The thought was that it would take Khem Birch a little while to adjust. Nobody thought it would be quite this quick.
After playing just 14 minutes in his opening game against UTEP on Monday, Birch showed off why he was a McDonald's All-American and the highest rated player to ever commit to Pitt last season.
Birch looked comfortable during his 25 minutes off the bench for UNLV versus a Northern Iowa squad that is armed with plenty of bulk and experience in the post. The Montreal native posted 11 points, nine rebounds, two steals and a block.
What doesn't show up in the box score was Birch's ability to catch the ball in the post, draw double-teams, survey the floor, make correct passes, etc.
In practices over the last year and a half that Birch has been sitting out, he has been a very effective defensive player. Actually, more than effective. He has been downright menacing around the hoop.
The fact that he can add diversity on the offensive end of the floor is a total bonus for the Rebels, who were counting on Birch to make his mark on defense and rebounding.
Birch's offensive arsenal isn't the most fluid around, but he does have a creative knack for using his length to his advantage.
You can only imagine what head coach Dave Rice is planning to do with the combination of Birch and fellow Canadian, Anthony Bennett, whenever Birch truly becomes acclimated. The thought of a high-low game between them forcing opposing defenses to make choices on who to double-team could be lethal.
It's time to pay the man his dues, so much so that it wouldn't be unfathomable to classify Anthony Marshall as UNLV's most improved player based purely on his improvement on his outside jumper.
After going 3-of-6 last night against Northern Iowa, Marshall has now made 14 triples on the season. To put that in perspective, he only made 13 his entire sophomore season while shooting 20% from beyond the arc.
The key to Marshall's success, besides obvious confidence in his shot, is that he's picking and choosing his shots very carefully. There don't seem to be many forced jumpers from the outside from Marshall, which has helped him considerably with his accuracy.
Just take a look at the percentages he shot during his first three seasons with the Rebels - junior (25%), sophomore (20%) and freshman (4%).
He is currently shooting 56% from the 3-point stripe, which is on pace to break the UNLV record for percentage in a season, which is held by another guy that got a lot of open looks but was very deliberate in his attempts - Stacey Augmon.
It really doesn't matter who you are. If you can go from being a 4% shooter as a freshman to a 56% shooter as a senior, it speaks of the dedication and energy you have put into the craft.
I'm saying it now - nobody has a shot to win most improved player if those numbers keep up for Marshall. This one is a swish.
As much as it appears DaQuan Cook will help UNLV in the future, it doesn't feel like that time is going to be within the next month.
Cook has been as good as advertised on the offensive end of the floor, considering he's drained three of his four attempts, probably better.
What hasn't come along yet is his man-to-man defense, which was supposed to be a strength. You can see that he's having a hard time keeping his man in front of him and cutting off dribble penetration.
Cook received four minutes last night after only being on the floor for one minute at UTEP. In both instances, he was pulled from the ballgame after allowing a wide-open layup.
Rice knows that Cook needs to see the floor throughout this year, so he's going to have to pick and choose his battles.
Marshall, who starts at the point guard position, is going to need some rest at some point. He is the only Rebel that is averaging over 30 minutes a game at this point. This is also the one position that UNLV can't afford to be worn down at as critical games are played in the months of February and March.
There will need to be progression from Cook over the next four games before Mountain West Conference begins at New Mexico. If not, Marshall will have to be ready to carry much of the load.
THOMAS STANDS STRONG
Quintrell Thomas stated over the summer that the new guys would have to earn a starting position over him because he was ready for the challenge.
At the time, it could've been simply taken as player speak. Months after the fact, Thomas has lived up to everything he stated while in New Jersey preparing for his senior season.
Thomas' production has been outstanding.
Not only is he playing physical post defense, something the Rebels lack at times, but he has become a reliable post presence on offense, as well.
The numbers are staggering. In just 16 minutes a contest, Thomas is scoring five points and grabbing five rebounds. Against the Panthers, he scored eight points and had two rebounds in only10 minutes.
Thomas is doing exactly what he said. He is making it very difficult to move him out of the starting line-up, even when the Rebels are at full strength a month from now when Mike Moser returns from his elbow injury.