The Rebels, once one of the premier programs in college hoops, haven't won a conference title since sharing the Mountain West championship in 2000. But under second-year coach Dave Rice, it appears that the buzz is finally back for the Runnin' Rebels. Part of the reason for enthusiasm is the run-and-gun, dunk-filled play that Rice incorporated during a 26-win debut season that included a 90-80 upset of then-No. 1 North Carolina. Another reason is a highly-decorated group of transfers and a top recruiting class.
The big news is that forward Mike Moser, the Mountain West Newcomer of the Year and the school's first honorable mention AP All-American since 2003, decided to return for his junior season. The versatile 6-8 forward had 15 double doubles while leading the team in scoring (14.0 ppg) and rebounding (10.5 rpg) and also leading the MWC in steals (1.9 spg).
Rice has more than his share of options to replace starting center Brice Massamba and third-team All-MWC forward Chace Stanback, including transfer Khem Birch and freshman Anthony Bennett. Both senior Quintrell Thomas, who began his career at Kansas, and 6-11 junior Carlos Lopez return also give Rice more frontcourt options. With Roscoe Smith's immediate eligibility appeal denied, the Rebels will turn to two highly-touted freshmen -- Savon Goodman and Demetris Morant -- for depth.
Although steady point guard Oscar Bellfield, a four-year starter, departs, the Rebels have good depth and experience at the position. Athletic senior Anthony Marshall, a second- team All-MWC pick and also a member of the league's all-defensive squad, returns after finishing third on the team in scoring (12.2 ppg) and steals (1.5 spg) and second in rebounding (5.1 rpg) and assists (4.5 apg). Marshall, a local product nicknamed "The Mayor," is a fan favorite for his acrobatic highlight-reel dunks. Senior Justin Hawkins, arguably the league's top lockdown defender and sixth man, also returns.
Khem Birch was a McDonald's All-American who started six games at Pittsburgh as a true freshman before transferring at mid-year. Freshman forward Anthony Bennett was rated the nation's No. 1 power forward by several scouting services. Guard Bryce Dejean-Jones was a starter at USC before transferring in January 2011. Not a bad group. And that doesn't even include 6-foot-5 sharpshooter Katin Reinhardt or top-150 prep prospects like Savon Goodman, Daquan Cook and Demetris Morant. Forward Roscoe Smith, who started as a freshman on a Connecticut team that won the 2011 national title, will have two years of eligibility beginning with the 2013-14 season.
There is little doubt that big things are on the horizon for the Runnin' Rebels under Rice, who guided UNLV to the NCAA tournament in his first year and followed that up with one of the nation's top recruiting classes. The big question will be how long it takes for all the new faces to jell. The rebuilt Rebels figure to battle San Diego State for the Mountain West title.