After appearing in six of the past seven NCAA Tournaments, including four straight starting in 2010, the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels are in a bit of flux.
At 7-4, UNLV has posted losses to Arizona State, Illinois, Arizona and UCSB and looked rather defeated. Even in wins the Runnin’ Rebels haven’t looked very good, highlighted by escaping with a three-point victory at home against Nebraska-Omaha. However, UNLV has looked much better recently and things seem to be coming together as they head into Mountain West Conference play.
The newly recharged Rebels can thank the incredible production and emergence of Connecticut transfer Roscoe Smith, who currently leads in the nation in rebounding (13.2 per game). Smith has seven double-doubles to his name this season as well, providing an inside scoring presence and dominant force on the glass, something that has come in handy for the struggling UNLV squad that lost Mike Moser (transferred to Oregon) and Anthony Bennett (top pick in the 2013 NBA Draft).
Smith came over from UConn after sanctions were handed down after their national championship victory. He stuck around the season after but transferred because UConn would not be eligible for postseason play in the 2012-13. Smith had to sit out last season due to the NCAA’s transfer rules, allowing him a full season to work on his game, and it has certainly paid off.
In just 11 games this season, Roscoe Smith is averaging career highs in points per game, minutes, field goal percentage and rebounds. He’s the leader that UNLV needed during their struggles and he’s going to continue to be a focal point both offensively and defensively. It’s increasingly difficult to see how far the Rebels could have fallen without the impressive production from Smith this season.
He is not only doing great things for his college program, he’s also elevated his draft stock quicker than any other player in college basketball this season. After going basically unnoticed due to his sitting out a full season, Smith is now projected in most major NBA mock drafts to be a first round pick in the 2014 Draft, should he decide to declare. What makes it so impressive is that there’s so much more he can accomplish. Smith’s biggest test came against Arizona where he played an overall underwhelming game (10 points and six rebounds). The Mountain West doesn’t have a team as talented as Arizona, but the collective talent in the conference is pretty solid. Having a string of good games, even great games, could bring that draft stock from a late-first round pick up to competing for a shot at being a lottery pick.
Roscoe Smith is the reason that UNLV’s poor early-season performance didn’t get worse. Dominating on the glass and being the go-to scorer for the Runnin’ Rebels has kept them relevant. Smith’s exceptional performance this season is one to keep noted. With key opponents such as San Diego State, Boise State and New Mexico on the horizon, Smith’s production is going to be even more critical for UNLV.
At this rate, though, Roscoe Smith has the makings of a star in college basketball, something UNLV couldn’t be happier to have at their disposal. A few more double-doubles and some more 15 rebound games for Smith and you could see his name in the discussion for a lottery selection and have UNLV thinking NCAA Tournament once again.