unlv basketball 2020


UNLV Basketball 2020-21 Lineup Projections With Caleb Grill



We may not know exactly what a college basketball season is going to look like just yet. Hell, we don’t even know if there is going to be a season at this point. About half of college football says they’re going to play this fall, while the other half (UNLV and the Mountain West included) are going to give it a go possibly in the spring. 


UNLV Basketball - David Jenkins Jr
Photo Credit: 24/7 Sports

That being said, the NCAA has gone on record as saying that whatever happens, there will be an NCAA Tournament in 2021. Perhaps that’s wishful thinking. Maybe it’s a woeful organization chasing dollars and cents after losing out on a substantial payday when the 2020 tournament was shut down due to the Coronavirus. But maybe, just maybe it’s something else entirely. 

As reported last week, two of the biggest conferences in the world of college basketball are strongly considering using a bubble for the upcoming season. The Big East and the Big Ten have taken a long look at what the NBA is doing in Orlando. The campus there holds 22 teams worth of players, staff, and in some cases, executives. In the four weeks Disney and its facilities have hosted them, there hasn’t been a single positive case. 

Ultimately it’s up to the individual conferences as to how they will proceed with basketball. Like their football brethren, it could look very different from league to league. And unlike football, basketball has the luxury of time being on their side.

Based on what the NCAA has stated, individual commissioners at the highest levels of the sport are already being proactive about putting together a viable plan. It seems we will have not only a season but also March Madness (Although it might be called May or June Madness when the dust settles). 


As for UNLV, the biggest question mark could be what happens to their exciting, national schedule.


Photo Credit: UNLV Athletics

For now, their trip to Hawaii to play in the Maui Invitational is still on the docket for November 23rd. The field is loaded with the likes of North Carolina, Indiana, Texas, Stanford, Alabama, and Davidson. Depending on the seeding and how the Rebels fair against the insane competition, it’s not unrealistic to think they could put together a strong case for an at-large bid with this tournament alone. 

The Runnin’ Rebels are used to hosting big names at the Thomas and Mack Center, but a team that spent a lot of time ducking UNLV during their heyday is supposed to travel to Las Vegas on November 17th. UCLA is coming off of a tremendous first season under Mick Cronin, where they were contenders in the Pac-12. The Bruins bring back a rock-solid nucleus of Chris Smith, Tyger Campbell, Jalen Hill, Jamie Jaquez Jr, and they will also have Kentucky transfer Johnny Juzang available. Being able to compete against a team of that caliber is invaluable when it comes to building a postseason resume. 

Another Pac-12 team coming to Vegas is the Cal Golden Bears. The Rebels will be looking for revenge in that one on November 14th after dropping the game in Berkeley in overtime last season. Other notable games include real road showdowns against VCU on December 2nd, at Kansas State December 5th, and SMU in Dallas on December 22nd. Those games are also integral when it comes time to impress the Selection Committee


Where UNLV has very few question marks is with their deep and talented roster.


Photo Credit: Caleb Grill Twitter

You could say TJ Otzelberger has an embarrassment of riches in his stable for year 2 of his coaching tenure with the Rebels. They were gifted another important piece yesterday when the NCAA granted Caleb Grill’s waiver so that he will be immediately eligible for his sophomore season. The Iowa State transfer was Otzelberger’s top priority recruit for the 2019 class at both South Dakota State and UNLV, so I know the staff is ecstatic to have him on the active roster. 

Grill played around 14 minutes per game and put up modest totals of 2.1 points per game and 1.7 rebounds per game in Ames for the Cyclones. Numbers aside, Grill is strong, athletic, intelligent, and Big 12 battle-tested. He will come right in and make an immediate difference in UNLV’s talent-rich backcourt. 


One of those few questions I mentioned above in regards to UNLV’s roster is what the lineup will look like. Now that Grill is eligible, it adds significant depth to an already deep team. Playing time is going to be at a premium. 


We already know Otzelberger likes to go with a four-guard set. Last season he did it out of necessity, but with this rendition of his team, it’s by design. It’s safe to say that Bryce Hamilton, David Jenkins Jr, and Marvin Coleman will be permanent fixtures in the starting lineup. Hamilton and Jenkins Jr are proven 20 points per game scorers at the college level, and Coleman won the starting point guard spot with a mix of heart, determination, and strong leadership qualities. 


Photo Credit: Terrance Quaites Franchise Sports Media

Behind them, however, is a young but ridiculously skilled group of freshmen and newcomers. Nick Blake was arguably the prize of the vaunted 2020 recruiting class for Otzelberger. Already a 4 Star prospect, Blake spent the previous season prepping at IMG in Florida. For those unfamiliar with IMG, think of them as a Findlay Prep type of institution. They always have a roster comprised of Top 50 talent. During his time there, Blake worked on every aspect of his impressive game. Because of that experience, he will come to UNLV with a physical maturation that makes him college-ready from the outset. He will compete for a starting position right away. 

Another player to keep an eye on for that 4th guard spot as a starter is Moses Wood. The transfer from Tulane spent the 2019-20 season practicing with the Rebels as he sat out due to transfer rules. Wood is 6’8, long, athletic, and a knock-down 3-point shooter. When I spoke to former Runnin’ Rebel Jordan Cornish, who was Wood’s teammate in Louisiana, he spoke very highly of the Reno product. Cornish explained how he was the best shooter in the gym day in and day out. In his one year at Tulane, he shot 37% from beyond the arc, which would have made him the best shooter at UNLV last season. 


