But we’ve got enough bullets to start the battle. Hopefully we can get these guys back and catch some continuity when they get back.”
UNLV had a rough 2015-16 season, finishing 18-15 after coach Dave Rice was fired in January.
The school flirted with Rick Pitino and Mick Cronin before hiring Chris Beard to run the program. Less than a week later, Beard was gone, leaving Las Vegas to become the head coach at Texas Tech, where he previously worked as an assistant.
UNLV then turned back to Menzies, who had been in the running for the job the first go-round. The 55-year-old former UNLV assistant made a name for himself in nine seasons at New Mexico State, routinely pulling in strong recruiting classes while leading the Aggies to the NCAA Tournament five times.
Menzies’ task at UNLV is to turn around a program that’s been inconsistent despite a wealth of talent, missing the NCAA Tournament the past three seasons.
Stephen Zimmerman, Patrick McCaw and Derrick Jones Jr., the best players from last year’s team, headed off to the NBA and several other players left the program, leaving Menzies a small window to build his roster almost from the ground up.
The affable coach did well in a short timeframe, adding five freshmen and five transfers who should at least make the Runnin’ Rebels competitive in the Mountain West.
”The fans can expect a team that’s going to play with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder,” Menzies said. ”They’ve got some things to prove about their individual work and collectively, their teamwork.”
A few more things to look for from the 2016-17 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels:
NON-CONFERENCE SCHEDULE: This new group of Runnin’ Rebels will get tested early and often in a difficult non-conference schedule. Following the opener against South Alabama on Nov. 11, UNLV will face No. 1 Duke, No. 5 Oregon and No. 2 Kansas in a span of 12 days. The Runnin’ Rebels also will play TCU and its new coach Jamie Dixon and has a potential match-up against Washington on Nov. 26.
RETURNING PLAYERS: UNLV has just three returning scholarship players. Morgan is an athletic 6-foot-8 forward who averaged 5.5 points and 2.1 rebounds in 22 games last season. Sophomore guard Jalen Poyser appeared in all 33 games last season, averaging 5.4 points. Senior forward Tyrell Green saw limited action last season, averaging 1.8 points in eight games.
TRANSFERS: UNLV’s transfers include three from junior college and two graduate transfers. Christian Jones, a 6-7 forward, averaged 8.4 points and 5.2 rebounds with St. John’s last season. San Francisco transfer Uche Ofoegbu averaged 9.2 points and 4.6 shots for the Dons last season. Mooring, a 6-2 guard from Chicago, should provide some scoring boost after averaging 26.6 points at South Suburban College, where he was the NJCAA Division II basketball player of the year and MVP of the national tournament.