T.J. Otzelberger wants older players at UNLV

Mike Grimala wrote a good summation on UNLV’s youth issues for this season at the Las Vegas Sun. It included T.J. Otzelberger trying to find the right balance in building a program for the future and winning now. 

“You can go the quick-fix route, but I think that’s risky if you’re trying to build long-term,” Otzelberger said. “At the same time, I understand we need to get older, more mature and more experienced players out there. One of the benefits of last year was that as a group of older guys, they had an understanding of how hard you have to play every possession, how physical it is and how you have to be mentally ready for the long haul of the season. At this time last year we were playing harder than anybody.”

Otzelberger wants older, more mature and more experienced players. Ken Pom ranks teams based on experience and UNLV ranks 237th this year after having the 96th most experienced team in the country in Otzelberger’s first season. 

PlayerClassGames PlayedMinutes Played
Mbacke DiongSenior1112,414
David JenkinsJunior902,747
Bryce HamiltonJunior831,930
Moses WoodSophomore541,059
Caleb GrillSophomore521,162
Marvin ColemanJunior45984
Nick BlakeFreshman23486
Devin TillisFreshman20374
Edoardo Del CadiaJunior17149
Reece BrownFreshman14129
Trey Hurlburt*Junior512
Donavan YapFreshman416
Kendrick Gilbert*Freshman15
Jhaylon MartinezFreshman00
Isaac LindseyFreshman00
Career Division I games and minutes –*Walk on

It will be interesting to see who Otzelberger keeps around for next season. He still wants to keep part of the freshman class intact as a building block for the future.

“We wanted to bring in that group, a young group that could grow together,” Otzelberger said of his 2020 freshman class. “As things continue to move forward, some of those guys are going to end up being the right guys.”

Nick Blake and Devin Tillis are on track to be the right guys. Based solely on playing time this year, Reece Brown might be too. But Brown along with Donavan Yap and Jhaylon Martinez could be on the way out for more experienced players. 

An interesting counter argument for Otzelberger’s desire to land experienced players is that he has called out and benched his second most experienced player, David Jenkins, for leadership issues. Meanwhile, true freshman Devin Tillis has been lauded for his on and off court leadership. 

In the Mountain West the two leaders in experience are San Diego State and Boise State, two teams that could be in the NCAA Tournament. But the next three teams with the most experience are Air Force, San Jose State and New Mexico.

UNLV ranks 7th in the Mountain West in experience; Fresno State, Colorado State, Wyoming and Nevada all rank behind the Rebels in experience. 

Simply adding experienced players does not lead to success in college basketball.

Otzelberger will be under pressure to show improvement in year three, but it still is unlikely an NCAA Tournament or fired type of season. So he can still try to balance building for the future with winning immediately. 

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