Other candidates are vying for spots in the rotation.


Donavan Yap, to me, is a player who will come in right away and carve out a role. The 6’5 point guard from Arbor View in Las Vegas is electric, and there’s no other way to put it. Yap strung together seven triple-doubles his senior season, showing just how well-rounded his game truly is. Stuffing the stat-sheet is only one of his gifts, however. He also has range like Steph Curry and Trae Young. Yap also has supreme confidence in his abilities like those two NBA stars. His belief in himself, along with his skill-set, will see him earn time as a true freshman. 

You also can’t count out Devin Tillis or Isaac Lindsey. At 6’6, Tillis wasn’t heavily recruited, but he is highly regarded by basketball minds I respect. At Windward in Los Angeles, he was the catalyst for a team that was top-heavy with 5 Star players. Tillis led the charge there with his high-IQ play, dead-eye shooting, and his ability to play lead guard. 

As for Lindsey, he’s coming off of hip surgery, but when he is healthy, he is a stellar athlete. He was an all-state performer in Wisconsin for football and baseball. He’s even better as a basketball player. Like Grill, Lindsey was highly coveted by Otzelberger at both SDSU and UNLV. With Lindsey’s ability to spread the floor and handle the ball, he’s a darkhorse option to see playing time. 


The frontcourt for the Rebels was shorthanded a season ago, to put it mildly.


Mbacke Diong was the only real center at Otzelberger’s disposal. Diong didn’t really line up with the analytics-driven scheme that the new staff wanted to run, but he had some standout moments nonetheless. For the season, he averaged 7.7 points per game and 7.9 rebounds per game. Diong also blocked 1.2 shots per game while altering countless others. His value is as a pure rim protector. Couple that with his four years of experience, and he will be your day one starter at the 5-spot. 

That doesn’t mean it’s an open and shut case, however. Late in the signing period, UNLV landed a commitment from JUCO power forward, Edo Del Cadia. Known as The Chef, Del Cadia can cook people in the mold of a slick European big man. He’s a sniper of a shooter and has a Jokic-like propensity to lead the break and hand out assists as well. Perhaps Del Cadia’s most valuable trait is his toughness. For Rebel fans who have been around for a while, Kaspars Kambala comes to mind here. Del Cadia isn’t afraid to get nasty or use an elbow or two to give himself some space. He’s essentially just another guard in a forward’s body. 


When you’re TJ Otzelberger, you’re always on the lookout for the next Mike Daum.


UNLV Men's Basketball Recruiting
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Otzelberger inherited the stud stretch four-man at South Dakota State and can attribute a lot of his success to Daum putting together a ton of high scoring double-doubles. One of the first things Otzelberger did upon taking the UNLV job was key in on 4 Star big man, Jhaylon Martinez. The reason for this was the thought that Martinez could be Daum for the Runnin’ Rebels. 

Watching Martinez play, he’s actually very similar to Del Cadia. Both are exquisite passing bigs who can handle the ball and stretch the defense with their shooting abilities. Martinez also plays with a chip on his shoulder. He’s extremely physical and knows how to use that physicality in the post. The main difference between the two players is that Martinez is 4 inches taller at 6’11. Another thing to point out here is that Martinez dedicated his time to molding his body during the quarantine. He’s down over 20 pounds and is in the best shape of his life. 

Lastly, you have Reece Brown. The 6’9 mega-athlete is best known for his ability to jump out of the gym. He’s a human highlight reel when it comes to dunking the basketball. Brown is not a one-trick pony, though. His jumper is smooth, and his midrange game is legit. He can also punish the opposition with a deft shooting touch from the outside. With Brown’s athleticism, he could earn time at either the 4 or 5 positions. 


With all of that in mind, here is my projected lineup. 



PG- Marvin Coleman

SG- David Jenkins Jr

SF- Bryce Hamilton

PF- Edo Del Cadia

C- Mbacke Diong 

6th Man: 

Nick Blake



Moses Wood

Caleb Grill

Donavan Yap

Jhaylon Martinez


Depth Players/Possible Redshirts: 

Devin Tillis

Reece Brown

Isaac Lindsey


You rarely see a ten-man rotation in college basketball, but the Rebels can efficiently utilize that kind of depth. Hamilton and Jenkins Jr are the definitive stars, but you can never have enough skill guys from top to bottom. There will be some nights where the stars are having an off-game, but that won’t be a hindrance for Otzelberger. He can look to Grill, Blake, Yap, or Wood in the backcourt to step up during those instances. There’s practically no drop-off. 

With the frontcourt, the offense won’t be neutered like it was last year. With Diong and Dembele, Otzelbeger had to whittle down a lot of his sets due to a lack of shooting and skill at the center spot. He’ll have no such issues with Martinez, Del Cadia, and Brown at his disposal. With whoever UNLV puts on the floor together, it’s really about picking your poison for the opposition. 

There’s a lot in the air because of the pandemic. Fans are desperate to see their favorite sports and teams now more than ever. College basketball explicitly has until the beginning of November to come up with a definitive plan. UNLV, more specifically, will have to wait and see how it all transpires, but there’s more to be optimistic about with the Runnin’ Rebels than not.


The roster is stacked and the schedule is too. With the talent available and an at-large worthy slate of games, we’re all even more desperate to see this team once they do eventually hit the hardwood for this season. 


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-Jeff Waddilove – Franchise Sports Media

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